A life before research: an educator “among the hooligans”


My first memories of a writing opportunity go back to around eleven years old. Lying on the floor of my room, I eagerly search the term Togo in the dictionary.

I copy on a sheet of paper the presentation of this country which at the same time to make me travel, gives me the feeling rather difficult to describe of a possibility to write. My paternal grandfather, like my maternal grandmother, peasants from Vendée, kept field notebooks in a very regular manner describing both their daily activities and the facts related to the businesses.

I also remember this book by Guy Gilbert : A priests’ priest at my grandmother’s place, which was surely a base for my commitment as a street educator, a function I would practice for ten years.

My mother introduces me to the flavors of reading, comics, series of “Club of Five” until reading at the teenage prime of travel to the center of the earth of Jules Verne, where literally I went down and felt with Dr. Lidenbrock the abyss of our planet.

I also remember the setting up by a teacher of this device for exchanging books in fourth grade at the college. I discovered the extent of Stephen King’s Machiavellian intelligence. My adolescence is also an encounter with punk music, I discover the energy of Black Béruriers at Zabriskie Point, I did not understand the subtleties of the texts, on the other hand I felt intensely the energy, the passion, the subversion of the group, their offbeat game.

Flatness of the school landscape

From my college years, a feeling comes to me: the flatness of the school landscape. Cahin-caha, I obtained my brevet des collèges with disparate results (3/40 in mathematics and 38/40 in history and geography). As a result, I was told that I did not have the required level to go to general high school, I had to move towards a professional sector.

I was then reminded of the job of a bricklayer where I envisioned being paid. But, I also wanted to become a professional firefighter. I was then advised to perform a BEP health and social career. During this training, I discovered the professional field of medico-social between internships in retirement homes and foster homes for people with disabilities.

I quickly realized that my skills were not really technical, but much more relational and comprehensive. At the end of this BEP, I went to internship to realize a patent of technician service to people.

Four boys in boarding school among forty young girls: it was my high school years. I blossomed then finally, revealing myself a good student and especially discovering social work especially in the field of disability.

Break the established patterns

I began training at the Regional Institute of Social Work (IRTS) in Poitiers on September 12, 2001. I discovered other fields of action of the educator as work with homeless people. Above all, I was subjugated by the social, political and ethnological interventions provided by a trainer.

Bernard Faucher hurried across the classroom telling us about the life of the Na in China while linking his ethnological digressions with political analyzes that broke all my established patterns .

I had to decentralize myself permanently, my mind was working in “double je” that is to say between the Vendéen and its Judeo-Christian culture, its history, its practical knowledge and the neo-pictavian who developed practical knowledge. intellectuals allied to the birth of political convictions.

The latter became stronger, not in the sense of a partisan commitment, but in connection with civil society, particularly with the aim of fighting against injustices.

An embedded ethnologist

Graduated, in 2005 I joined a specialized prevention service as a street educator in the Poitou-Charentes region, a position I will practice for ten years. A new turning point took place in my career. I discovered a working-class neighborhood that had been deconstructed by its workers, whose consequences on the socio-professional trajectory of young people in more or less advanced marginality would soon be at the heart of my research at the master’s and doctoral levels, which I began to the School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences.

Georges Guillon, head of the specialized prevention structure warned me. Before acting as part of my child protection missions, I would have to “endure” the terrain in the physical sense but also intellectual, especially by learning about the history of this former labor stronghold. I appreciated the reflexive arrangements, the multiple engagements that this activity demanded: between ground, interests to the local-national policies and the links certainly narrow, but existing to the intellectual field.

I discovered the work of researchers at the Chicago School . I dreaded the common logics of fieldwork, participatory observation methodology , and logging of data in field notebooks, all of which are quite close between the ethnographer and the street educator.

The crime “without motive”

In August 2007, Joshua, a young person I accompanied, commits a crime that has remained ” mobile  ” to this day   .

As a practitioner, but also a student of ethnology, I found myself “on the ground” in a situation whose implicit and explicit stakes I did not measure. My line managers tried to tell me that I did not have to blame myself for my responsibility for the social accompaniment with Josué Ouvrard.

But by no means did I think that. The question – which my colleagues did not necessarily ask – and which disturbed me was rather: how can a young man of 19 years come to commit a crime with torture and barbarism?

Taken in a web between action and research that oscillates between intellectual interests and feelings of fascination to repulsion, I developed“vacuoles of research” in the sense of “spaces for oneself, a time to oneself where one can block the communication and protect itself from the flow of the solicitations that assail us, the mad acceleration of the exchanges. ”

These lead me to continue the field investigation. I attended (among others) the seminars ”  The expression of the disaster  ” of Barbara Glowczewski and Alexandre Soucaille at the museum of the quai Branly, that of Alain Dewerpe on the working history , Michel Agier, Phillipe Descola, Serge Paugam …

At the time I lived in an intense and positive way this tension between research and ground trying to intermingle these reflexive balls between ground and the School.

The foundation

I then hesitated to testify at the trial of Joshua. I mentioned these difficulties in a doctoral workshop, Michel Agier telling me that it was important that I could go there. I contacted Joshua’s lawyer who told me:

“You will be one of the only ones to bring positive elements related to the path of the main criminal, two days ago, he told me ” David Piaud (sic) him, he can say that there is another Joshua Ouvrard ”. “

I testify at this trial, in March 2010, then continue my thesis work on the symbolic stakes of the trial of assizes that I support in July 2014 following an intense work of decentering.

I undertake the writing of the book resulting from my thesis which was the subject of a new reflexive work published in March 2018 under the title A human monster? An anthropologist facing a crime without motive? (Paris, Editions La Découverte).

Currently, I continue my work on the theme of urban margins management. My next book, which is being written for Robert Laffont editions, deals with the open management of people placed under the hands of justice for acts of radicalization in an open environment.

It is linked to a fieldwork carried out in 2017 and 2018 within the Research and Intervention on Extremist Violence (RIVE) of the Association of Applied Criminal Policy and Social Reinsertion (APCARS) based in Paris.

The objective of this research is to question the possibility of a disengagement of a subject towards a projection towards a violent commitment. For this, I develop situations describing the biographical availability of these so-called “radicalized” subjects and especially the civility strategies put in place by the RIVE team.

Author Bio: David Puaud is an Anthropologist at IRTS Poitou-Charentes