Dilemmas of long-term unemployment: Talking about constraint, self-determination and the future

This is a paper on how young long-term unemployed people manage their identity as job seekers in semi-structured interviews about their experiences of unemployment. The paper draws on discursive psychology to highlight some of the patterns of common sense reasoning about their predicament in the context of UK's third wave neoliberalist welfare provision and philosophy of 'personalised conditionality'. In contrast to studies that tend to consider the individual psychological impact of unemployment, particularly with regard to mental health issues, or resilience, this paper shows how a discursive approach can be a fruitful avenue to understanding how people account for their experiences of unemployment. The analysis shows how the thesaurus of everyday psychological states is used as a rhetorical tool for managing accountability for actions and motivations. The situated uses of psychological states allow speakers to engage with the tension between constraint and self-determination, and that between a 'desirable' (based on institutional priorities) and individually 'desired' future (based on subjective 'choice' and 'preference'). In describing their experiences of unemployment, participants talk into being the contradictory themes lodged at the heart of neoliberal ideologies of employment.