Doreen Collins

Marie Jahoda, Paul F. Lazarsfeld and Hans Zeisel, Mariental: The Sociography of an Unemployed Community, Tavistock Publications, London, 1972. xv+128 pp. £ 2.00

in: Journal of Social Policy. The Journal of the Social Administration Association (Cambridge), 2. Jg., Nr. 1 (1973), S. 185–186.

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Marie Jahoda, Paul F. Lazarsfeld and Hans Zeisel, Marienthal: The Sociography of an Unemployed Community, Tavistock Publications, London, 1972. xv+128 pp. £ 2.00.

This book is a recent translation of a study carried out in 1930 (Die Arbeitslosen von Marienthal, Hirzel, 1933), of the effects of unemployment on the villagers of Marienthal in Austria, together with a new introduction and an appendix on the history of sociography. The focus of interest is on the impact of unemployment on the personality and daily lives of the unemployed. It thus belongs more to the tradition of studies which stress the deprivation of the individual locked in the poverty culture than to that of socio-economic reform. The theme is not one of the failure of the capitalist system to provide work, of the protests of hunger marches or even of the relation of unemployment to political


developments in Austria, but of a diminution of expectation and activity, a disrupted sense of time, and a steady decline into apathy on the part of the unemployed.

The study paints a largely familiar picture of the observable effects of unemployment such as the poor diet, the wearing out of clothing and household equipment, the often adverse effects on marital relationships and the withdrawal from social life. It develops a psychological dimension, however, by dividing the population into three groups based on the family attitude to its situation. This results in 23 per cent of the village families being classified as unbroken, 70 per cent as resigned and 7 per cent as broken by their experiences. Less than a quarter can therefore be considered as unaffected.

The authors seem anxious for the work to be considered as relevant to modern poverty problems rather than as a part of the social history of the inter-war period. From the former point of view perhaps the most significant finding is the extent of the disengagement from life which unemployment brought to Marienthal. If this condition is to be prevented today, and current thinking appears to favour participation in society by all vulnerable groups, the study suggests that the first need is for a system of money payments adequate to maintain a decent existence for the unemployed and continuing for the appropriate period of time. This requires closer consideration of the consequential problems of work incentive when wages are not appreciably higher than benefits and of part-time earnings. The authors also show how easily the structure of life collapsed for the men without work or meaningful occupation. If, therefore, in the future we are to run our economies with considerable numbers of unemployed and earlier retirement for the redundant, it is of prime importance that we develop facilities for the positive use of enforced leisure and educate people to make use of them.

A further consideration is that of the consequences of unemployment for the wives and children of the unemployed. It is still often forgotten that the housewife was the person who exerted most influence in determining how a family adapted itself to its worsened circumstances and that her self-sacrifice made her the greatest sufferer. A policy for the unemployed thus demands that particular provision be made for their families whose needs must be distinguished from those of the unemployed breadwinner.

This study is a contribution to the evidence we have of the consequences for individuals which result from treating the unemployed as the reserve army of the working population rather than developing a policy aimed at maintaining the individual and the family as integral social units. The growth of social services since 1930 has done much to lighten the material burdens, but the dilemma of how to regard the phenomenon of unemployment from the point of view of public policy has not yet been resolved.


University of Leeds