This post includes examples from Rose Delcour Min’s MA Visual Sociology dissertation. Rose graduated from the programme in 2015 with a Distinction.
Rose’s project was titled, Experimenting with Strike Actions. She developed practices to make visible, and to resist and protest against, the emotional labour involved in customer service work. Rose writes:
I have worked in customer service for nearly ten years and my experiences of anger, frustration, and embarrassment made me think about why service work is so de-valued, de-skilled, and low status. I have been involved with trade unions in these spaces for nearly six years and so wanted to consider ways of withholding the labour that employers and customers take for granted that could be considered as strike action. I looked to the existing methods of the refusal of work from the industrial model to ask if strike action can accommodate the refusal of labour such as care and patience. I wanted to make more visible the invisible labour, such as emotional labour, involved in customer service, and pose this process itself as an act of resistance.
The customer service drag persona I developed was intended to reflect the gendered performativity of customer service, and to reveal the fragility of the construct of pleasant femininity that customer service demands. I wanted to pose different ways of considering strike action as small, fragmentary experiments. She was filmed performing boredom, irritation, and wilful lack of interest as potential methods of protest. She lip synced to a distorted version of 9 to 5 in an effort to expose the actual conditions of delivering customer service, challenging the “happy to help” image that employers sell to customers whilst also no longer suppressing and managing personal feelings – a key method of learning customer service. I also recorded her email replies to customers which, in their reversal of the emotional labour, refused the work that is usually asked of her. The emails sought to connect the visual of abject femininity of the customer service drag persona with the written refusal of accepting the role of the nurturing, caring mother figure.
The MA Visual Sociology dissertation is a practice-based piece of sociological research. Students work closely with an individual supervisory to develop a multi-media project that addresses a sociological problem that they have identified and defined. Alongside supervisions, we hold group ‘crit’ sessions, where students present work in progress and gain constructive feedback that feeds into the next iterations of their work.
Dissertation topics vary widely and have included: hacking and 3D printing; memory, affect and the Holocaust; mapping Black women’s free spaces in London; sensory methods for studying music festivals; visual pollution in Sao Paolo, Brazil; women’s perceptions of risk and fear in walking home at night in Oslo.