"One of the main theses of the Marienthal study was that
prolonged unemployment leads to a state of apathy in which the
victims do not utilize any longer even the few opportunities left
to them. The vicious cycle between reduced opportunities and
reduced level of aspiration has remained the focus of all
subsequent discussions." So begin the opening remarks to the
English-language edition of what has become a major class in the
literature of social stratification.
The study on which "Marienthal" is based was conducted in 1930
in Austria, at the time of a depression that was worse than
anything experienced in the United States. But the substantive
problem is still very much with us, although our focus is now
poverty rather than unemployment. In Austria, the institutional
response to mass unemployment was the dole. Unlike the work relief
programs of the New Deal, the dole system left workers destitute
and idle. The essential finding of this research is that when
people are deprived of work, there is a breakdown in the
personality structure of a group.
"Marienthal" represents a colossal breakthrough in social
research. It provides a combination of quantification and
interpretive analysis of qualitative material-an approach that
remains in the forefront of present-day research design. The work
combines statistical data at hand, case studies, information on
historical background of those being studied, and questionnaires
combined with solicited reports that enhances a sense of daily life
without intrusion by investigators. The work provides a unique
insight into how creative innovations can assist in overcoming
The work of Marie Jahoda, Paul F. Lazarsfeld, and Hans Zeisel
was sponsored by the then newly created Psychological Institute at
the University of Vienna. Each of the authors went on to
extraordinary professional careers. Jahoda held positions at New
York University, Brunel University, and the University of Sussex.
Lazarsfeld spent the better part of his career from 1933 to his
death at Columbia University in New York City. Zeisel came to the
University of Chicago after the rise of Nazism.
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