Because young people move away from public places and from the “peasant spirit” in the countryside

11:51 am, October 6, 2022

Empty cities, public places that the new generations no longer frequent, a peasant spirit that is being lost: if these images are far from completely corresponding to reality, they are very present in the discourse that circulates on the countryside. With such a representation, the idea arises that young people flee these public spaces. However, things are much more complex and, to grasp them, one must look into the misunderstanding on which they are based.

If young people animated the public space of cities and countryside several decades ago, we would no longer see them so much in cafes or bars, very little even in associative places or when organizing political events. This is the observation shared by many elected officials and residents met in the context of a sociology thesis on rural youth, carried out between 2017 and 2021. It can certainly be assumed that the fragmentation of the labor market in rural areas has contributed to this. development, however, takes into account a whole host of other reasons to explain this phenomenon.

In current public policies, young people are seen as a necessary resource for the survival of the countryside. The future, work, solidarity, the renewal of the “village spirit” would rest on his shoulders; in short, the realm of the possible. From this point of view, their non-involvement in local life would be an important issue. However, if youth is seen as a promise of better days, it is not always welcomed with open arms in the countryside and it also faces some mistrust. It would be synonymous with danger, annoyance or “savagery” of society and its customs.

Between a resource that we want to keep “in a corner” to revive or perpetuate local life and a group to which we attribute many negative stigmas, today’s young people have to face a real restructuring of relations between acquaintances and a change in the feeling of ” home “.

The workplace

The rural labor market is no longer that of an economy that is self-centered on agriculture or industry. Beyond the closures of factories and the technologicalization of an agriculture that is therefore less laborious, the tertiary sector is developing in rural areas, and more particularly that of low-skilled labor.

This occupational change involves more travel and limits the maintenance of relationships at the local level. The logical relationship between workplace, place of residence and place of sociality appears less and less evident. The job market to which young people have access no longer allows them to establish relationships “on the territory” and to socially anchor themselves in their own living space.

If young people, and in particular the less qualified, enter the countryside more easily than in the city, the available work becomes precarious and is increasingly dominated by instability.

If young people enter the countryside more easily than in the city, available work becomes precarious

However, the growing difficulty in accessing permanent contracts and the increasingly frequent succession of small temporary assignments and short fixed-term contracts limit professional integration as much as they make the weaving of friendly networks complex. Growing professional instability in rural areas prevents, or at least limits, integration into these professional and friendly networks.

While the work dries up and is dispersed in the local life space of these young people, the social relations of proximity and intimacy are in turn restructured into “islands of sociality”. The parental home therefore retains a central place since it can be a space of withdrawal from public space often perceived as stigmatizing.

Generational tensions?

The restructuring of the work, if it contributes to remodeling the sense of belonging to the local space, is not the only dimension to be taken into consideration in explaining the avoidance by children aged between 16 and 25 of the public space. How we look at them also has a role to play.

Massive access to the Internet and social networks has enabled a significant number of digital natives sharing more or less formalized ways of feeling, thinking and acting. The fact that rural youth are largely influenced by this dominant urban youth culture could weaken relations with the older inhabitants of the spaces in which they live.

However, if the introduction of urban music, rap or hip-hop, could be perceived as an indicator of generational breakdown, it was not so in the past with the arrival of black jackets And Hippies among rural youth in the quarter-century of the post-war boom?

If many avoid public spaces, it is not so much that they are not interested in it, but that a mistrust has developed

If there is a recent break, it should be looked elsewhere rather than in these “subculture” indicators. It is not so much that young people have changed, but that society as a whole is changing, and therefore with it the rural areas, within which these young people live. Overall, rural youth say they live quite well in these spaces: 92% of them have a positive view of them, 87% would like to live there and 72% would like to work there.

Therefore, if they share ways of being, of presenting themselves and of consuming close to their city mates, they share what they consider common values ​​to their elders and very often have a very contemptuous speech towards the cities.

If many avoid public spaces, it is not so much the fact that they are not interested, but distrust has arisen. This distrust of the public space is explained by the fear of gossip or gossip in spaces where inter-knowing is important. Fearful of being stigmatized in a space where reputation quickly builds and falls, young people prefer to remain in the private domain. The “excesses” of youth such as drunkenness on public streets, parties or even fights that once could have been understood as part of the local “environment” or the “spirit of the village” are rather perceived today as signs of a “savage” of youth and the risks associated with it.

Young people – in a shapeless and sometimes fantasized whole – are then presented as lazy, without motivation, while at the same time one wonders why they do not participate in the life of the commune. Moving away from public space is understandable as they prefer to avoid potential stigmatizations in spaces where everyone knows each other, even if only by reputation.

From public to private

Does this mean that young people no longer have a social life in the villages? If young people have a general tendency to avoid public space, this does not mean that rural sociality no longer exists. In reality they move and reorganize themselves around three forms: “each other”; around the family home and through the extensive use of social networks and the Internet.

The foster home is still largely the space where friendly relations are maintained between young people. Bars are perceived as “old fashioned”, even stigmatizing, and encounters tend to crystallize in the private environment with a group of chosen friends rather than induced by geographical proximity alone.

Bars are perceived as “old fashioned”, even stigmatizing

Few of these young people happen to be “rooted”, simply attached to a land and to the people who inhabit it. The feeling of “home” is experienced among small islands of private sociality rather than in the nearby public space. Access to the car is becoming an essential issue both for professional integration and for maintaining and perpetuating one’s network of friends.

Young people have not disappeared from the countryside, but it is the whole of public space and mobility that today needs to be rethought to help them regain a place in public space.

This article was republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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