The Stigma of Stress and the Absence of Agency

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For more than 15 years, stress has, in a Danish formation of work-life discourses, set the agenda in the public debate due to an increase in the number of workers with stress-related illnesses. Every day, 35.000 employees are reportedly absent from work, and stress is estimated to cost the Danish society approx. 14 billion DKK per year due to sick leave, premature death and health related expenses. Stress is in a Danish as well as in an international context a serious threat to both physical and mental health as well as to the general well being of the population. Recent studies do however show that the Danish stress- discourse leaves “an empty seat”. In comparison to other discourses the discourse on stress is characterized by a notable lack of agency or policies for how to act – or in this case, ways to deal with stress. In many cases discourses traditionally advocate agency, and the lack hereof is significant and can be shown to have had substantial consequences to for example the stress-policy in companies, or the growth of consultancy firms offering stress solutions to both the private and public sector. At the same time however stress remains an “unsolved” problem. This article describes how a substantial discourse on stress in Danish journals on leadership and management as well as newspapers over a decade has contributed to creating an intricate stress stigma by creating a discourse, where agency is absent. The analysis conducted in this article will primarily be based on the works of the French philosopher Michel Foucault, and his concept of power and the dispositif, subjectification and technologies of the self.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Event12th International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry - University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, United States
Duration: 18 May 201621 May 2016
Conference number: 12


Conference12th International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry
LocationUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Country/TerritoryUnited States

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