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377

Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology (2006), 79, 377–394 q 2006 The British Psychological Society

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The art of stress
Martin Bicknell* and Andreas Liefooghe
Birkbeck, University of London, UK
This article argues that the later work of Foucault, notably that set out in The History of Sexuality, can make a useful contribution to organizational and occupational psychology. It goes on to analyse accounts of stress, related by client-service workers during interviews, using concepts informed by this work. Such a method of analysing a key work experience takes us beyond the positivism that dominates the large stress literature. Our emphasis is on Foucault’s ideas relating to the creation of oneself as a work of art and the moral problematization of pleasure, rather than the more commonly applied surveillance and disciplinary controls. We consider stress discourse in this light and note the often overlooked heterogeneity of these stress accounts and self-portraits. We note that creation of self may itself be a ‘stressful’ process. This use of Foucault allows a rich reading of stress discourses and could, the authors believe, be applied in other organizational and occupational research.

We have to create ourselves as a work of art : : : we should not have to refer the creative activity of somebody to the kind of relation he has to himself, but should relate the kind of relation one has to oneself as a creative activity (Foucault, 1984, p. 351).

This paper is about the artistic creation of a human subject and the complicity of stress in this process; it is about the power of the aesthetics of self; it is about the multifaceted nature of our self-images; it is, we could say, about the art of stress. Our aim in this paper is to explore and demonstrate the continuing relevance to organizational and occupational psychology of Foucault’s later work by applying it to work stress. Having discussed the limitations of ‘mainstream’ stress research, as well as Foucault’s notion of the ‘art of self’, we progress to consider the appropriateness of applying this notion to stress. At this point, we are able to establish our empirical research question which is to investigate, through the scrutiny of accounts of stress provided in interview by a number of client-service workers, the role and nature of ‘stress’ in Foucauldian self-creative projects. Our analysis illustrates not only the complicity of stress in self-creation, but also its heterogeneous nature. We draw together our views on the utility of Foucault’s later work in a final section.
* Correspondence should be addressed to Martin Bicknell, Department of Organizational Psychology, Birkbeck, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX, UK (e-mail: martinbicknell@aol.com).
DOI:10.1348/096317906X105706

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378 Martin Bicknell and Andreas Liefooghe

Although there are some excellent Foucauldian studies of organizations and occupational concerns (see, for example, Barratt, 2003; Carter, McKinlay, & Rowlinson, 2002; Knights, 2002; or McKinlay & Starkey, 1998, who each review different aspects of the literature), they are relatively few in number. Furthermore, even these tend to focus on Foucault’s earlier work. This is surprising given Foucault’s training in and writing about psychology. Part of the reason may be the wilfully obtuse and opaque (Burrell, 1998) nature of his work or the long detour (Starkey & Hatchuel, 2002) that he seems to have taken in his work. There might also be a ‘fear’ of taking writing about ‘sexuality’ into the workplace or a reluctance to ‘write Foucault into organizational analysis’ (Knights, 2002). We, however, believe Foucault has a natural and informative role in our field and hope to demonstrate this in our paper. Despite the relative absence, there have been Foucauldian studies of stress (see below) and, since others have already started us on this path, this paper does not aim to present a full Foucauldian discourse analysis of stress in the sense that we are not attempting to trace the subjectifying development of the ‘stress discourse’. Our aim is more modest in the sense that we seek to show how attending to Foucault’s concept of the care of the self and problematization of pleasure – an aspect that has been neglected in organizational studies – can add further insight to the work already undertaken by allowing accounts to be read differently. Having completed this study, we firmly believe in the validity of attending to late-Foucauldian notions – not just for stress but also more widely within organizational studies. Doing so may help sustain the freshness of the Foucauldian challenge to positivism. Allowing a voice to the stress-related aspects of self-creation has for us provided a way of ensuring that we continue to ‘think the unthought’ (Knights, 2002, p. 575) and to achieve the ‘wondrous inversions’ (Newton, 1998, p. 441) that Foucault’s work can facilitate. It also allows us to ‘change the subject’ of stress research in line with the exhortations of Henriques, Hollway, Urwin, Venn, and Walkerdine (1998).

Why rescrutinize stress research?
We begin our development by looking at the relevance of stress as a research topic, the pervasiveness of lay discourses on stress, and briefly review the critical investigation of stress. We should begin by noting that we concentrate on the psychological not physiological aspects of stress. Without wishing to dismiss bodily phenomena (Foucault himself recognized the body as a site of power) we bracket these off, for it is the apperception of them by what Merleau-Ponty in the Phenomenology of Perception (2002) refers to as the body-subject that is our greater concern. We should also briefly explain our conceptualization of stress, since the term is used in a number of different ways in both lay and academic writing. We see stress as a psychological disharmony that arises through psychological (and potentially physical) interactions with the environment. The way that disharmony is constructed and accounted for by individual subjects is, however, mediated through discourse. In this article, we will generally use stress in its discursive sense. That said, stress at work has been extensively studied by a number of different disciplines ranging from epidemiology (Xie & Schaubroeck, 2001) to Lacanian psychoanalysis (Vanheule & Verhaeghe, 2004). Studies within the field of organizational and occupational psychology have largely, but not exclusively, been from a positivist perspective. As there are a number of comprehensive surveys (for example, Cooper &

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The art of stress 379

Dewe, 2004 or Sulsky & Smith, 2005) of the stress literature, it is not our intention to provide another. It suffices to say that reviews emphasize the dominance of positivist methods, yet even so do not present a homogeneous picture. Even in terms of the extent and severity of stress, there is disagreement. Reviews by Cooper, Liukkonen, and Cartwright (1996), Watts and Cooper (1998) and Briner and Reynolds (1999) may be contrasted against each other in terms of the organizational and individual outcomes described, and against Wainwright and Calnan (2002) who even question whether stress is a ‘modern epidemic’. The literature has, over time, articulated many debates on theory, method and practice. Many of these remain unresolved. Within organizational psychology, for example, transactional approaches (Cooper, Dewe, & O’Driscoll, 2001) are widely supported but even so have not been without critics (Brief & George, 1991; Harris, 1991); the centrality of emotion is debated (Lazarus, 1999); and arguments around subjective vs. objective assessment come into sharp focus when applied to stress ´ (Perrewe & Zellars, 1999; Schaubroeck, 1999). Important too, is the continuing debate, which is particularly pertinent to stress research, as to whether society is better served by considering the general (e.g. Brief & George, 1991), or whether stress is so complex that we must investigate intra-individual processes (e.g. Lazarus, 1999). We believe that the intra-individual approach has much to offer. Furthermore, Newton, Handy, and Fineman (1995) set out how the stressed subject in the mainstream literature has often been divorced from context and depoliticized. Intra-individual approaches must therefore reflect context. As a result of these various limitations, we argue that our ability to understand some fundamental concerns about stress has been seriously weakened and, because of this, we are still unable to say why, despite Wainwright and Calnan’s (2002) doubts, stress is so often portrayed in lay accounts as a modern epidemic. Indeed, these lay accounts reveal further social and political controversies. UK employers are told they must increasingly protect their workers against unreasonable pressure (HSE, 2005) while case law is beginning to define a ‘duty of care’ (House of Lords, 2004) towards stressed workers. Unions (Unison, 2005) and professional bodies (Law Care, 2005) offer support and advice against one of the ‘biggest health problems’ (Unison, 2005) arising from work. Others, however, claim stress is a matter of individual responsibility. Training courses are sold to help us ‘handle’ stress, lawyers are given ‘ten essential tips to manage stress’ (P.S., 2003, p. 20), and, as shown by Newton’s analysis of lay accounts, we are exhorted to become ‘stress-fit’ individuals (Newton et al., 1995). Indeed, some stress is good for you:
Not all stress is bad. Without some stress we would not bother to get out of bed in the morning (P.S., 2003, p. 18).

Or even,
According to the new research, 77% of the UK’s workers believe stress at work leads to greater job satisfaction (Sky News, 2003).

Stress, according to such accounts, is natural and necessary. It is linked strongly to images of success and commitment in many work contexts. So what is going on? Is stress an avoidable scourge of today’s models of work? Is it the precursor to better performance, and if so how? Is it inevitable, and if so why? What is it? Reviews of the literature reveal few answers to such questions. Since normative studies – the bulk of the literature – have sought answers to different questions, we must

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380 Martin Bicknell and Andreas Liefooghe

turn to the critical tradition. We note immediately a relative lack of such approaches within the literature. There are notable exceptions and there are also relevant articles from outside organizational and occupational psychology, for example, health psychology where Young (1980, quoted in Brown, 1999, p. 24) concluded that ‘the very vagueness of the term “stress” serves to mask a political economy entirely centred on the vicissitudes of the liberal-humanist subject’. Brown goes on to critique the selfhelp literature, the ‘regimens’ they proscribe and the ‘power’ behind these discourses. Newton et al. (1995) apply the work of Foucault, Elias and the labour process theory writers such as Braverman and Burawoy to develop, inter alia, a notion of ‘stressfitness’. Hepburn and Brown consider stress in the teaching profession from a critical vein and argue that the current approach (2001, p. 691) ‘encourages both teachers and their employers to offer token measures to manage it [stress] at a psychological level, rather than engaging in proper debate about the state of the profession’. Wainwright and Calnan (2002), meanwhile, contend that current discourses limit organized resistance. These authors all demonstrate the potentially negative political and social impacts of current stress discourses and, in different ways, focus on subjectification through discourses relating to the experiencing of stress. Whilst this literature is taken as our starting point, there is more, we believe, to understand. We, therefore, seek in this study to deepen current understanding by viewing discourses of work stress through less well-explored notions. We do this by looking primarily at how self-regulation, guided by Foucault’s later work, can be considered to be complicit in this regard. To start our analysis of the art of stress, we must begin by looking in more detail at Foucault’s work. Having done this, we will describe the empirical element of our research.

Stressing Foucault
How can Foucault inform a consideration of stress? Foucauldian researchers generally build their arguments around, inter alia, three central planks which run throughout Foucault’s work. These are the notion of the subject, power/knowledge and governmentality. It is useful to go back to these before discussing the specifics of Foucault’s later work. First the subject. Rabinow (1984, p. 7) quotes Foucault’s assertion that his aim was to ‘create a history of the different modes by which, in our culture, human beings are made subject’. In other words, how we are limited or freed as a result of the conceptions we place on ourselves and have placed upon us. Fundamental in this matter is the rejection by Foucault of a unitary or essentialist self and the centrality of discourse in not just describing a subject position but as the very means through which that position is created, developed and maintained. The self is fluid; it is formed and reformed, always in context, through discourse.
The individual is an effect of power, and at the same time, or precisely to the extent to which it is that effect, it is the element of its articulation. The individual which power has constituted is at the same time its vehicle (Foucault, 1980, p. 98).

In the context of this study, we need to consider the subjectivity represented by stress as a way-of-being. In other words, how stress is ‘identified’. Not just in terms of how stress is given an identity through discourse, but also in terms of how it gives an identity – albeit transient – to the subject. The mere act of labelling oneself or others in a given

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The art of stress 381

situation as ‘stressed’ changes power relationships. A stressed subject is different from one without such a qualifier: she or he can be treated or behave differently. Furthermore, the person who valiantly overcomes that ‘stress’ can be praised or rewarded by self or others. A recognition of ‘being stressed’ as a constituting subject position (way-of-being) that depends on context thus runs throughout any Foucauldian analysis. Before moving on, it is appropriate to note the relevance to our analysis of other subject positions in the context of acceptance of stressful demands. Of particular relevance here are notions of professional or work ethos and characterizations of success. A consideration of stress that ignores these positions is, we believe, so decontextualized as to be meaningless. In addition to subjectivity, Foucault also emphasizes the idea of power/knowledge and how it relates to the subject. The specific way in which power is used by Foucault (i.e. as something best conceived of as a relation rather than something that can be owned or applied), means that it is not power per se that is interesting, but power relations as created and applied through discourses claiming to represent ‘knowledge’. ‘Knowing’ stress and thence ‘knowing’ oneself or another as ‘stressed’ alters relationships. As such, a Foucauldian position presupposes that discourses of stress give account of, and effect to, power/knowledge. The third central plank to be considered is the matter of governmentality. This matter – explored at length by, for example, Rose (1999) and Jackson and Carter (1998) – concerns techniques of regulation including self-regulation. In other words, Foucault can help us consider how the identification of stress links to the regulation of people’s lives and what technologies are used or are complicit in this process. Although themes such as these run throughout Foucault’s work, his focus and his method evolved. Foucault’s ideas on the art of self developed towards the end of his life, and it is through an analysis incorporating such notions that we hope to explore stress. In this way, we have the opportunity to view stress and the stressed subject differently. Indeed, we note that our experience suggests such a lens may usefully be applied to other organizational research. Turning to this work, we note that Knights (2002) and Starkey and Hatchuel (2002) argue this, with its ethical and aesthetical focus, is under-represented in organizational studies. The strand is largely addressed in the last two volumes of The History of Sexuality (THS), which were both originally published in 1984, and in contemporaneous interviews. Foucault describes (for example in The Use of Pleasure – The History of Sexuality 2) a project of the self that attends to:
Self-reflection, self-knowledge, self-examination, for the decipherment of the self by oneself, for the transformations that one seeks to accomplish with oneself as object (Foucault, 1992, p. 29).

and in The Care of the Self (The History of Sexuality 3)1 an ‘art of self’ which Foucault claims is:
The development of an art of existence that revolves around the question of the self, of its dependence and independence, of its universal form and of the connection it can and should establish with others, of the procedures by which it exerts its control over itself, and

1

The original French title is Le souci de soi. Souci means care in the sense of one’s cares, worries or concerns. It has a different meaning in French to le soin, which means care in the sense of ‘looking after’.

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382 Martin Bicknell and Andreas Liefooghe of the way in which it can establish a complete supremacy over itself (Foucault, 1990, pp. 238–239).

These quotes emphasize the idea that the self is not always already secure but has to be created and recreated. However, the subject cannot be considered to have free reign. How, for example, does power/knowledge or even the ‘body’ limit the creative process? Foucault himself recognized the complex nature of self-regulation. It is not just about exclusion or compliance with a norm achieved, for example, through surveillance and discipline, but is related to pleasure (the Lacanian term jouissance – see Lacan, 2001 – is, we believe, an even better word here, especially in respect to our study of stress which could be considered more about displeasure) and desire. However, it is not simply about a desire to fill deficiencies in our lives. It is not merely about a socially defined set of approved acts prescribing which desires could or could not be pursued or expressed but is about an individual ethic arising from the consideration of ‘a force that linked together acts, pleasure and desire’ (Foucault, 1992, p. 43, our emphasis). Investigation should be based on a moral problematization of pleasure, or, as Starkey and Hatchuel (2002, p. 642) neatly put it, the focus should become ‘knowledge/ pleasure’. Foucault’s use of the terms ‘acts’ and its linkage to pleasure and desire is significant here and will be considered further below. In exploring the manner of this regulation, Foucault notes the complicit role of four concepts: public opinion, glory, the honour of being human and shame. Foucault takes these concepts from Plato and employs them to show how regulation of the self is more than mere compliance with a ‘law’. Public opinions concerning certain behaviours are so ingrained as to be almost ‘sanctified’; glory (Foucault cites athletics as an example) or its prospect justifies the adoption of stringent regimes; the honour of being human requires us to be superior to the beast or (in more Freudian terms) to overcome base drives; and we learn through custom that certain acts should not be committed, at least not openly, because they are shameful. As Starkey and Hatchuel assert when considering Foucault’s ethical project of self, it is
These technologies [of self] that allow individuals to create new modes of being, distinct from those imposed by the workings of power regimes. In essence, technologies of self raise the tantalizing prospect of an (un)certain degree of freedom (Starkey & Hatchuel, 2002, p. 642).

Indeed, we reflect on the shortfalls in our self-creative projects; our inadequacies against our ‘ideals’ in terms of public opinion, glory, the honour of being human and (absence of) shame; inauthentic ways-of-being. These reflections act as technologies of selfcontrol and are context-bound and heterogeneous in nature. By considering selfregulatory technologies in this way, both the ‘in’ and the ‘out’ of our reflections are highlighted; we are forced to attend to both the introjection and projection of knowledge. After all, the artist both perceives and paints a subject. Foucault, to summarize, asserts that:
We need instead to think in terms of a crisis of the subject, or rather a crisis of subjectification – that is, in terms of a difficulty in which the individual could form himself as the ethical subject of his actions, and efforts to find in devotion to self that which could enable him to submit to rules and give purpose to his existence (Foucault, 1990, p. 95).

But Foucault was discussing the classical era and sexuality. How is this relevant to organizational studies? Firstly, Foucault notes the inadequacy of translating the Greek

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The art of stress 383

word: aphrodisia. It is a broad and less heterogeneous term than that implied by modern use of the term sexuality. Secondly, sexuality occupies that interesting territory at the confluence of two streams. The first concerns us, our individual desires and jouissance, and our ‘control’ of these influences. The second concerns the continuation of the life of the species, its regulation and control (Burrell, 1998). Burrell rues the suppression of sexuality in organizational studies. In agreeing, it is interesting to note that managers have specific desires yet they also exist to perpetuate the organization. Their desires and actions are played out in that sexual arena of attraction and conflict – ‘the organization’. In this sense, the link of organization to Foucault’s late work becomes apparent. Such a view also has interesting connotations if we consider resistance and power. Newton (1998, p. 437) quoting Jeffreys notes that ‘if your oppression turns you on, you have a much harder time fighting your oppression’. Why is it relevant to consider stress under this lens? Stress is a poorly defined term which is used in everyday contexts to cover a variety of meanings. There is, however, a link to a feeling of ill-ease or lack of well-being. This could be seen as the direct opposite of Foucault’s sexual pleasure but we feel it is fully appropriate to consider a problematization of displeasure. By linking stress with desire and displeasure in this Foucauldian sense, it is, we contend, possible to view discourses and subject positions of stress in a different light. Before progressing, we must note a limitation in scope of our endeavour. Despite the attention in his later work to the potential for ‘resistance’ implied within the project of self, Foucault is never able to explain the apparent stability of certain structures of domination. As Newton (1998, p. 441) asserts, Foucauldian analysis is unable to explain agency or to explore how ‘the self and discourse are established in the context of changing political and material relations’. This paper does not seek to show the ‘cause and effect’ of stress discourses nor how a changing sense of self within a dynamic project of self-creation relates to changes in discourse or society. Instead, our scope is limited to the simple presentation of another reading of such discourse. How they come about and ‘work’ is clearly a much greater project. We must comment briefly on the complex issue of agency in Foucault. His conceptualization of power as something that is productive rather than as something to be enjoyed or employed means that we cannot seek to explain through his work actions aimed at effecting change in our environment or in others. Newton (1998) considers this problem. Yet Foucault (as already quoted) does discuss ‘acts’ of self-creation and does link these to pleasure and desire. There are two reading of this. Firstly, he appears to accept unproblematically that we do consider and evaluate our actions against pleasures and desires within our self-creative projects. Secondly, it is reasonable, though potentially contestable, to regard such psychological activity in terms of primary or secondary appraisal (or, at least, their psychological aspects) to use phrases that will be familiar to stress researchers outside the Foucauldian tradition. This is a different sort of activity to that intended to ‘change’ others or the environment. We believe that a consideration of past actions or self-creative activity within the art of self does not compromise us within Newton’s critique and that it is, therefore, reasonable to consider an individual’s ‘self-manoeuvring’ (identity reforming) in relation to stress through notions from The History of Sexuality. As said before, we need to employ arguments beyond the scope of this paper if we are to consider the broader social and discursive impact of this self-manoeuvring on others or our environment. We acknowledge that Foucault’s work, particularly his later work, has involved a long detour (Starkey & Hatchuel, 2002) and is, as Burrell (1998) admits, almost wilfully

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384 Martin Bicknell and Andreas Liefooghe

obtuse and opaque. It would be inappropriate, therefore, to suggest that there is one right reading of Foucault or that our particular reading of technologies of self-creation is the only version possible. In this vein, we talk deliberately of the ‘art of stress’ throughout this paper to indicate how discourses of the ‘stressed self’ are contextually subjectifying. We do this not so much because current discourses are wrong, but because they are dangerous (Knights, 2002); not so much to avoid domination, but rather to allow ‘games of power to be played with minimum domination’ (Foucault, 1994, p. 298); not so much because the approach is the only appropriate way, but because it is an appropriate way.

Our research
So given this background, what was our analytic approach? As per many Foucauldian studies – and as called for by Phillips and Hardy (2002, p. 84) – we undertook an analysis that ‘subverts and challenges taken-for-granted understandings’. Furthermore, we sought to challenge essentialism and dualism and reject the unitary self. More specifically, we analysed our interview transcripts looking for parallels to Foucault’s late work. In particular, we concentrated on a problematization of pleasure (and, importantly, its obverse) by looking at the way people construct themselves as stressed in terms of public opinion, glory, the honour of being human, and shame within the linking of acts, pleasure and desire. We have found this approach useful and revealing of new ways of looking at the ‘power’ and complexity of stress discourse. On the basis of this experience, we feel that a similar lens could usefully be applied to other areas of organizational studies. It should be noted that although we ‘looked for parallels’, the analysis below is produced by us. We did not present and ‘negotiate’ our interpretation with interviewees. It is our rereading of the situation based on our understanding of the notion of self and, as such, lives firmly within a multi-vocal landscape. In the rest of this section, we briefly describe the context in which this analytic lens was used. As has already been mentioned, we believe that a critical review – one that both focuses on how the stressed subject not only creates discourses but is constituted through discourse and recognizes the central role of self-regulation – can allow ‘stressed voices’ to be heard differently. In this regard, we felt that it was pertinent to consider workers’ own accounts recognizing that only a few studies (e.g. Hepburn & Brown, 2001) have done this. A limited data corpus such as this was appropriate since, as previously mentioned, we were not attempting to trace the subjectifying development of stress discourses. In selecting our sample, we chose to address people whose work, in lay terms, is commonly characterized as demanding and potentially ‘stressful’. Although some of our interviewees had ‘suffered’ from stress, we did not deliberately restrict our attention to this group. We also recognized the specific pressure of dealing with clients and wanted people who had an element of control over the way they work. We therefore concentrated our interview programme on what might loosely be termed ‘client-service workers’. They included traditional professions, such as lawyers and accountants, as well as business consultants, career advisors, executive coaches, corporate bankers and a bond dealer. Details are provided as interviewees are introduced into our analysis. This was a deliberately disparate group, chosen to provide a rich diversity of accounts. Interviews were conducted with 13 such workers. The number is adequate for a qualitative study of this type, where the development of norms or generalization is

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The art of stress 385

not our aim. Having ascertained willingness in principle to participate, interviewees were sent a brief about the research and an informed consent form. This clearly positioned the study as being about ‘accepting stress’. They were informed that they would be participating in a ‘semi-structured conversation around the subject of engagement with stressful situations whilst at work’ (from interviewee brief). Furthermore, the interviewer (the first author) was a former management consultant and had worked in broadly similar environments to interviewees. He did not attempt to disguise this and indeed used this fact to provide a sense of ‘empathy’ with the demands faced, although he attempted not to lead interviewees when discussing the impact of these demands. Interviews were generally held in a meeting room at the interviewee’s place of work or some other neutral environment. Semi-structured interviews were conducted. Questions were open-ended and nondirective. Although a common ‘agenda’ was followed and the same broad areas were covered in all interviews the precise form of the questioning varied so as to achieve a more natural conversation. Interviews lasted about 1 hour and were taped and fully transcribed. Our transcribing notation was selected for its adequacy and simplicity. [Square brackets] are used to add our own comments, to explain context or to make the flow clear. Two dots .. indicate a break in the flow of speech or change of direction by the speaker. Three dots in square brackets [: : :] indicate that a section of speech has been omitted. Names have been changed. Transcripts were analysed in the manner described at the start of this section and manually coded. It should be explicitly noted that we do not present this as a full Foucauldian discourse in the sense of, say, Willig (2001) or even a discourse dynamic (Parker, 1992). As we have already stated, others (e.g. Newton et al., 1995, or Hepburn & Brown, 2001) have already started us down this road and have demonstrated the subjectifying nature of stress discourses.

Stressing ourselves: A problematization of displeasure
Below we consider extracts from four interviews with Diana, Ursula, Orla and Len. Diana Diana has a portfolio career. She is a trained cognitive analytic therapist and practises part time in the NHS. She also works as a career consultant and occasionally as a headhunter. In this brief extract, she is talking, on the face of it, about the need to hide her stress from her career-counselling clients.
I’ll tell you an example of my.. an extreme example of which I’m not proud. Of my attitude to stress not showing at all. My father died, and I had just heard that he had died. I had a phone call from South Africa. And I had to meet a client.. a client who’s very very senior person and who came from far.. you know not from London. Far enough way so that he was already on the train coming here. And I came into the office and had a two hour meeting with him. And he had absolutely no idea,.. and has no idea to this day as to what.. what sort of things were going on. Now that is an example, that I’m not proud of, because.. I’ve unpacked that in my own therapy and have come to realise that it was completely mad really to do that. But that’s the extent to which I believe that the.. that the client should not see what’s going on behind the scenes so to speak.

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386 Martin Bicknell and Andreas Liefooghe

This description could simply be about a belief, ethic or professional norm that one’s private life should not interfere with one’s working life. However, the late-Foucauldian lens allows a much richer reading. Desire and deficiency are not straightforward: there is a desire to fill a deficiency but there is also a desire to leave things deficient. Contradictory gaps are seen in Diana’s account. Diana desired to provide what was, as far as she was concerned at the time, an excellent service to her client and, as her account showed, this was described as her immediate priority. Her desire to provide this service, nevertheless, resulted in other problems for her. Her retrospective justification indicates that she may also have been desiring (or at the very least recognizing the need for) a space to grieve, and was apparently uncomfortable after the event that she denied herself this opportunity. It is almost as if there were two conflicting pleasures and desires she apparently had, if not to reconcile, at least to handle in tandem. It was not simply a matter that she had to choose between two options, but rather through her immediate and delayed acts she needed to attempt a dialectical resolution since both desires were important to her and she perhaps acted psychologically to ‘satisfy’ both. Digging deeper, we can see just how complex this dialectic is. Diana sees public opinion in two ways. She expresses the need to look after her clients alongside the need to grieve her father’s death. Glory too is two-fold: she achieves it through her stoicism yet tacitly, and retrospectively, recognized that the honour of being human perhaps required her to be more overt in seeking space to grieve. Her account of her actions suggested that she might have been ashamed to have succumbed to her grief, yet retrospectively, she was ashamed not to have done so. It is reasonable to assume that Diana, in attempting to resolve these complex forces resultant from an inherently stressful situation, added to her sense of psychological disharmony although, possibly, deferring its manifestation. In terms of the art of self, the self she was trying to create can reasonably be interpreted as one arising from an endeavour in which public opinion, glory, the honour of being human and shame were all inculcated. Yet this was certainly not a simple process for Diana as she had many conflicting forces to deal with simultaneously. She was much more than a grieving woman seeking to provide the level of clients service that she thought was appropriate in the circumstances. She was trying to create herself as a woman knowledgeable of conflicting pleasures and resolving these was not, for her, straightforward. The acts she is considering – both the immediate one (meeting the client) and delayed (unpacking it in analysis) – were both necessarily considered within the process of resolving her desires. Whilst neither act is described as pleasurable, both could be seen in relation to the avoidance of displeasure. Given the contradictory forces to which she was subjected, Diana had to work hard to link pleasure, desire and acts within her project of self. Although the story was recounted during a discussion about hiding one’s unease from clients, the self-creative process of creating the link possibly added to or ‘emphasized’ her sense of unease: an increase in her stress.

Ursula The next extract is of a similar nature. It comes from an interview with Ursula. Ursula was a management consultant, with one of the biggest accounting firms where she was, at the time, a colleague of the interviewer. Shortly following the time she is describing here, Ursula took 3 months off work with depression caused, she asserts, through the

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The art of stress 387

pressures of this job. Like Diana, the demands on her, and her desires, are not straightforward and cannot be considered simple opposites.
Huh you might say that.. you.. don’t care therefore you’ll leave it but I think your own personal pride at work would not let you walk out. Er I’m trying to picture the situation where it’s two in the morning you’ve got somebody at home phoning you saying ‘when the hell are you coming home? You’re working too late. You’re working too long’ um and you’re working with a team who are younger than you, a subordinate team. Junior to you. Um no I could not leave them to get on and finish that job because it would not seem appropriate as a manager to.. er.. that would feel baling out and it would not feel um to be the right thing to do, I would feel that I should stay there and take some of the responsibility for getting that thing done that was putting pressure on us. If I were there with a colleague.. a peer.. whom I respected I would continue to stay in that stressful situation out of choice because I wouldn’t want to let them down.

Again, desire and deficiency are not straightforward concepts for Ursula. She desires to absent herself from a stressful situation; to seek rest in its place. Yet she recognizes that this might leave a different deficiency: an absence of care for her colleagues. She seeks to justify several norms: the committed consultant, the caring manager, the independent woman who is not put upon. The acts she is accounting for are largely negative: physically she stays put. Psychologically, her account indicates that she had started resenting the position she was in. In resolving these contradictory forces, she attempted to maintain her self-pride; she indicated that maybe she did not care about her work and would happily have walked out, but would have been ashamed to have done this. But she also wanted to be a good partner to the person waiting at home; she wanted to be fair to the people working for her; she wanted to be seen as a responsible manager and a peer worthy of respect. Managerial discourses of the right things to do became inculcated into Ursula’s conception of the ‘glory’ of being a good manager and of not letting a colleague down, yet this must be contrasted with a less explicitly stated desire – one that is projected on to her partner at home – to have been a person who can resist unreasonable demands at work. She almost seemed to be creating a self for whom stress was inevitable, whilst at the same time alluding to the idea that accepting stressful situations was not necessarily appropriate considering the sort of person, as opposed to mere manager, that she wished to be. Again the process of linking acts, pleasure and desire within an ethic of behaviour required considerable psychological work for Ursula. Long hours and pressure to deliver were compounded and may have added to a sense of being stressed in their own right. Accepting or justifying them added yet more pressure or may have raised existing pressures to greater consciousness. Orla We turn next to Orla, who is a barrister at law, concentrating, in her own words, ‘in property and commercial litigation and also what a friend of mine describes as things to do with dead people like wills and family provision claims’. This first extract establishes a theme that runs through my subsequent analysis. She is talking here about what stress means to her.
I think the only time when I actually feel really stressed, I mean I feel over-worked sometimes but I don’t think that’s quite the same thing, at least it’s not how I perceive it, I

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388 Martin Bicknell and Andreas Liefooghe just curse everyone in sight, you know, for the fact that I’ve got to be here until four in the morning, or whatever it is, but I don’t think that I regard that as stress, I regard it as irritation. But stress.. I suppose the only time that one’s really stressed is if you know you’re going to go to court on a case where you know that you’re not 100% certain of your points on the Law, and I think everyone is afraid of that.

An interesting point is that it is not the demands of her work that is seen as a stress, but instead it is her conception that a barrister should be 100% certain in their knowledge of the law. There is a clear desire to avoid deficiency. The public opinion, within the Inns of Court, is of knowledgeable lawyers. There is glory in having learnt one’s law well and shame in being found wanting. In this next extract, Orla provides a tangible example of such stress. Whereas in much of the rest of the interview she came across as a very self-assured and confident barrister, in this extract the anxiety was palpable.
Orla Yes, the cases where this normally arises is when you’re in the Court of Appeal. There you have three judges who will have already got your skeleton argument, what you’re going to say in front of them. Now what you always want to be able to do is to start your argument and pursue it because you want to be able to build it up. Now, in the Court of Appeal they won’t let you do that. The judges will say, now what I’d like you to tell me about is this, and then of course they inevitably choose your weakest point, and they will say, you know, ‘well what do you say about this?’ and it is a source of terror to, I think, everyone, that you will get asked about something about which you have no idea at all. You don’t know what they’re talking about or you can’t answer it or they’re coming up with a point you’ve never thought of, you know, it’s not inherent in your case. I remember once being in the Court of Appeal and the judge, who was a difficult judge, on this particular case, said to me, ‘well how does that tie in with the Conveyancing Act of 1861?’ And I had no idea at all of how it tied in with the Conveyancing Act of 1861 or even if it did. Interviewer And you can still remember the Act? Orla And I can still remember the Act, and fortunately there was a very nice judge there who saw my face and said, ‘I’m afraid I must tell my learned brother I can’t remember the point about the 1861 Act but I would like an opportunity to look it up over the lunch adjournment, so perhaps we could come back to that after lunch’, to give me time to go away and think about it, which was very sweet. But, in fact, I mean I was just off the hook; I had no idea what to say. And those don’t happen very often, but, by God! you remember them. And those are awful and everyone is frightened of that happening to them. Interviewer Now are you frightened of that just because it’s a horrible personal experience and all the emotions, or does it get round to colleagues and.. Orla Well I don’t think usually that anyone that you know gets to know about it, although they may, but there you are sitting there with solicitors and counsel on the other side and two other judges staring at you and, you know, you are just making a complete nerd of yourself. [: : :] Interviewer I just wondered whether there’s almost a sort of rivalry within the profession, not to make these sorts of mistakes. Orla No, not really. I mean I’m sure some people feel it. I don’t feel that myself, but quite a lot of the cases you’re in are reported and the last thing you want the judge to do is to be cutting about what you said or did. Now that has never happened to me but, you know, you go on tenterhooks that it might, that you might do something really stupid.

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The art of stress 389

Unlike earlier examples from Diana and Ursula, where contradictory desires had to be interwoven, Orla’s account shows a more direct relationship between shame and stress, where shame, in this instance, relates to non-compliance with the public opinion of the Inns of Court. When she comes face-to-face with that shame she seeks what external justification she can by talking of the ‘difficult’ judge who can be compared against the ‘sweet’ intervention of his learned brother. Orla does indicate that she enjoys winning cases (as other extracts would have shown) and she desires to succeed on behalf of her clients. There is glory and honour to be had in success, although she does, in her account, downplay professional rivalry as an important factor for her. However, Orla’s greatest desire is to avoid shame and her presence in Chambers until 4:00 am may, in this reading, reflect the assiduous preparation she feels is necessary to avoid even the potential risk of shame. It is going to court ‘unprepared’ as well as actually being ‘caught out’ that induces anxiety. It is the transgression of legal public opinion that, for her, has the greatest potential to result in stress either through the work necessary to avoid such a transgression or in the transgression itself. Orla’s ethical creation of self appears to come from a desire to conform to her conceptualization of the ideal barrister; to the law of the law. Conforming to this law results in pleasure; failure to conform leads to shame. The avoidance of shame infiltrates her psychological actions and self-manoeuvring with her self-creative processes. Len The final extract we consider is from Len who is a corporate banker in the City of London. At the time of the interview, Len had just been ‘released’ by one bank and was freelancing. This section of the interview related to a discussion of appropriate ways to deal with people suffering from stress.
Len And there’s also a somewhat of a societal thing to all of this. Um, essentially I am saying that the stiff upper lip of 1950, which he would have adopted in a stressful circumstance, is not what is right in 2003. There is a much greater showing of emotion. Um there’s a much greater er, at least on the surface, expectance, er it is important to being seen to care, but if you’re really in a leadership position, you can’t be seen to care too much, I think. Now I may be bad at this, but it’s the division.. It’s a question of whether you.. What is the point at which you say, okay let’s give up our objective of climbing the mountain um because I’ve got to put you on a stretcher. Now there is a point, um hypothetically, where you’ve got to care enough for the individual to say we’re not going to get to the top of the mountain because you’re going to die. Urm now take it into a work environment. There are those situations, but at first, the boss the leader, the whatever, has got to say, well actually we’re still climbing the mountain. Um it’s a hard balance to strike, but I think it.. er [: : :] In a work environment, a lot of these things [problems of stress that may need to be dealt with by others in the organization] fester, simmer, never get resolved. [: : :] A lot of the problems are not dealt with. Interviewer Festering is an interesting word. I mean where does that, how does that occur? Is it the stiff upper lip you were mentioning, is it.. are people frightened? Len I think it depends on the er culture of the organization. Um most organizations will still pay in city terms more of a bonus if you climb the mountain um than if you demonstrate that you didn’t kill anyone on the way (laugh) and you might have done. Um now it does vary. There are some very supportive organizations the nature of the city is, parts of it, take no prisoners

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390 Martin Bicknell and Andreas Liefooghe not the parts I worked in or wanted to work in. They were quite caring parts of it. There are some parts that are basically very ruthless, self-seeking, all the rest of it. Um and I guess you have to expect that that’s the nature of the beast you’re dealing with. Y’know, if you want to play with the big boys don’t be surprised if you get knocked over if that’s what you’ve chosen to do. Um I’m not sure that I’ve answered your question, I’m not sure I know what your question.. could you say what the question was again? Do I think organizations solve these problems? No Interviewer No it was how, er.. how are these problems allowed to fester? Is it just that people don’t care, is it that they don’t know how? Len I er do think it’s an imbalance, personally, between this results achievement driven thing which is what the businesses are set out to be climbing the mountain and the care driven thing. Now err I have a simplistic view that you can combine the two and that you can get better results by caring more and then you can push the bastards to work twenty four hours a day instead of twenty three (laugh) now let’s not be cynical about it but seriously, if people feel motivated and feel happy, that they will actually do better as a result. I don’t think it’s something that many businesses do at all.

Yet again, desire and deficiency are linked in complex ways, and his acts cannot be read as simple compliance to the norms of the City. The self that Len is creating has to handle paradoxes. He indicates that he does not want to work in those parts of the City that ‘take no prisoners’, yet he still talks about leadership in a very task-oriented manner and seems fully to endorse the City’s discourse of commitment. He may, at times, genuinely enjoy mountaineering. ‘Big boys’ in such an account not only administer knocks but have to be able to take them; mountains are, necessarily, there to be conquered. Leadership requires you to get your team up to the summit hopefully minimizing, but not necessarily avoiding, casualties on the way. Len, in linking his acts to his desires and pleasure seems to be expressing pride in an ability to have taken his blows or in having reached the top of the mountain with his team. Len’s fairly aggressive language with its metaphors of mountaineering and achievement against the odds reflects the ‘public’ opinion of the City with its glory of achievement in a high-pressured environment. Yet he also recognizes a different desire: the honour of being a caring human. He endeavours to create a self that ‘accepts’ both positions. Len, however, no longer has the convenience of maintaining a stiff upper lip as a means of avoiding his dilemmas. In his more complex world, his ‘complete’ self should be able to express concern, to care about one’s suffering. Indeed, modern managers should be attuned to emotions – theirs and those of others. Unfortunately, Len seems unable to resolve these conflicting images completely, and therefore seems to put emotions into a subservient role in his description. Yet he still felt that it was important enough to bring it up in interview; to joke about it. His discussion of bonuses and, in particular, the emphasis not on their size or value to him but on the way they are allocated is also interesting. It shows another desire: to respect, in and of itself, the Law of the City. Bonuses awarded to the uncaring mountaineers are simply accepted. Again, this shows his commitment to the ‘public’ opinion of the City and of being a ‘good City man’. By considering another’s life as more important than the conquest of the summit, he demonstrates that the honour of being human may on occasions be more important than honour of being the good City type. He is buying space to resolve contradictions. Although in these extracts Len is not talking directly about his own stress, he is talking about situations where stress, at least for those working for him, might be

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The art of stress 391

sensed. Nevertheless, his project of self-creation with its problematic contradictions could reasonably be seen as a particularly hard, indeed stressful, endeavour for Len but one worth the endeavour as it creates the psychological room for him to be able to present himself as more than the selfish City clone. His account shows a desire to do well in its ruthless environment but on his own terms. His account talks of providing space where his kinder side can be incorporated into his project of self; he does seem to enjoy not just getting to the summit but mountaineering itself; his acts are considered within a complex ethic. Drawing this section to a close, a key observation we would like to note is the extent to which our analysis has shown the heterogeneous nature of stress. For Orla there was a link between the cares of the barrister she wished herself to be and the stress she described. Diana, Ursula and Len had to handle conflicting desires, pleasures and displeasures. Public opinion, glory, the honour of being human, and shame were all inculcated in the experience of stress as acts, pleasure and desires were linked together. Pleasure and its absence are problematic when seen in a work context. This problematization of pleasure and displeasure can be seen in stressful encounters. Furthermore, our interviewees provide evidence that the problematization itself can lead to dilemmas that are hard to reconcile. Indeed to dilemmas whose reconciliation may even exacerbate stress or be the key to its ‘identification’ by the artistic self.

The art of stress
In this paper, we described Foucault’s late work and how he considered a moral problematization of pleasure; a focus on knowledge/pleasure that attended to notions of public opinion, glory, the honour of being human and shame. We argued that Foucault’s analysis can be transplanted from its classical origins to modern organizations. The public are no longer citizens, but are the ‘generalized’ organizational member or, indeed, the professional. We also proposed to consider not just pleasure but its obverse. In order to consider the value of undertaking this transplant, we undertook a ‘problematization of the pleasure and displeasure of stress’. This provided us, we feel, with a rich way to read the accounts we collected. Foucault notes:
concern with the self and care of the self were required for right conduct and the proper practice of freedom, in order to know one’s self : : : as well as to form oneself, to surpass oneself, to master the appetites that threaten to overwhelm one : : : . Taking care of oneself requires knowledge. Care of the self is of course knowledge of the self – that is the Socratic-Platonic aspect – but it is also the knowledge of a number of rules of acceptable conduct or principles that are both truths and prescriptions. To take care of the self is to equip oneself with these truths: this is where ethics is linked to the game of truth (Foucault, 1994, p. 285).

Our interviewees are caring for and creating themselves – being stressed or not – in very different ways in the situations they describe. Truths and prescription are seen differently and, furthermore, are not without paradox. Appetites for different tastes – for success, for esteem, for rest – conflict, and mastery of these are achieved in diverse ways. Stress, as a work of art, is created and experienced by the self uniquely and contextually. Too much stress research oversimplifies this aspect. However, not only is the care of a stressed self a far from heterogeneous issue, but also the act of care itself may be ‘stressful’ or may help to emphasize stressful components in our lives.

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392 Martin Bicknell and Andreas Liefooghe

If we allow ourselves to step outside Foucault for a moment, redirecting attention on to care of the stressed self highlights, we suggest, a number of potential ‘transformative redefinitions’ (Alvesson & Deetz, 2000) that could allow others the choice, for example, not to join Len in climbing mountains or to find, unlike Diana, a less painful place in which to grieve. Recognizing that we as individuals, indeed the different situations we encounter, are unique and that desires, pleasure and acts are contextual and often contradictory, may allow us to reduce our individual psychological disharmony or to see more clearly how others might possibly be suffering. We have used only part of Foucault’s work and it can be unfair to be selective in this way. However, this paper and our findings are not presented as the only or a whole rereading of stress, but as one of many partial rereadings. Stress research has been dominated by positivist methods that generally investigate the transactional model of stress. There is very little problematization of the person experiencing stress, or indeed of the language of stress. We do not see the self as an ontological given nor, indeed, as a being on to whom stress may be unproblematically written. It is not simply a matter that stress occurs when there is a ‘misfit’ between person and environment, but rather that that ‘misfit’ must be negotiated within not only intersubjective contexts, but also the caring of ourselves that is part of our art of self. Addressing this aspect of the stress phenomenon is a key additional contribution that our approach can make to stress research. In conclusion, we believe that our analysis of the accounts of stress provided to us, using a lens based on Foucauldian concepts of the care of the self, has shown the value of rereading accounts in this way. It shows that stress is not homogeneous nor essential, that indeed ‘care’ itself is problematic and thus potentially stressful. There is an art to stress.

Acknowledgements
The authors would like to acknowledge the contribution of Dr Neil Conway, who reviewed an earlier version of this paper, as well as the profoundly helpful comments of the editors of this special issue and the three anonymous reviewers. The first author would also like to acknowledge the financial support of the Economic and Social Research Council, who are funding his doctoral studies (grant number PTA-030-2004-00004).

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Received 28 April 2005; revised version received 2 February 2006