unemployment – once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action

Posted: 16/12/2013 in Research, resistance

Passing over my six months’ employment in the Netherlands in even more awkward, contractually-obliged silence, I took the night ferry back and washed up in Blighty on the 13th of December 2012.

After having a professional job, with a living wage, and a nice flat, in a friendly neighbourhood, in a pleasant city (The Hague), it was exceptionally crushing to return to the Village again again (again again…).

I “ran away” pretty much immediately, and tried to find English teaching work in Greece in January, but it was impossible to find accommodation. (Just look at the number of adverts that explicitly state, ‘foreigners excluded/precluded/out of the question [αλλοδαποί αποκλείονται]’.) Even searching nationwide and speaking Greek, everyone was too fearful of having to pay tax on the rental income (or simply too xenophobic) to risk letting their place to a foreigner.

Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.
(Ian Fleming)

I was back in the Village from February until April, when I couldn’t take it anymore (again), and I naively thought I could make myself employable with just a little more effort, a little more expenditure, a little more publishing and exposure. So I spent May, June and July in Belgrade (where I saw friends more often than I did when I lived in the Village).

And I thought I’d cracked it. I left Belgrade with three more publications forthcoming, tens of thousands of words of blogging on unpaid labour in the cultural heritage industry in the UK and the political economy of archaeological labour in Turkey, but I ended up once more in the Village, where I’ve been ever since.

In Turkey, anyone who researches (and recognises) the Armenian Genocide is blacklisted. Even in a niche like mine, such enemy action would not be effective if the entire academic/cultural economy was not screwed and getting screwed harder by the day. When ultranationalists tried to sabotage my PhD, my supervisors shrugged, and I got on with my work. But when there aren’t enough jobs in relatively free countries, regressive interference can be very effective and very harmful to public understanding and social progress in unfree societies.


Since my PhD, I’ve applied, or applied for the opportunity to apply, or tried to apply for European institution funds, European university scholarships, American publishing fellowships, British institution fellowships, German institution fellowships, British university fellowships, British university jobs, Greek institution fellowships, French university fellowships, Turkish university jobs, Italian university jobs…

… And I’ve applied for positions as everything from an English teacher to a museum apprentice to an office intern to a library assistant to a part-time dishwasher-stacker. I find it impossible to imagine myself escaping this. Even the short contracts that I am least unlikely to get would be just that, short contracts, after which I’d be straight back on the dole. (And I’ve just learned that I didn’t get one of those contracts.)


I’m back to missing coffee breaks, swift pints, birthday parties, weddings, even catch-up drinks; not seeing some friends and having public arguments about what I can or cannot afford with others; trying to reassure family that I reject my situation, not them… I haven’t seen some close friends for so long that, not only have I missed their pregnancies, but I have missed their babies growing. Some friends have been frustrated or offended by my not visiting (not being able to visit) them.

I’ve now reached a total of thirty-four months of unemployment (and counting). Since my PhD, I’ve spent more than three times as long out of work as in work. Soon I will have spent longer being unemployed than doing my PhD. Friends come to me for advice, not on how to get my job, but on how to deal with the job centre.

My predicament is even evident in my parents’ online shopping recommendations. While writing this, my dad asked me if I’d heard of the Precariat; I had to tell him that I owned it (literally as well as metaphorically). The increasingly frequent “words” are becoming increasingly ill-tempered, even when I’m distancing myself by identifying myself as part of the lost generation (more characteristic of educated, young workers and southern Europeans).

I’m okay. I’m resigned.

As I’ve slipped inexorably into long-term unemployment, my extended family have grown concerned about me and the lack of structure and direction in my life. They’re even concerned by my reaction to their expression of concern. It was only when I heard this that I realised that I lived with my shoulders slumped.

Some of my friends are concerned about what unemployment and precarity are doing to me. (Not the archaeologists, they’re inured.) Some of the gossipers told me that they’d been gossiping (but asked me not to tell the others, because they didn’t want the others to know that I knew that they were concerned about me). One of the reasons that I’m writing these self-disemboweling posts is to prevent them holding an intervention.

I’m not anxious or panicky in the way I was before. I still have no sleeping pattern, but I only use the Diazepam when my brain’s thinking about something that it’s not telling me and I need to knock it out. I’m okay. I’m resigned. I’m okay because I’m resigned.

  1. […] unemployment – once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action […]

  2. […] details in gut wrenching detail the fate that can befall many scholars on short term contracts: unemployment.  In a recent post he has highlighted the work of Scholars at Risk Network, an organisation that […]

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