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Flawed System/Flawed Self

Job Searching and Unemployment Experiences

Today 4.7 million Americans have been unemployed for more than six months. In France more than ten percent of the working population is without work. In Israel it’s above seven percent. And in Greece and Spain, that number approaches thirty percent. Across the developed world, the experience of unemployment has become frighteningly common—and so are the seemingly endless tactics that job seekers employ in their quest for new work.

Flawed System/Flawed Self delves beneath these staggering numbers to explore the world of job searching and unemployment across class and nation. Through in-depth interviews and observations at job-search support organizations, Ofer Sharone reveals how different labor-market institutions give rise to job-search games like Israel’s résumé-based “spec games”—which are focused on presenting one’s skills to fit the job—and the “chemistry games” more common in the United States in which job seekers concentrate on presenting the person behind the résumé. By closely examining the specific day-to-day activities and strategies of searching for a job, Sharone develops a theory of the mechanisms that connect objective social structures and subjective experiences in this challenging environment and shows how these different structures can lead to very different experiences of unemployment.

240 pages | 1 line drawing, 3 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2013

Economics and Business: Business--Industry and Labor

Psychology: Counseling and Guidance

Sociology: Occupations, Professions, Work, Social Institutions, Social Organization--Stratification, Mobility


“In Flawed System/Flawed Self, Ofer Sharone develops a cogent, timely, and compelling account of why American employees blame themselves for their failure to secure employment and why their Israeli counterparts engage in system blame instead. Sharone moves the discussion well beyond global generalizations about the role of culture to make an important contribution to the literature of joblessness.”

Steven Vallas | author of Work: A Critique

 “Imagine two men drawn from Ofer Sharone’s highly insightful and important study of how jobless people search for work. One approaches a job interview as he might a  first date, and the other, as he would an oral exam. The first offers who he is, the second, what he has. As we learn from this book, the first man is likely to be a white-collar American, and the second, his Israeli counterpart. After encountering  a series of ‘no, no, no’s,’ it is the open-hearted American who is likely to blame himself, feel shame, and give up, while the pragmatic Israeli is more likely to shrug it off and keep trying. Here Sharone articulates a central ‘got-ya’ moment of American market individualism. Called to try to feel personally empowered in the face of a merciless market he cannot control, the jobless man recoils in heart-felt defeat and feels stripped of a dignity—and power—he might otherwise enjoy. Realizing this, Sharone notes, is a first step in mobilizing for social change.”

Arlie Hochschild, author of The Outsourced Self

 “One of capitalism’s achievements is to turn unemployment into perhaps the hardest work of all. Such is the startling argument of Flawed System / Flawed Self, which compares the work of re-entering the labor force in the US and Israel and the toll it takes on the individual.  A brilliant analysis of how we get sucked up into games of self-deception.”

Michael Burawoy, University of California, Berkeley

“Sharone examines the experience of unemployment with great insight and deep empathy…. At once clear and theoretically sophisticated, compassionate and scientifically systematic, Flawed System/Flawed Self gives readers an in-depth understanding of the experience of unemployment and the social institutions that structure it.”

ILR Review

Flawed System/Flawed Self is a strong contribution to scholarship on work and occupations, organizations, institutional analysis, and economic sociology . . .  The book’ s value transcends its academic worth, as it shows just how hard unemployed people must work to get a job.”

American Journal of Sociology

Table of Contents


Chapter 1. Introduction: Unemployment Experiences
Chapter 2. The American Chemistry Game
Chapter 3. The Chemistry Game Experience and Self- Blame
Chapter 4. A Cross- National Comparison: The Israeli Specs Game
Chapter 5. The Specs Game Experience and System- Blame
Chapter 6. A Cross- Class Comparison: The Blue- Collar Diligence Game
Chapter 7. Conclusion: Job- Search Games and Unemployment Experiences

Appendix A: Methodology
Appendix B: Notes on Social Games



ASA Culture Section: Mary Douglas Prize
Honorable Mention

ASA Occupations & Organizations Section: Max Weber Award

ASA Economic Sociology Section: Zelizer Best Book Award

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