Constructing Unemployment: Britain and France in Historical Perspective



Unemployment emerged as a specific social issue in the late-19th century, but the nature of the threat it posed and the governing instruments available to address it varied widely. Using Britain and France as strongly contrasting cases, this article demonstrates the variable and historically contingent constructions of unemployment as a problem, and demonstrates how policy to address it was developed using administrative agencies that embodied specific, normative visions of how society and employment should operate. The different governing trajectories through which the issue was tackled is analyzed in terms of the context within which the problem of unemployment originally emerged. The article demonstrates the socio-political nature of unemployment's construction and, with reference to recent labour market change, questions its utility as a means of assessing economic or social well-being.