Avowing Unemployment: Confessional Jobseeker Interviews and Professional CVs

Foucault Studies 30 (2021)
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Abstract

While contemporary welfare processes have widely been analysed through the concepts of governmentality and pastoral power, this article diagnoses the dimension of confession or avowal within unemployment, job seeking and CV writing. This argument draws together the threads of Foucault’s work on confession within disciplinary institutions, around sexuality and genealogies of monasticism, adding the insights of writers in ‘economic theology’. Empirically the focus is on UK JobCentrePlus, whose governmentality is traced from laws and regulations, street-level forms, websites and CV advice. From the requirement of avowals of unemployment as a personal fault in interviews to professions of faith in oneself and the labour market, a distinctly confessional practice emerges – with the welfare officer as ‘pastor’ but with the market as the ultimate ‘test’ of worth. Furthermore, the pressure to transform the self through ‘telling the truth’ about oneself is taken as a normalising pressure which extends from the institutions of welfare across the labour market as a whole. In conclusion, the demand for self-transformation and the insistence on tests within modernity is problematised.

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