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Ottomar Bahrs


Background: Sociology is concerned with the rules existing in a society for
organising itself within a behavioral context, including the interpretative paradigms
that members of the society use to define their rules. Accordingly, social
phenomena are both “social facts” that need to be explained as well as components
of the “world as constituted by meaning” that requires both understanding and
interpretation. This also applies to burnout, whereby sociology can provide various
different perspectives.
Method: This article considers burnout from a sociological perspective.
Results: Stress theories outline theoretical conditions that contribute to an
increased likelihood of burnout. Analyses of the individual’s life course and
interactions enable us to see how biographically, in everyday interactions as well
as in institutional contexts, individuals under stress can evolve into “people with
burnout.” These perspectives allow for the social function of talking about burnout
and the phenomenon itself. In this vein, co-creation and self-organization of work
processes, conceived initially as emancipatory, are generalized and revert to a
demand on people in the sense of marketing themselves in everyday life as an
entrepreneurial project in competition with other citizens. This permanent selforganization
leads to chronic overload. The result is a social mood that can be
characterized by the term “exhausted self” and can be understood as an expression
of the crisis of developed capitalism.
Discussion: From a sociological perspective, burnout is less a question of individual
pathology than a challenging social configuration that may contribute toward a
focus on resource-saving and sustainability; this includes a concrete utopian
moment, a claim to self-realization in meaningful work, which should be taken up
socially. This realization is controversial and requires social negotiation.
Conclusion: Burnout is increasingly becoming an issue addressed by doctors,
despite recognizing it having been taboo for a long time now. To counteract
burnout, group work within circles so-called quality, interdisciplinary professional
teams can strengthen the sense of coherence, support processes of empowerment,
and professional development.

Article Details

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Author Biography

Ottomar Bahrs

Medical Sociologist, Freelancer at the Institute for General Medicine at the University of Düsseldorf, Spokesman for the Umbrella Association Salutogenesis Göttingen and Editor of the journal “Der Mensch – Journal for Salutogenesis and Anthropological Medicine”