PhD Project


thesisThis is not working:  An ethnographic exploration of the symbolically violent nature of everyday unemployment and job searching practices

This thesis explores the everyday experiences with unemployment and job searching practices in a so-called ‘work club’ in Northern England. A work club is a place, often a community initiative, where jobseekers who are finding it difficult to look for work independently can go to for support and assistance. These initiatives are encouraged to be set up by volunteers by the UK Department for Work and Pensions and its Jobcentre Plus and are aimed at reducing unemployment levels by helping people apply for jobs. Specifically, the thesis focuses on contemporary job searching practices and asks what Banterby SC work club, the fictional name of the field work location, can tell us about how neoliberal ideologies influence both these job searching practices as well as the way we think about the relationship between employment and citizenship.

Work clubs have only received scant academic attention, and this study shows how more in-depth explorations can provide us with some valuable insights. Specifically, because doing so helps us to look beyond policy formulations, framings and imperatives to the implications of neoliberal ideologies in peoples’ everyday lives. The study uses an iterative inductive ethnographic approach, focusing on one single site field work location, encompassing two hundred hours of field work, during which at least 96 jobseekers have visited the premises of the work club. The study’s approach to doing ethnographic fieldwork was based on viewing participant observation as ‘hanging out’; that is, more than merely being somewhere, but rather as engaging and being active in an informal fashion, something that the flexible and unstructured nature of the field work location suited very well.

Through this ethnographic, in-depth exploration, then, I do not only explore the observations and findings as offered by some of the previous scholars exploring work clubs, but also seek to connect the findings to Bourdieu’s theories of symbolic power/violence as a theoretical framework, which allows us to explore the wider implications of neoliberal governmentalities imposed on jobseekers that influence their everyday practices.

This study extends not only our knowledge of the lived experiences of unemployment, but also provides a contemporary insight into work clubs, and how Banterby SC work club has proven to be a valuable site of knowledge about everyday experiences with neoliberal governmentalities toward unemployment and job searching practices. It also extends the application of a symbolic power/violence lens by bringing it together with Foucault’s neoliberal governmentalities. Specifically, the study argues that neoliberal governmentalities influencing job searching and unemployment practices are a form of symbolic violence. This approach helps us to problematise job searching practices at work clubs in order to argue for increased critical attention on these sites. Furthermore, the study uncovers the extent to which a welfare system gearing towards a digital by default administration disadvantages many jobseekers who are finding it difficult to work with computers and navigate the internet. The study also addresses and explores to what extent compliance with symbolic power/violence is also shared by staff and volunteers of third sector organisations whose main goal it is to alleviate the burden of unemployment by assisting jobseekers to fulfil their job searching obligations as asked of them by the Department for Work and Pensions and the Jobcentre Plus. Finally, the study calls for more beneficiary-centred voluntary sector research, and proposes a new methodological model for exploring voluntary action and organisations, arguing for a more integrated analysis of the experiences of various actors.

The Thesis can be accessed here on the Loughborough University Repository

Leave a Reply