Social Isolation as Stigma-Management: Explaining Long-Term Unemployed People's 'Failure' to Network
Social networks play an important role in helping people find employment, yet extant studies have argued that unemployed 'job-seekers' rarely engage in 'networking' behaviours. Previous explanations of this inactivity have typically focused on individual factors such as personality, knowledge and attitude, or suggested that isolation occurs because individuals lose access to the latent benefits of employment. Social stigma has been obscured in these debates, even as they have perpetuated stereotypes regarding individual responsibility for unemployment and the inherent value of paid work. Drawing on in-depth interviews with 80 unemployed Australians, this article argues that stigma-related shame is an important factor in networking decisions. First, it demonstrates that stigma is ubiquitous in the lives of the unemployed. Second, it identifies withdrawal from social networks and disassociation from 'the unemployed' as two key strategies that unemployed people use to manage stigma-related shame, and shows how these strategies reduce networking activities.