The Unemployed Subject

Governmentalities of Unemployment in Britain and West Germany from 1964 to 1990

This project analyzes unemployment in two western European countries (Great Britian and the Federal Republic of Germany) in the years “after the boom”. Using the concept of the “unemployed subject”, it looks at governmentalities of unemployement and the unemployed in both countries, i.e. not only the administration of unemployment, but also the specific socio-economic and socio-cultural conditions that shaped them. Moreover, it examines the “technologies of the self” – strategies for defining one’s life and identity – that unemployed people used to describe and problematize themselves as unemployed.

The social process of the “subjectification of unemployment” will be situated within the institutional framework of unemployment as well as within the respective labour market policies and labour administrations. Additionally, an analysis of representations and narrative patterns of unemployment in the social sciences and humanities, as well as in popular self-help books, will provide which “veridictions” about unemployment and the unemployed were circulating in western European societies that by and large still defined themselves as work-based societies.

This study examines unemployment within the context of rapidly growing and persistent unemployment since the early 1970s. The primary instruments of labour market policy in these years were the so-called active labour market policies that were introduced in western Europe beginning in 1964 at recommendation of the OECD. Originally developed to remove regional and sectoral imbalances in labour markets generally dominated by full-time employment, these policies were then confronted with the task of dealing with labour market problems for which they were never intended. This project will thus shed more light on this paradoxical situation that emerged out of the demand for political management at the same time that uncontrollable socio-economic upheavals were occurring.