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The Sociology of Unemployment$
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Tom Boland and Ray Griffin

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780719097904

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9780719097904.001.0001

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The Sociology of Unemployment

Tom Boland

Manchester University Press

Unemployment is generally interpreted, defined and experienced as a transition – between jobs or between education and the labour market. This transition is often negatively defined as ‘doing nothing’, reflecting the widespread tendency within modern society to construct identity in terms of ‘doing’ rather than ‘being’. This chapter analyses a corpus of sixteen interviews with unemployed people. Typical elements of the experience of unemployment highlighted by deprivation theory are noted, especially the disintegration of time-structure. Furthermore, the experience of structurelessness, the limbo of ‘doing nothing’ are analysed through the anthropological idea of ‘liminality’, thereby positioning unemployment as an artificially generated ‘rite of passage’ in the labour market. Finally, using Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, the chapter attempts to make sense of unemployment as a quintessentially modern experience of interminable waiting and frantic seeking.

Keywords:   unemployment, experience, time, liminality, Beckett

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