The value of work: an ethnographic account of employment and employability in Manchester's work clubs

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis gives an ethnographic account of life as an unemployed person in Manchester today as a means of understanding what is seen herein as a re-construction of work in the wake of its progressive destruction in the UK. In what follows I aim to present an authentic representation of unemployed experience and sentiment as it is produced and lived in Manchester today. I look at how unemployed people understand and react to their own condition as well as how they are acted upon and disciplined by the many organisations and institutions which are now placed in a position of power over them. In the UK, being unemployed means not just losing work and wage but usually entails claiming benefits which entails interactions with what I call the employability sector: a selection of state and quasi-state organisations which now aims to reintegrate the marginalised unemployed population back into work. Through the recounting of interactions between unemployed people and the various organisations which make up the employability sector, I trace the production of an unemployed-class-subjectivity: a collection of sentiments and values which I found to be typical among unemployed people in Manchester which are formed as they relate to their experience as determined by their social position. Having sketched the subjective outlook of Manchester’s marginalised class I look at its role in social reproduction and the re-construction of work. I find that unemployed people themselves, through the expression of their subjective outlook, are engaged in a general societal push to re-create work despite its decline, a push which has important implications for the reproduction of contemporary, precarious modes of capitalism.
Date of Award31 Dec 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorDamian O'Doherty (Supervisor) & Karen Sykes (Supervisor)


  • Discipline
  • Unemployment
  • Value
  • Precarity
  • Subjectivity
  • Employability

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