What Makes Resilience?

An Ethnographic Study of the Work of Prison Officers

Authored by: Mette Mogensen , Elisabeth Naima Mikkelsen

The Routledge Companion to Anthropology and Business

Print publication date:  July  2020
Online publication date:  June  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138496422
eBook ISBN: 9781003052456
Adobe ISBN:


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In this chapter, we show the potential of sensory organizational ethnography as it relates to future resilience research and theorizing, suggesting a wider use of sensory approaches for the study of similar, complex organizational phenomena. Based on a close ethnographic study of how resilience is made and negotiated in the work practices and work relationships of prison officers within a Danish prison setting, we unfold how resilience may be captured empirically. Using interviews, autophotography and involving our own emotional and sensory capacity as part of the knowledge production (Lee-Treweek 2000; Pink 2015; Warren 2002), we identify two distinct positive resources in prison work pivotal to the resilience of prison officers: ‘Relations with inmates’ and ‘Belonging to the officer group’. These positive resources, however, do not simply act as ‘protective factors’; they have a flip side to them, thus calling for a more ambiguous conceptualization of resilience. We conclude that to engage as researchers in sensory ethnography allows for a study of resilience beyond trait-and-factor thinking, as resilience is shown to be a highly contextual and ambiguous accomplishment. Besides contributing new insights into the resilience field, our chapter serves to inspire a wider use of sensory methods and emotional engagement on the part of the researcher, especially when it comes to complex psychosocial phenomena such as stress or well-being that, like resilience, are inseparable to the social, physical and emotional orders of the specific work setting.

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