In my previous research on mentoring, I had become interested in the way that myths are used to promote the mentor’s role as one of self-sacrificing nurture, and to construct the process of mentoring as one of emotional labour (Colley, 2001 and in press, a,b). I drew on the study by Bates described above, and on other feminist analyses of emotional labour informed by the theories of Marx and Foucault (notably Hochschild, 1983, but see also also Gilligan, 1995, Hughes, 2001, Walkerdine, 1992). More recently, as part of my work on the TLC project, I have been studying a vocational course in childcare. The data generated with the women and girls involved in this learning site during the first year of the research (it will continue for another two years) has resonated deeply with Bates’ stories of the ‘care girls’, and I draw on it in this paper to revisit feminist perspectives on learning to labour.1 To do so I focus, as Bates did, on the way that the control, management, and reconstruction of feelings was central to students’ accounts of their learning in the workplace.
The methodological approach of the TLC project is founded on partnership between researchers based both in universities and FE colleges, and includes the active participation of the site tutors (see Bloomer and James, 2001). Some of the data is qualitative: repeated semi-structured interviews with the tutor, her team leader, and a sample of six students; researcher observations of the college course and work placements; and the tutor’s own reflective journal. Other data is quantitative: a questionnaire survey of all students in the site, and college and national statistical data. All personal names have been changed, and the college is anonymised to protect confidentiality. Let us turn now to the learning site itself.