2017 Paper and Panel Presentations


Paper presentation, October, 2017. Society for the Study of Occupation:USA conference, Seattle, Washington, USA.

Abstract:  This presentation will report one set of findings from a two-sited, multi-year study of long-term unemployment. Rates of long-term unemployment remain higher than pre-recession estimates despite North American economies’ return to nearly full employment. To understand possibilities and boundaries for occupational engagement within the situation of long-term unemployment, we generated data at three levels in the United States and Canada: we interviewed 15 organizational stakeholders and reviewed organizational documents; we interviewed and observed 18 front-line employment support service providers; and we interviewed, observed, and completed time diaries and/or occupational maps with 23 people who self-identified as being long-term unemployed. In this presentation, we report findings from the occupational mapping process used with 18 participants. Methods: Occupational mapping is an elicitation method that is as much about process as it is about product. In our study, we asked participants to hand draw a map to explain the places they regularly traveled within their communities. We prompted participants to describe what was being drawn, the places depicted, activities engaged in within particular places, and modes of travel used. Once the map was completed, we asked participants to reflect on if and how their experience of long-term unemployment had implications for where they went, how they got to places, and the types of activities they needed and wanted to do. We audio-recorded all conversations during the mapping process. Our ongoing analyses of maps and accompanying transcriptions address the types of places and occupations represented; the ways in which maps and transcriptions illuminate social, political, and economic influences on occupation in each study context; common threads between maps; and omissions in maps. Results: We will present emerging findings from our occupational mapping process in relation to national context, gender, financial and transportation resources, and family situation. We will also integrate these findings with understandings gained through other analytic approaches used in the study, such as situational analysis and critical narrative inquiry. Implications: Occupational mapping can elicit details about everyday doing that are difficult to articulate using narrative methods given the tacit and experiential nature of daily occupations. It can be a useful strategy for understanding interconnections between people, places, and performances of everyday occupations in line with calls to transcend individual perspectives in occupational science. Our findings suggest that this method is a valuable means of illuminating the transactional person-environment relationships that shape occupational engagement during contemporary long-term unemployment.


Paper presentation, September 2017, Occupational Science Europe Symposium, Hildesheim, Germany.

Abstract: Purpose: Many member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have re-configured employment policies and services according to a combined paradigm of neoliberal activation and austerity. Within this reconfiguration, policies and services download the problem of unemployment, and its resolution, to individuals; restrict access to and decrease the value of state-funded benefits; and emphasize activating citizens ‘at risk’ of dependency as self-reliant, productive citizens who take the ‘quickest-route-to-work’ possible. While govermentality-informed studies have examined subject positions made possible for service providers and recipients within these reconfigurations, few studies have focused on implications for the ways of doing, or occupational possibilities, of service providers and service recipients in the employment service sector. Methods: Within this presentation, data drawn from the Canadian site of a Canadian-United States collaborative ethnographic study will illuminate how service provision and individual negotiations of unemployment are shaped through contemporary policy approaches. Data include interviews and observations conducted with 12 front-line service providers, and interviews, observations, activity diaries, and occupational mapping with 12 self-identified long-term unemployed people. Using critical discourse and narrative analysis informed by a critical occupational science perspective, street level bureaucracy and governmentality theory, we address how service providers and recipients negotiated the paradigm of neoliberal activation and austerity, as well as how these negotiations related to the occupations carried out in their work qnd everyday lives. Findings: Both front-line service providers and service seekers experienced precarity, that is a pervasive uncertainty regarding the conditions of their work and/or everyday experience. This sense of precarity shaped ways of doing relative to dominant constructions of long-term unemployment; for example, front-line service providers enacted service approaches aligned with a neoliberal framing of unemployment as an individual problem and responsibility, even when aware of structural barriers faced by clients. As well, service providers and clients both took up ‘work first’ approaches that framed precarious work as a route out of unemployment. However, resistance to dominant constructions was evident amongst some participants, despite the fact that such resistance could enhance recarity. Implications for occupational science: Within contemporary neoliberal contexts, various strategies, such as integrating new public management into public services and restricting benefit receipt, govern service providers and service recipients by shaping precarity. Understanding this approach to governance can illuminate the politics of occupation and the ways it is shaped by structural factors, both of which point to areas for action to promote occupational justice.


Paper presentation. August, 2017. Society for the Study of Social Problems Conference, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Abstract: Despite seeing markers of recovery in standard unemployment metrics, long-term unemployment has become more prolonged and pervasive in North America since the 2008 global recession. At the same time, socio-political responses to long-term unemployment have increasingly embraced neoliberal governance strategies that rely on activation and austerity measures, which shape the actions of both front-line social service providers and clients who seek supportive services due to a lack of sustaining employment. This 3-year, two-sited collaborative ethnographic study explored possibilities and boundaries in conceptualizations of and responses to long-term unemployment in the United States and Canada. Through interviews with 15 organizational/program managers, interviews and observations with 18 front-line service providers, and interviews, observations, activity diaries, and mapping with 25 self-identified long-term unemployed people, we aimed to understand the ways in which street-level bureaucrats and the people they serve negotiated the everyday impacts of policy-driven unemployment support services. Drawing on a critical occupational perspective and governmentality theory and using critical discourse and situational analyses, we found that both front-line service providers and service seekers experienced precarity, and that precarity shaped ways of doing and being relative to dominant constructions of long-term unemployment. However, resistance to these dominant constructions was also evident among some participants, despite the fact that such resistance could further precarity. Within this presentation, we address what implications this mixture of precarity and resistance had for how long-term unemployment was negotiated in service provision and everyday life. Our current knowledge mobilization efforts seek to disseminate this and other findings via multiple media to stakeholders who can re-shape the North American experience of long-term unemployment.


Paper presentation, July, 2017, IAGG World Congress of Gerontology, San Francisco, CA, USA.

Abstract: Western economies increasingly promote extended formal labour force engagement across the lifespan. Older workers – persons aged 50 and older – are induced to continue working through policy changes such as increasing age thresholds for pension eligibility or financial penalties for early workforce exit. Such measures presume people’s abilities to choose to continue working, but barriers to sustainable, secure employment disproportionately impact older workers. Front-line support service providers who assist out-of work older workers must negotiate contemporary individualizing policies and discourses while recognizing their collective experience of difficulty within the labour market. In this presentation, we draw on data from a collaborative ethnographic study that uses governmentality, street-level bureaucracy, and critical occupational science as theoretical frames to understand long-term unemployment in Canada and the United States. Through a critical discourse analysis of qualitative interviews, participant observation field notes, and focus group interviews with 22
front-line service providers, we attend to how service providers negotiated conflicting discursive positions: despite positioning older workers as an ‘at risk’ group, service providers located barriers to employment in individual characteristics such as workers’ attitudes, expectations, or skills. Moreover, service providers proposed activation based, individualized strategies – such as crafting age-neutral resumes or enhancing computer literacy – as solutions to older workers’ joblessness. As such, dominant discourses aligned with neoliberal individualizing and activating strategies set limits on attention to ageism and other systemic barriers collectively faced by aging workers within service provision practices, bounding how later life long-term unemployment is addressed and inadvertently contributing to precarity.


Paper presentation, June, 2017, Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists Conference, Charlottetown, PEI, Canada.

Abstract: Within much of the Western world, policies levers, such as increasing eligibility age for public pensions, are being implemented to promote extended work lives (Phillipson, 2012). Such levers are predicated on the assumption that older workers, often defined as persons 50 and older, can choose to continue working. However, several barriers to sustainable employment are faced by older unemployed persons, constraining occupational possibilities for labour force involvement (Berger, 2006; Laliberte Rudman, 2015). Objectives: We aim to deepen understanding of how dominant discourses aligned with a neoliberal understanding of unemployment as an individual, rather than social, problem bound occupational possibilities for sustainable work for aging workers through shaping employment service provision processes. Methods: Within a broader collaborative ethnographic study addressing long-term unemployment, we employed critical discourse analysis (Ballinger & Payne, 2000) to examine data collected with 22 front-line employment support service providers using qualitative interviews, participant observation, and focus groups. Results: Despite positioning older workers as a group ‘at risk’ of long-term unemployment, service providers tended to locate barriers to employment in individual characteristics such as attitudes, skills or expectations. Service providers employed individualized activation-based strategies, such as crafting age-neutral resumes or persuading clients to consider precarious jobs, with little attention to systematic barriers limiting older workers’ occupational possibilities. Conclusions: Findings demonstrate how occupational possibilities for older unemployed individuals are bounded within service provision processes in ways that align with the neoliberal individualizing of unemployment, and raise concerns regarding the neglect of barriers shaped through ageism and other systemic factors.