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Unemployment and learning: the depoliticisation and taboos of work(lessness)

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This article analyses how the learning ‐ understood as an aspect of individuals’ life-historical experiential processes ‐ of long-term vulnerable unemployed individuals in a Danish context is affected by the neoliberal organisation of the employment system and back-to-work policies and practices. In doing so, a psychosocietal approach to the study of adults’ learning ‐ in which learning processes are explored from the standpoint of the subject ‐ is applied: an approach that is analytically sensitive to the dialectic interconnectedness of subjective and objective conditions of learning during unemployment, that is, of embodied and life-historical experience, conscious as well as unconscious, and the cultural and sociopolitical embeddedness of work(lessness). In seeking to understand the ambiguities related to learning during long-term unemployment, the article argues for the usefulness of applying a broader concept of adults’ learning in addition to a recognition of negative experience. Through the life history of Richard, the article demonstrates how the neoliberal organisation of back-to-work practices ‐ emphasising the standardisation of methods, the maximisation of efficiency, self-reliance, social discipline, externally determined learning goals and the self-transparent subject ‐ conditions the learning processes of vulnerable unemployed individuals in ways that lead to blockages of experience, differentiated forms of self-alienation and defensive, self-preserving psychodynamics: hence, constituting challenges to learning, solidarity and self-realisation while acting as a catalyst for a reproducing subjective embodiment of societal processes relating to the depoliticisation of work.
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Keywords: learning; psychosocietal; subjectivity; unemployment; work

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Roskilde University, Denmark

Publication date: October 2020

This article was made available online on September 17, 2020 as a Fast Track article with title: "Unemployment and learning: the depoliticisation and taboos of work(lessness)".

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  • The Journal of Psychosocial Studies publishes work that falls within the broad transdisciplinary area of Psychosocial Studies, defined by a commitment to understanding the significance of the links between internal and external worlds.

    Psychosocial Studies draws on a range of disciplines to explore the interactive relationships between self, culture and society. Whilst often focusing on affect and emotion it explores the complexities of subjectivity and experience as it is lived and shaped in different contexts and settings. This approach is defined by a commitment to exploration of the links between the internal and external worlds; both the deeply personal and profoundly social.

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