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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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on the statistical composition of unemployment

(p.209) 11 Statistics
The Sociology of Unemployment

John O’Brien

Ray Griffin

Manchester University Press

One of the most significant ways we know unemployment is through the production, dissemination and use of unemployment statistics. Government produced are commonly assumed to be objective, neutral and indisputable. Such assumptions commonly fail to take account of the social and organisational processes involved in the production and dissemination of these important numbers. So, in this chapter we consider how unemployment as a category came into being, and the issues that arise in defining people as unemployed, before considering the challenges of measuring unemployment. In doing so, we aspire to reveal the performative and reflexive aspects of the statistics: performative in the sense that unemployment is not a natural or objective category, but an organisational category of government and the act of categorising someone as unemployed, more than anything else, makes people unemployed. Reflexive in the sense that the crude statistics of unemployment inform the thinking of government and individuals, belying the complex issues around how they are produced; furthermore governments and individuals make decisions based on these statistics, which in turn impact unemployment statistics. In this way, we hope to reflect on the importance of statistics in understanding the experience of unemployment.

Keywords:   unemployment, social construction of statistics, live register, performativity of statistics, reflexivity of statistics

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