Unemployment as a liminoid phenomenon: Identity trajectories in times of crisis

Maria Daskalaki, Maria Simosi

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This article explores the formation of work identities in times of financial crisis and extreme austerity. In particular, we build upon prior studies of liminality, a state of in-betweenness and ambiguity, and explore how individuals, whose employment opportunities and career paths have been disrupted, construct their work/professional identities. The study draws on 39 semi-structured interviews conducted in Greece, where high levels of unemployment and economic stagnation prevail. Persistent crisis and austerity have prompted extended periods of instability and unpredictability during which the unemployed narratively (re)construct their past, present and future work selves. We propose that frequent job changes and persistent lack of work are not linear experiences but, instead, require multiple and, at times, ambiguous, fluid and incomplete identifications. These identifications include attempts to re-affirm prior stable professional identities, to institute new, yet still unidentified, careers or to enact what we term ‘liminoid identity positions’. When in liminoid positions, instead of pursuing intangible work futures, the unemployed create anti-structural spaces in which they collectively practice alternative forms of work and organization. Concluding, the article provides grounds for the study of individuals’ capacity to challenge the neoliberal restructuring of work and the possibilities for transformation in periods of unemployment and crisis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1153-1178
Number of pages26
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number9
Early online date23 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2018


  • alternatives, anti-structural, communitas, Financial Crisis, identity, liminality, unemployment

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