Debate: When young people question living together


In France, the young generations have grown up during years marked by crises so regular that one can reasonably think that the term “crisis” should no longer designate a simple break between two supposedly stable periods (the “world before” and the “next world”) but an age as such, made up of uncertainties and fragmentation, questioning young people about the type of society they will be keen to build.

Beyond the numerous data which describe the objective situations of fragility of certain fractions of young people, in particular with little education or even marginalized, the voice of young people is not given much to hear. At the dawn of this major electoral meeting that are the presidential elections of 2022, we therefore wanted to listen to them, to understand how they envisage living together.

This youth is worried about the lacerations of the social bond and its relation to globalization is ambiguous. She shows herself eager for strong elective registrations and seems more than ever in search of a story that could bring the French united, beyond their divisions. It is through the exploration of these tensions that our book Une jeunesse tense. Living together in the face of global crises is established. For this, we relied on a corpus of 54 semi-structured interviews with young Ile-de-France residents aged 18 to 30, recruited during two waves of surveys (in December 2018 and May 2019) and representing various social backgrounds. : 24% are from the upper classes, 30% from the middle classes and 46% from the working classes.

Between openness to the world and anchoring in the nation

The spread of a strong standard of openness among the younger generations echoes their growing mobility. Their consumption and their references have also become international. On the other hand, in the field of living together, no post-, inter-, supranational institutional support (such as the UN, the European Commission) has been able to make ethico-political cosmopolitanism an attractive narrative, capable of outweigh that of the nation.

French youth can thus have extensive global cultural imaginaries , they can even adopt transnational commitments, as can be seen from the mobilizations around the world in the name of freedom of expression, the defense of the environment or again the fight against discrimination. The fact remains that his immediate experience of the social bond is deeply rooted in a (infra) national structural reality which shapes his conception of living together and his relationship to others.

On the other hand, this standard of openness is perceived very differently according to social class: the most qualified young people will tend to try to make it a horizon of opportunities, while the young workers, who have suffered a strong deterioration of the job market for 50 years (with the appearance of statutes derogating from labor law in the name of public policies for the integration of young people, such as temporary work, fixed-term contracts, the integration contract), rather live the temptation to fall back.

Western societies, including France, find themselves at a turning point in their history: the model resulting from the post-war economic, political, cultural, ideological and social balances is running out of steam. The lines of tension are numerous: rise in perceived and observed inequalities (of which the “yellow vests” movement was a major translation), recurring questions addressed to secularism, both in its interpretation and in its place in the republican pact, development of modes of political action that free themselves from representative logics (on the Internet, but also in the street).

The republican conception of citizenship is thus pinned down by the decolonial critique of universalism. The integrative pact fails in the face of the reproduction of exclusions. Meritocratic ideology cracks in the face of evidence of elite reproduction. The liberalism of mores is confronted with new conservatisms. As for the French choice to include the nation in a civic vision, linked to the exercise of rights, it seems to be called into question by the rise in power of a more identity-based reading of belonging, in which culture (language, mores, religions) and the historical narrative (shared roots or not) are central.

Young people are wondering, in this context, because their vulnerability is the symptom of profound changes in our societies. Struck by global crises, divided by new fractures, they would no longer fully recognize themselves in the values ​​of our society while having to find their place there.

How to say your tensions

By choosing to give back a voice to young people on their way of considering living together in France, we have sought to arouse their reflexivity. Beyond the identification of their forms of withdrawal, it is a question of grasping the annoyances (sometimes sharp), the irritations (sometimes painful), which can turn into bitterness and resentment, in short their areas of tension.

If French youth have never been so wary of politics, nor so divested from traditional channels of participation, they are no less strongly aware of the challenges of living together, the strengths and weaknesses of which they praise or criticize.

Admittedly, their speeches owe a lot to the ideological matrices which inform social debates, to the state of power relations between political parties and to the field of intellectual disputes, as well as to the capacities of the media to impose both the themes and the tempo of debates. , by intervening on the meanings to be given to a selection of national and international events. However, the opinions of young people cannot be reduced to a sounding board for ready-made societal debates.

If young people indeed belong to a generation which seems both withdrawing from activist participation stricto sensu (with a decline in involvement in parties and unions), they are strongly concerned by political questions in the broad sense. This survey confirms a reinvention of their participation, an attempt to re-enchant citizenship in favor of a direct , fairer and more efficient democracy .

Author Bios: Vincenzo Cicchelli is a Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Paris and Sylvie October is a Researcher at Lumière Lyon 2 University