Gavin Mackenzie

Mariental: the Sociography of an Unemployed Community. Marie Jahoda, Paul F. Lazarsfeld and Hans Zeisel Tavistock Publications 1972 xvi+128 pp. £ 2

in: British Journal of Sociology (London), 23. Bd., Nr. 3 (September1973), S. 363–364.

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Marienthal: the Sociography of an Unemployed Community

Marie Jahoda, Paul F. Lazarsfeld and Hans Zeisel Tavistock Publications 1972 xvi+128 pp. £ 2

Given the present level of unemployment, and the predicted worsening of the situation in Scotland, South Wales and Lancashire by the closure of upwards of thirty pits in the next three years, the publication of this monograph is depressingly timely. For Marienthal is a study of the effects of unemployment on com-

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munity structure and community life. As such it is a classic contribution to our understanding of the culture of poverty, while antedating the coining that phrase by about twenty years.

In February 1930 the looms of the textile factory in Marienthal were finally stopped: three-quarters of the 478 families in the village thus became dependent on unemployment benefits for their existence. Subsequently, in the latter part of 1931 a team of psychologists, concerned with the application of psychology to social and economic problems, began an intensive investigation into the consequences of long-term unemployment on the lives of the people of this Austrian village.

The methodology adopted by these researchers was aimed at achieving a synthesis between concrete observation and statistics. There can be little doubt that they were successful: a lengthy record was compiled for every one of the 478 families living in Marienthal; schoolchildren wrote essays; samples of the inhabitants kept daily records of their activities and the content of their meals; the accounts of the Cooperative store, the library and local shop were analysed. Each researcher participated in at least one community activity, while one lived in the village for about six weeks.

The enervating and debilitating effects of unemployment appeared clear and unambiguous: a diminution of expectation and activity, a disrupted sense of time, and a steady decline into apathy through a variety of stages and attitudes. At the time of the study only 23 per cent of the total number of families were not in this situation, but were maintaining their households, planning for the future and continuing to look for employment. Of the remainder, 70 per cent, Jahoda et al. classify as resigned: no plans, no relation to the future, no hopes, extreme restriction of all needs beyond the bare necessities. Nevertheless these people were still maintaining their households and looking after their children. But in the case of 7 per cent of the families the process was complete – they were broken: despair, depression, hopelessness, a feeling of the futility of all efforts … home and children are dirty and neglected… No plans are made, no hopes maintained.

A central feature of the analysis involved an examination of the way in which the ceasing of economic activity led in drastic changes in the rhythm of community life. Time seemed to have lost any significance. Of a sample of one hundred men, eighty-eight were not wearing a watch. The attempt to fill out time-sheets failed because the concept of an hour had lost its meaning. With nothing to distinguish one day from another Sunday, as a day of rest became almost meaningless. Instead the seasons of the year came to assume greater importance.

There cannot be many empirical studies of this nature that merit translation and re-publication forty years after their initial appearance. Marienthal is an exception.

Gavin Mackenzie

Jesus College, Cambridge