The ‘ruthless years’

Burn-out and the paradigm of stress

in Feeling the strain
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This chapter argues that the way that employers responded to the growing problem of stress revealed continuity in terms of the contingent approach to, and explanation of, employee stress as a problem of the individual, rather than an environmental or organisational one. Popular representations of the stressed and the development of ideas about ‘burn-out’ also highlighted continuities with previous attempts to identify and categorise those most susceptible to stress. It argues that the institutionalisation of stress within work and domestic life contributed to a growing conceptualisation of the individual as victim. While this liberated the sufferer from being the cause of their own suffering, it also reduced their agency and still implied a degree of inherent personal weakness, consistent with the conceptualisation of stress throughout the century.

Feeling the strain

A cultural history of stress in twentieth-century Britain

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