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Legitimacy Work: Managing Sick Leave Legitimacy in Interaction
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Sociology.
2016 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This thesis studies how sick leave legitimacy is managed in interaction and develops an empirically driven conceptualization of ‘legitimacy work’. The thesis applies an ethnomethodological framework that draws on conversation analysis, discursive psychology, and membership categorization analysis. Naturally occurring interaction is examined in two settings: (1) multi-party meetings at the Swedish Social Insurance Agency, in which participants assess and discuss the ‘status’ of the sick leave and plan for work rehabilitation; (2) peer-based online text-in-interaction in a Swedish forum thread that gathers people on sick leave.

The thesis shows how mental states, activities and alternative categories function as resources for legitimacy work. However, such invocations are no straight-forward matter, but impose additional contingencies. It is thus crucial how they are invoked. By detailed analyses of the interaction, with attention to aspects such as lexicality and delivery, the thesis identifies a range of discursive features that manage sick leave legitimacy. Deployed resources are also subtle enough to be deniable as legitimacy work, that is, they also manage the risk of an utterance being seen as invested or biased.

While legitimate sick leave is a core concern for Swedish policy-making, administration, and public debate on sick leave, previous research has for the most part been explanatory in orientation, minding legitimacy rather than studying it in its own right. By providing detailed knowledge about the legitimacy work that people on long-term sick leave do as part of both institutional and mundane encounters, the thesis contributes not only new empirical knowledge, but a new kind of empirical knowledge, shedding light on how the complexities of sick leave play out in real-life situations.

Traditional sociological approaches have to a significant extent treated legitimacy as an entity with beginnings and ends that in more or less direct ways relate to external norms and cognitive states, or that focus on institutions, authority or government. By contrast, the herein emerging concept ‘legitimacy work’ understands legitimacy as a locally contingent practicality – a collaborative categorially oriented accomplishment that is integral to the interactional situation.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2016. , 113 p.
Digital Comprehensive Summaries of Uppsala Dissertations from the Faculty of Social Sciences, ISSN 1652-9030 ; 122
Keyword [en]
legitimacy, legitimation, legitimacy-in-action, sick leave, sickness absence, sick role, Sweden, social insurance, sickness benefit, conversation analysis, discursive psychology, ethnomethodology, membership categorization analysis, institutional talk, categories, moral work, social interaction, talk-in-interaction, text-in-interaction, meetings, online forums
National Category
Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology) Social Psychology
Research subject
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-267405ISBN: 978-91-554-9419-3 (print)OAI: diva2:873041
Public defence
2016-01-15, Auditorium Minus, Museum Gustavianum, Akademigatan 3, Uppsala, 13:15 (English)
Available from: 2015-12-18 Created: 2015-11-22 Last updated: 2016-01-13
List of papers
1. Wanting to work: Managing the sick role in high-stake sickness insurance meetings
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Wanting to work: Managing the sick role in high-stake sickness insurance meetings
2017 (English)In: Sociology of Health and Illness, ISSN 0141-9889, E-ISSN 1467-9566, Vol. 39, no 7, 1149-1165 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
National Category
Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)
Research subject
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-267403 (URN)10.1111/1467-9566.12567 (DOI)
Available from: 2015-11-22 Created: 2015-11-22 Last updated: 2017-10-19
2. 'Filling one's days': managing sick leave legitimacy in an online forum
Open this publication in new window or tab >>'Filling one's days': managing sick leave legitimacy in an online forum
2011 (English)In: Sociology of Health and Illness, ISSN 0141-9889, E-ISSN 1467-9566, Vol. 33, no 5, 761-776 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

An inherent part of the general understanding of illness is that it is incapacitating, making those who are ill unable to do things that they would normally do. Staying at home from work is a common consequence, and what 'ill' people do while at home then becomes accountable. This article explores online discourse about the kinds of activities people engage in when on sick leave. It employs a discursive psychological framework for analysis, drawing heavily on conversation analysis. A Swedish internet forum thread on sick leave is examined, focusing on how the participants describe and account for the things they do when staying home from work due to illness. The analysis suggests that the participants' accounts of their activities delicately manage the legitimacy of their sick leave. In examining how this is done in practice, the analysis makes visible the balancing act between being ill enough to stay home from work and well enough for other activities. In the context of recent debates in Sweden and elsewhere about the legitimacy of sick leave in different situations, the analysis of how legitimacy is actually negotiated is an important concern, making visible the moral work of being on sick leave.

sick leave, legitimacy, discursive psychology, conversation analysis, internet forums
National Category
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-156966 (URN)10.1111/j.1467-9566.2011.01330.x (DOI)000292921200009 ()
Available from: 2011-08-20 Created: 2011-08-11 Last updated: 2017-12-08Bibliographically approved
3. Making equality relevant: Gender, housework, and sick leave legitimacy in online interaction
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Making equality relevant: Gender, housework, and sick leave legitimacy in online interaction
2014 (English)In: Feminism and Psychology, ISSN 0959-3535, E-ISSN 1461-7161, Vol. 24, no 3, 295-313 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

This article uses discursive psychology and conversation analysis to examine a Swedish online forum thread in which participants, who present as women on long-term sick leave, make gender equality relevant when discussing housework. Doing housework can challenge the legitimacy of the sick leave, and as a woman, one risks being categorized as a "housewife." Such a categorization can work to undermine sick leave legitimacy and is also problematic given norms of gender equality in Sweden. In the studied data, such inferences are managed by invoking a (male) partner in accounts for housework or by humorous and ironic gendered categorizations. The analysis focuses on how this is done in the fine details of the interaction, showing how sick leave legitimacy is managed within a normative framework of gender equality. The study provides a practically oriented approach to the gendered aspects of sick leave legitimacy and sheds light on the delicate interplay between gender equality and sick leave in everyday life.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Sage, 2014
Gender equality, housework, sick leave, online interaction, conversation analysis, discursive psychology, accounts, categorization, humor
National Category
Psychology Gender Studies
Research subject
Sociology; Psychology
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-229579 (URN)10.1177/0959353513515295 (DOI)000340165600001 ()
Available from: 2014-08-12 Created: 2014-08-11 Last updated: 2017-12-05Bibliographically approved

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