UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Centering the Complexity of Long-Term Unemployment: Lessons Learned from a Critical Occupational Science Inquiry Aldrich, Rebecca M.; Rudman, Debbie Laliberte; Park, Na Eon (Esther); Huot, Suzanne


Inquiries that rely on temporal framings to demarcate long-term unemployment risk generating partial understandings and grounding unrealistic policy solutions. In contrast, this four-phase two-context study aimed to generate complex understandings of post-recession long-term unemployment in North America. Grounded in a critical occupational perspective, this collaborative ethnographic study also drew on street-level bureaucracy and governmentality perspectives to understand how social policies and discursive constructions shaped people’s everyday ‘doing’ within the arena of long-term unemployment. Across three phases, study methods included interviews with 15 organizational stakeholders who oversaw employment support services; interviews, participant observations, and focus groups with 18 people who provided front-line employment support services; and interviews, participant observations, time diaries, and occupational mapping with 23 people who self-identified as being long-term unemployed. We draw on selected interviews and mapping data to illustrate how participants’ definitions and experiences of long-term unemployment reflected and moved beyond dominant temporally based framings. These findings reinforce the need to expand the dominant conceptualizations of long-term unemployment that shape scholarly inquiries and policy responses. Reflections on the benefits and challenges of this study’s design also reinforce the need to use multiple, flexible methods to center the complexity of long-term unemployment as it is experienced in everyday life.

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