In the mood for obedience: Despair, cynicism, and seduction among employment service employees

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Based on an ethnography at the Swedish Public Employment Service, this paper offers a typology of how employees managed to obey tasks they would rather not perform. It is argued that earlier studies of workplace obedience have tended to focus on a single mood in which the actor obeys: despair, cynicism, or seduction. Here, the movement between these moods is analysed. To pass from despair to cynicism, the emotional sensitivity particular to despair must be reduced. This happens through processes of detachment. To pass from cynicism to seduction, employees must break down the reflexive layer that obstructs enthusiasm. This happens through positive thinking. The reflexive step back to cynicism requires an analytic space that can be obtained either intentionally or through certain events. Building up the sensitivity that distinguishes cynicism from despair occurs through forms of alarm.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Public Administration Studies


  • cynicism, functional stupidity, mood, obedience, workfare
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages18
JournalCulture and Organization
Issue number5
Early online date2016 May 25
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Publication categoryResearch