Doing the Right Thing: Professionalism, Deep Accountability, and Emotional Labor in Disciplinary Writing Instruction



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



While research in writing studies has attended to the emotional labor involved in writing instruction, there has been no empirical research into the emotional labor of writing instruction in the disciplines. This study responds to that gap, as well as to calls for more empirical research into academic labor more generally, using institutional ethnography to surface and trace patterns of institutional coordination and accountability, and the disjunctures and alignments with participants’ experiences with emotional labor. The study reveals and names what are often deeply felt and internalized experiences to provide a foundation for further research into disciplinary writing instruction, emotional labor, and academic labor. Data include focus groups and a series of interviews with faculty teaching writing-intensive disciplinary courses, as well as personnel and curricular institutional texts. Findings indicate that participants have complicated relationships with the institutional coordination and accountability of their emotional labor in disciplinary writing instruction, with strong alignment with curricular goals but frequent disjunctures with institutional forms of accountability for their labor. Both this alignment and these disjunctures create conditions for emotional labor, as participants are guided by a sense of “deep accountability” to professional identity and values that hold them accountable to their discipline, colleagues, and students while they lack sufficient pedagogical knowledge of writing instruction; they make up for that lack with emotional labor. Findings further indicate that this professionalized deep accountability can lead to passivity in the face of institutional exploitation. Finally, findings reveal the value of institutional ethnography in researching labor that is often subtly or unevenly coordinated and that is enmeshed in individual and cultural values and identity. 



Academic labor, Emotional labor, Pedagogy, Professionalism, Writing Across the Curriculum