Emotional labor may be vital to the success of qualitative research studies, particularly longitudinal studies that depend on the maintenance of research relationships over time. Rather than being limited to the comportment of researchers toward their participants, however, we find that participants also actively engage in practices of emotional labor to manage researchers and guide research interactions. We document elements of such “mutual emotional labor” in the establishment of rapport, in crafting experiences of personalized therapeutic benefit from participating in interviews, and in efforts to navigate closure at the conclusion of research projects. We argue that by recognizing forms of reciprocal emotion management, researchers may be better equipped to engage in ethical research practices that serve not only knowledge production but also human connection and care.


emotional labor, qualitative research, ethic of care, empathy, trust

Author Bio(s)

Jill A. Fisher, Ph.D., is Professor of Social Medicine in the Center for Bioethics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is the author of Medical Research for Hire: The Political Economy of Pharmaceutical Clinical Trials (Rutgers University Press, 2009) and Adverse Events: Race, Inequality, and the Testing of New Pharmaceuticals (New York University Press, 2020). More information about Dr. Fisher as well as many of her publications can be found at her website: www.jillfisher.net. Please direct correspondence to jill.fisher@unc.edu.

Torin Monahan, Ph.D., is Professor of Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is an internationally recognized researcher who studies the social and cultural dimensions of surveillance systems, with a specific focus on gender and racial inequalities. His latest book is Crisis Vision: Race and the Cultural Production of Surveillance (Duke University Press, 2022). More information about Dr. Monahan as well as many of his publications can be found at his website: www.torinmonahan.com. Please direct correspondence to torin.monahan@unc.edu.


The research reported in this article was supported under a grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (National Institutes of Health) under award number R01GM099952, ‘‘Factors Affecting Healthy Volunteers’ Long-Term Participation in Clinical Trials’’ (PI: Jill A. Fisher). We would like to thank the other members of the HealthyVOICES team, especially Julianne Kalbaugh, Marci Cottingham, Heather Edelblute, Rebecca de Guzman, Chandler Batchelor, Lisa McManus, and, Arianna Taboada, who were the primary recruiters and/or interviewers for this study. Their emotional labor was essential to the success of this project. As project manager, Julianne Kalbaugh was critical in successfully retaining our participants and ensuring that the study stayed on track. Juli’s emotional labor was all the greater for having to manage our team, and she did so deftly. We also want to thank the HealthyVOICES participants who were willing to enroll in our study, stuck with us for three years, and taught us about mutual emotional labor and so much more.

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