Author:John Foster (University of Manchester)
Paper short abstract:
This paper examines actions and narratives of unemployed volunteers in terms of an anthropological theory of value and finds that, by mobilising pre-existing working values, these volunteers contribute to the reproduction of a system which has marginalised them.
Paper long abstract:
This paper examines actions and narratives of unemployed volunteers in terms of an anthropological theory of value. After a brief introduction to the field of unemployment and employability in Manchester, I move on to re-count certain narratives espoused by unemployed people who volunteered in work clubs. These volunteers often framed their work in narratives of redemption and set them in opposition to both the sense of loss they felt due to their lack of work, and their frustration at new disciplinary mechanisms imposed upon them. Through their volunteering they were able to re-create a sense of personal value by helping others. Such narratives would appear to support an emerging notion of the reclamation of dignity through proclamations of the right to work. In performing a value analysis on the values underlying this situation however, I attempt to move beyond such a perspective by suggesting that, though they appear to be socially minded and are set in opposition to a world of work which has ceased to function, these actions are everywhere conditioned by an imperative to acquire wage labour. Subsequently these means by which to re-create personal value ultimately end up in practices which support a ramping up of competitive conditions within the job-market while legitimising the widespread giving of free labour. In this situation I suggest that the activation of a value structure which equates dignity with labour is responsible not for salvation but for continued participation in and reproduction of a system which actively marginalises the unemployed.
Works that matter (not): valuing productivity through and against the market