Juggling Status

Employment Biographies and Status Inconsistency in the Intermediate Zone of the World of Work

Based on biographical narrative panel interviews, this doctoral project investigates changes in social status orders and how individuals deal with them. The issue of status is currently experiencing a renaissance due to the pluralization of forms of employment, the rise of atypical employment, and the decline of so-called normal employment.

More and more people have been permanently relegated to an intermediate zone in the labor market characterized by a complexity of status forms and employment positions. Processes of flexibilization and precarity and changes in social security systems have led to a rapid shuttling between different positions on the labor market that is associated with quick changes in status in terms of a person’s occupation, income, and prestige. Since the introduction of SGB II [a program which makes benefits available to the unemployed under Germany’s Social Security Code], status positions achieved biographically are either no longer safeguarded in the welfare state or secured only to a very limited degree. Individuals are increasingly experiencing turbulence, inconsistency, and loss of status during all phases of their lives.

The project examines these fragile social status links using biographical-reconstructive evaluation procedures and relating the findings to the debate on the phenomenon of precariousness. Analysis addresses the impact of these new social uncertainties on the subjective experience of individuals, their strategies for action, and their expectations for the future. The focus is on the reconstruction of individuals’ personal perspectives, in particular whether and to what extent changes in attitude occur regarding coherent status combinations, mechanisms of recognition, and value systems.

Repeated biographical narrative interviews form the basis of the project. Empirical material was compiled for a qualitative panel study, "Gesellschaftliche Teilhabe im Spannungsfeld von Langzeitarbeitslosigkeit, Erwerbsintegration und öffentlich geförderter Beschäftigung" [Social Participation in the Tensions between Long-term Unemployment, Workforce Integration, and Publicly Funded Employment], which was funded by the Institut für Arbeitsmarkt- und Berufsforschung (IAB) [Institute for Employment Research of the Federal Employment Agency]. In the context of the panel study, a subproject titled "Precarious Employment Biographies" was pursued by Natalie Grimm and Berthold Vogel from 2007 to 2012 at the Hamburg Institute for Social Research. The panel study itself regularly interviewed 152 unemployed and employed persons over a period of five years; all of them were at some time recipients of public basic income benefits.

(Last modified October 2014)