Matthias Reiss und Matt Perry (Hg.): Unemployment and Protest. New Perspectives on Two Centuries of Contention. Oxford: Oxford University Press 2011

The unemployed are usually depicted as passive and politically apathetic individuals who are traumatized by their experience and broken in body and spirit. The seminal study of Marienthal’s unemployed in the 1930s, based on pioneering methodology and rich empirical findings, helped to entrench this image as cross-disciplinary common sense. This book challenges this dominant view by revealing the wide transnational repertoires of protest and resistance that the unemployed have deployed from the early nineteenth century to the present. They have contested their situation in a discontinuous but recurrent battle for recognition, for rights to work or welfare, and for dignity. The case studies in this volume deal with contentious actions of the unemployed across different European countries, the United States, New Zealand, and Palestine.  They highlight the diverse responses of the workless to their fate beyond the apathy habitually ascribed to them, from passive resistance and individual protest to organized large-scale protest marches and from protest in newspapers, books, or internet forums to agitation and direct action in the streets, benefit fraud, and legal challenges of administrative measures or government laws. Instead of following the traditional focus on Communist-led protest during the inter-war period, this volume accentuates the plurality of individuals and organizations that have tried to organize the unemployed over the past two centuries. Taken together, these essays suggest that the unemployed exercised agency over their lives and were more than willing to express themselves, defend their interests, and participate in collective action.

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