Academic journal article Italian Sociological Review

Social Bonds and Coping Strategies of Unemployed People in Europe

Academic journal article Italian Sociological Review

Social Bonds and Coping Strategies of Unemployed People in Europe

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

The economic crisis that Europe is experiencing is having a harsher effect in some countries than in others and, within each country, among certain population groups rather than others. While statistical surveys make it possible to pinpoint households particularly exposed to poverty and long-term unemployment (European Commission, 2012, 2013) or the unemployed faced to poverty and social isolation (Gallie, Paugam, 2000; Gallie, Paugam, Jacobs, 2003; Paugam, 2006), they cannot be readily used to find out how these households and these unemployed are managing to cope with the economic misfortunes that the crisis is causing. In many respects, this question, albeit simple, is a real enigma. The purpose of this article is to try to resolve this enigma. A qualitative approach makes it possible better to assess the strategies that are being used to cope with unemployment and poverty, against a backdrop of unavoidable deprivation, and to find out whether such strategies are possible and therefore to pinpoint the main factors that explain them. What do we really mean, however, when we talk about coping strategies?

First of all, we need to examine what the experience of unemployment means in post-industrial societies, the main features of which are, as we know, production activity and the importance of work as well as the guarantee, which varies in different countries, of social protection for workers facing life's ups and downs. The compulsory social insurance system and the stable employment which spread throughout the main developed countries at the end of the Second World War helped to change the very meaning of occupational integration. To understand this, we need to look not just at the relationship with work but also at the relationship with employment shaped by the protective logic of the welfare state. In other words, occupational integration does not just mean self-realisation through work, but also an attachment, beyond the world of work, to the core of basic protection that came out of the social struggles within what can be called welfare capitalism. The experience of unemployment, especially when it lasts longer than the statutory period of benefit, threatens what I suggest to call, following the durkheimian terminology2, the organic participation bond (Paugam, 2008) with post-industrial society as the material and symbolic recognition of work and the social protection stemming from employment may to some extent be called into question. Unemployed people then face the risk of social disqualification.

If we look at the theory of social bonds, the experience of unemployment can be analysed from two contrasting analytical perspectives. According to this theory, while organic participation bond occupies a basic place in the system by which individuals are attached to groups and to society overall, it is not the only bond (See table 1).

Three other types of bonds also need to be taken into account: lineal bond (between parents and children), elective participation bond (between peers or persons chosen because of their affinities), and citizenship bond (between individuals sharing the same basic rights and duties within a political community). Together with organic participation bond (between complementary individuals in the working world), there are therefore four bonds through which individuals are integrated into society. We can define each of them in terms of the two dimensions of protection and recognition. These bonds take multiple forms and differ in nature, but together they provide individuals with both the protection and the recognition that they need to exist in society. Protection includes all the support that an individual can mobilise to cope with the ups and downs of life, and recognition includes the social interaction that motivates individuals by substantiating their existence and the value that is attached to it by the other or others. The expression 'count on' fairly well summarises what individuals can hope for from their relationships with others and with institutions in terms of protection, while the expression 'count for' expresses the just as crucial expectation of recognition. …

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