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Does Unemployment Still Have a Meaning ? Findings from a Comparison of Three Conurbations

Didier Demazière

Centre de sociologie des organisations, Sciences Po/CNRS, 19, rue Amélie, 75007 Paris, France

Available online 8 September 2014 on Science direct
doi : 10.1016/j.soctra.2014.07.006

There have been many international comparisons of unemployment (in the sense of the ILO), usually measured by applying codified indicators based on set norms. Our approach is entirely different. Comparability is not assumed in advance, simply by adjusting the measurement instrument, but itself becomes the object of investigation : is unemployment a meaningful and robust category that gives the jobless an identity in very different societies ? In order to answer this question, the article outlines the different phases of a comparative approach based on biographical interviews with unemployed people in three conurbations (Paris, São Paulo, Tokyo). A comprehensive comparison reveals both the robustness and the fragility of joblessness as a category, thus constituting a useful adjunct to standardised comparisons. In the tradition of figurational sociology, we see unemployment as a nexus, a point of intersection between normativities that vary with time and space and subjectivities that vary with social status and personal itineraries.

Keywords : Unemployment ; International Comparison ; Biographical Interviews ; Experience.

Article Outline

  • 1. An interpretative comparison
    • 1.1. Territories where the marks of unemployment are contrasting
    • 1.2. Speaking of unemployment in three contexts
  • 2. An international universe of reference
    • 2.1. Identifying shared meanings
    • 2.2. Calibrating proximities and distances
  • 3. National normative models
    • 3.1. Managed inclusion and multi-normativity (Paris)
    • 3.2. Organized resourcefulness and alter-normativity (São Paulo)
    • 3.3. Personal responsibility and hyper-normativity (Tokyo)
  • 4. Transnational social homologies
  • 5. Figurations of unemployment
  • References

Sociologie du travail
Volume 56, Supplement 1, November 2014
Translated by John Crisp