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However, my data suggest that, over time, doing so can deteriorate employees’ sense of self-worth, lead to a cold dismissive mentality, and ultimately result in burnout. Another (problematic) option is for officers to garner social support from the only other audience available to them – inmates. Of course, confiding in inmates is completely against the rules and can result in costly repercussions; when officers turn to inmates for social support, they are more liable to get sucked in by inappropriate relations or ruses.

They also work in total institutions, marked with contradictory organizational norms; they are asked to do low-status service work for convicted criminals, feel powerless, and face significant challenges in garnering social support. These issues help explain why so many officers feel alienated, depressed, perplexed, and burned out with their work. Clearly, officers themselves have very little control over these matters. They cannot, for instance, solve structural contradictions or low prestige by going home and taking a hot bath, or by talking it out with an employee assistance counselor.

Rather than be overwhelmed by the “discourses of despair”32 that divide the emotional life of the workplace into the prescribed and the liberated, we should recognize that expressions of humanity continually cross boundaries – from the profane to the sacred. In other words, the apparent mechanization of both consumption and production, via processes of McDonaldization, Disneyization, and sentimentalization, should not be confused with a mechanization of the self. Acknowledgments Thanks go to Maeve Houlihan, UCD, for comments on an early draft of this chapter, to Paul Thompson and Phil Taylor for inspiration on the title, and to participants at the 22nd International Labour Process Conference for valuable feedback.

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