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The Temporalities of Unemployment – Call for Papers for Temporalités 29 (2019/1)

An issue coordinated by Hadrien Clouet (CSO, CNRS), Didier Demazière (CSO, CNRS) and Léa Lima (LISE, CNAM)

While “work” as an object boasts a long history in temporalist studies started in France by Georges Friedmann, Pierre Naville and William Grossin, it is not so much the case when it comes to employment and even further less to the loss of employment. At a time when unemployment has become a strong marker in professional careers, in public policies and in relationships to work, it appears necessary to update our knowledge of its temporalities and to explore its multiple aspects and developments in a pluridisciplinary perspective. In societies where professional activity is central, joblessness sets a person apart, is disqualifying in a way that brings forward the issues of its term, of its end, and of the way out of it.

The concept of unemployment is contemporaneous with the rationalization of industrial time (Thompson, 2004). As soon as it emerges as a category and is dealt with by public intervention, unemployment is embedded in temporalities. It starts after a few days, but has limits in time (Raynaud-Cressent, 1984). Moreover, its ascribed causes vary during the year (Beveridge, 1909). It is therefore riddled by tensions concerning its term, tempo and timetable (Grossin, 1969). For instance, the length of a period of unemployment carries multiple significance. An increase in length tends to be morally perceived as associated with the idea of willful unemployment. It also depends on historical contexts in which may emerge the issue of employability and therefore inevitability of this situation if unemployment becomes persistent. It is also a component of individual careers during which it appears in more or less unstable multiple forms of transition phases. It is targeted by institutional action aiming at making the unemployed active. It is a landmark in personal experience that affects how the future is anticipated and how job hunting is conducted. It impacts the arrangements made in everyday life and the means by which this downgraded situation is endured, etc.

The temporalities of unemployment can be analysed in multiple ways. They can also be explored in varied disciplinary perspectives: economy, sociology, history, political science, anthropology, law, social psychology and even humanities. This issue of Temporalités will pride itself in showing the wealth of disciplinary ground, theoretical problematics, angles of analysis, research methods used to explore the aspects and implications of unemployment temporalities. These temporalities can be understood based on a particularly wide and rich range of research questions. To help map an inaugural exploration, we have outlined three broad nonexclusive leads that may branch out: firstly, personal timetables and careers; secondly, institutions and instruments of government; finally, behaviour and lived-out experience.

Personal schedules and careers

The first lead breaks open a vast field of study centered around the timetables of unemployment, grasped at various scales: life course, professional transitions, breakups and turning points in life, also the connections between generations. These timetables can be considered as templates bringing together specific events and lapses of time which can be described in terms of length, of sequencing (how different events are organized in time), of timing (the chronological points at which events occur), of repetition or temporal spacing between events (Zerubavel, 1976). They are inequally distributed between social groups (Halbwachs, 1947). For this issue of Temporalités, the proposals may be concerned with the timetable of unemployment itself, within the limits of a “way in” and a “way out”, or of a whole life course in which the unemployment situation is a moment amongst others.

The analysis of biographical courses from the point of view of the space taken by unemployment can rely upon a vast range of methods: the examination of institutional or professional archives, studies about communities or localized surveys, comprehensive surveys and interviewing campaigns, transmission of agendas and retrospective interrogations, large panel longitudinal investigations. About this latter point, the provision of longitudinal investigations on individual data covering long periods of observation and a growing extension of social life, collected at a national, European (European household panel, now labelled as Statistics on the income and living conditions in the European Union, Swiss household panels) and international levels opens up beautiful perspectives to document the transformation of employment careers and the space taken by periods of unemployment.

On the long run, do careers tend to become very focused, or are they evolving towards a discontinuated pattern, with the generalization of periods of unemployment? What do we know about the effects of the duration of unemployment itself on the probability of its persistence, reflecting the individual characteristics of the people made redundant (age, sex, socio-professional category, etc.) or the labour market (territory effect, sector, size of the company, management of the labour force, social protection)? What can be learned from the historical comparison between generations having known differently contextured unemployment? Has the temporal structure of unemployment changed? What can be learned from international comparison and how are the temporalities of unemployment analysed and compared at such a scale?

How periods of unemployment link up with other aspects of life, be it events or constitutive states in a life course, can also be addressed: family life, health, sociability, even political or civic participation. How does unemployment impact life courses and careers, according to sex, age, socio-professional position, length of the phase of unemployment, etc.? What is the analysis of life courses telling us about the heterogeneity of the “unemployed” category? In what social conditions and through what kind of processes does unemployment become a biographical turning point? According to the postulate of “linked lifes” that gives structure to the life course approach (Elder, 1974), it can be interesting to make an account of these impacts not only for ego but also within a network of relationships, by addressing how the unemployment periods of one individual impacts the schedule of his or her relatives.

The unfolding of schedules and the dynamics of life courses are embedded in normative frameworks, so that the analysis of institutional action is a second analytic lead, at a crossroads with the first one.

Institutions and instruments of government

Insomuch as unemployment is an abnormal situation in relation to employment, it is the centre of an intense normative activity with a great emphasis on temporal dimensions: when to find a way out, how, what is to be done to find a way out. Many questions revolving around one major question: what is the “normal” time for it to last? Starting from how long or from what moment is it considered as atypical, abnormal, deviant? Various social groups, institutions and, on a larger scope, any other people, participate in the normative activity responsible with the creation of a more or less heavy social pressure upon the unemployed. This temporal normalisation can be explicit and formal, translated into instruments designed to govern the unemployed’s time, it can also be more diffuse and informal, conveyed by the pression exerted by close relatives, or by people within organizations bringing together unemployed people or former employees.

Diversified surveys may inform about this framing and governing of behaviour: juridical analysis of legislation and regulations overseeing the status of unemployed persons, examination of the work done by administrative employees in following the unemployed, ethnography of places where training and advice are given to help jobless people escape unemployment, assessment of the impact of public action programs on the further career of recipients, examination of unemployment at a family’s (or other group’s) scale, study of the temporal standards underlying the work of insertion and recruitment professionals, analysis of intermediation or employment plans, etc.

The contemporary evolution of job markets shows an increase in short or part-time contracts in a majority of European countries. Most of the time, as seen in France, Germany or the United Kingdom, systems have been developed to allow the concurrent drawing of both unemployment benefits and salary. The consequence is the creation of a new category of recipients, people categorized as job applicants also possessing the status of an employee. The replacement of unemployment by under employment leads to the difficult juggling between job interviews, paid activity, institutional convocations and personal life.

It is therefore essential to shed a light on the rhetoric and instruments used in public action to organize unemployed time in a rational way, in order to find a way out more quickly. How to chart the temporal planification underlying the numerous support plans designed for the unemployed? How have the temporal norms of public action evolved in the long run? Do policies in different countries converge towards a same paradigm of activation, for instance, where can differentiated temporal regimes for the unemployed be noticed? Do these differences unfold in different countries or according to different categories of unemployed? Could compensation regulations not be reassessed in the light of the chrono-policies underlying them? Do sliding scales, age rules, regulation of the duration of compensation, chronologised obligations not reveal possibly changing conceptions of unemployment temporalities?

The normalisation of the temporal behaviour of the unemployed take on a more moral character when applied to social interactions: what are the representations of a normal unemployment timetable and of its unfolding in time, as conveyed by all those who find themselves, at some point, in position to make a judgement about it, such as recruiters assessing an application, unemployment professionals controlling and counselling job seekers, family members sharing their life with an unemployed person? At what point, and how, are the figures of the voluntary, the unemployable, the active unemployed summoned? When periods of employment and unemployment alternate, how is it looked upon according to the different surveyed socio-professional categories?

In an interactionnist perspective, the point of view on the expectations of temporal morality entrepreneurs is linked to an analysis of timetable negotiations by individuals (Zerubavel, 1976; Glaser, Staruss, 2011). The scheduling activity therefore consists in coping with different norms, sometimes conflicting (Roth, 1963).

This process brings into play the creation of anticipations of a way out of unemployment and temporal perspectives summonded by individuals. How is this cognitive and normative construction linked in the medium term with the organization of everyday social temporalities, in their duration and tempo, while at the same time temporal obligations become more relaxed precisely because of the lack of employment? What place is held by job hunting in this reorganization of everyday life? Budget-time surveys coupled with qualitative surveys should teach a lot about this question, which intersects a third lead, that of behaviour and life experiences.

Behaviour and life experiences

The attention paid to the experiences lived out by the unemployed has shown a destructuration in everyday schedules caused by unemployment (Jahoda, Lazarsfeld, Zeisel, 1933). These sociologists were the first to line out a precise image of “empty unemployed time” (Schehr, 1999), which has since been abundantly used and notably applied to the ordeal of total unemployment (Schnapper, 1981) specific to categories of employees whose social life used to revolve around work. Indeed, temporal frameworks outlined by work hours or school timetables (in the case of young unemployed people) tend to subside or dissolve with unemployment. The extra time is hardly converted into time for oneself or time belonging to oneself, or reinvested in socially useful time for one’s family or community. Nevertheless, can unemployment be labelled as the “terrible rest that is social death” Bourdieu, 1982, p. 9)?

Institutions that deal with unemployment do enforce temporalities. Firstly, jobseekers are regularly and frequently summoned for institutional interviews. Moreover, interactions between the unemployed and their counsellors are prescribed according to a set standard, which decides of their length and of the way they are run. The future is now taken into account in unemployment counselling, as future careers are now predicted by multiple unemployment public services equipped with profiling instruments.

Surveys have multiplied, to analyse the effects of unemployment on people’s time, as well as the effects of time on the experience of unemployment. They involve a vast panel of perspectives: analysis of the correlation between the duration of unemployment and the activities of the unemployed such as job hunting, comprehensive study of the fatigue created by time as discouragement phenomena and resistance strategies emerge, exploration of professional anticipations and relationships to work, ethnographic observation of the arrangements made in everyday life, analysis of the temporal management of job hunting and the hopes and disillusions it triggers, study of job hunting and contact-making supervision instruments, etc.

Therefore unemployment time cannot be cut down to a lost or empty time. The temporalities of lived-through experiences are more complex. The centrality of norm in job hunting opens many questions about its temporal consequences: by which standards is job hunting temporally organized, how do unemployed people commit themselves to this activity, essential to find a way out, how does it relate to other parts of personal and social life? Job hunting is at the heart of moral expectations directed at unemployed people by the way of institutional injunctions. What are the temporal scripts underlying the supervision of the unemployed? How do these scripts travel at an international level, how are they promoted or enforced? How do life experiences relate to them?

The experience of unemployment is also the experience of insecurity, that leaves a scar on living and surviving conditions, as well as on future perspectives. It is also structured by temporalities, more precisely by temporal tensions, between the urge to find a way out and to provide to one’s needs, and anticipations marked with insecurity and doubt. How to grasp the complex nature of lived-out unemployment, how to link multiple-depths temporalities between themselves, how to account for the temporal projections of the unemployed? Also, how to understand the dynamics at work behind the relationship to work and employment—adjustment or upholding of ambitions, reconsideration of the idea of a suitable job, reassessment of the definition of accessible work, etc.?

This questioning may lead to reassessing the thesis of unemployment as dead time, and to clarify the temporal processes organizing the experience thereof: the activities engaged in to cope with temporal uncertainties, the interpretative work resulting of these activities, the crystallisation and reassessment of beliefs related to self-worth and future. This processes are not homogeneous. Their analysis should pay specific attention to inequalities derived of the social characteristics of the unemployed, or to other assumptions, such as the tension experienced during unemployment time between a heteronomous pole in which unemployment supervision institutions take up the role of a company in creating temporal frameworks, and a temporal auto determination pole which shows how reappropriation of temporalities is attempted in a “time for oneself” fashion.

This issue aims at varying problematic entries, methodological approaches and disciplinary anchorage. Contributions should therefore commit to either one of the three outlined leads, or combine them, or complement them while developing other perspectives about unemployment temporalities.

Sending of proposals for articles

Authors should send their proposals for articles to the guest editors: Hadrien Clouet (, Didier Demazière ( and Léa Lima ( – copying the editor (
The proposal, including a title and a French or English abstract (5000 characters maximum) should be sent up until September 15, 2018.

Planning and deadlines

Submission of proposals (5000 characters maximum): September 15th 2018
Reply from coordinators: October 15th 2018
Submission of papers (50,000 characters +/- 10%): 7th January 2019
Feedback following assessment by referees: 25th February 2019
Submission of revised version: 23rd April 2019
Publication: 15th June 2019


Beveridge W., 1909. Unemployment: A Problem of Industry, Longmans, Green and Co.

Bourdieu P., 1982. « Préface » à Jahoda M., Lazarsfeld P., & Zeisel H., 1982, Les chômeurs de Marienthal. Éditions de Minuit.

Demazière D., 2006. « Le chômage comme épreuve temporelle », in J. Thoemmes et G. de Terssac, Les temporalités sociales : repères méthodologiques, Toulouse, Octarès, pp. 121-132.

Elder G. H. Jr, 1974. Children of the great depression : social change in life experience, Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

Glaser B., Strauss A, [1971] 2011. Status passage, Transactions Publishers.

Grossin W., 1969. Le travail et le temps : horaires, durées, rythmes, Anthropos.

Halbwachs M., 1947. « La mémoire collective et le temps », Cahiers internationaux de sociologie, 2, p. 3-3

Hall E. T., 1966. The Hidden Dimension, Garden City, Doubleday.

Jahoda M., Lazarsfeld P., & Zeisel H., 1982. Les chômeurs de Marienthal. Éditions de Minuit.

Reynaud-Cressent B., 1984. « L’émergence de la catégorie de chômeur à la fin du XIXe siècle », Économie et statistique, pp. 53-63.

Roth J.A., 1963. Timetables, Indianapolis, Bobbs-Merrill.

Schehr S., 1999. La vie quotidienne des jeunes chômeurs, Paris, PUF.

Schnapper D., 1981. L’épreuve du chômage, paris, Gallimard.

Thompson E., 2004. Temps, discipline du travail et capitalisme industriel, La Fabrique.

Zerubavel E., 1976. “Timetables and Scheduling: On the social Organization of Time”, Sociological Inquiry, 46 (2), pp 87-94.

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