Why young people turn away from public places and the “village spirit” in the countryside

11:51 am, October 6, 2022

Empty cities, public places that are no longer frequented by the new generations, a village spirit that is being lost: these images, while far from being realistic, are very present in the discourse about the country. Such a display creates the idea that young people are fleeing these public spaces. However, things are far more complex, and to understand them we must examine the misunderstanding on which they are based.

If young people enlivened the public space of town and country a few decades ago, we would no longer often see them in cafés or bars, very little in associative places or when political events are organized. This observation is shared by many elected officials and residents who met as part of a 2017-2021 sociology thesis on rural youth. We can safely assume that the fragmentation of the rural labor market has contributed to this development, but a number of other reasons are considered to explain this phenomenon.

In current public policies, young people are seen as a necessary resource for rural survival. Future, employment, solidarity, the renewal of the “village spirit” would rest on his shoulders; in short, the realm of the possible. From this perspective, their non-participation 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 has to face a certain mistrust. It would be tantamount to danger, harassment, or some “savagery” of society and its mores.

Between a resource we want to keep “in the corner” to revitalize or continue local life, and a group that we attach many negative stigmas to, today’s youth must undergo a real restructuring of relationships between acquaintances and a Altering the feeling of “putting at home”.

The place of work

The rural labor market is no longer that of an agricultural or industrial economy. Beyond factory closures and the mechanization of less labour-intensive agriculture, the tertiary sector is developing in rural areas, especially in the area of ​​low-skilled employment.

This change of employment requires more travel and limits the ability to maintain relationships at the local level. The logical relationship between place of work, place of residence and place of socializing seems less and less obvious. The labor market that young people have access to no longer really allows them to build relationships “in the area” and to anchor themselves socially in their living space.

If young people and especially the low-skilled adapt better to the countryside than to the city, the job supply becomes precarious and increasingly characterized by instability.

If young people adapt better in the country than in the city, the job supply becomes precarious

However, the increasingly difficult access to permanent employment and the increasingly frequent succession of small, fixed-term assignments and short-term contracts limit professional integration just as the establishment of friendly networks is becoming complex. The increasing occupational instability in rural areas prevents – or at least limits – integration into these professional and friendly networks.

While employment is atrophied and scattered across the local habitat of these young people, the social close and intimate relationships are in turn restructured into “islands of conviviality”. The parental home then retains a central place, since it can be a place of retreat from public space, which is often perceived as stigmatizing.

generation conflicts?

The restructuring of employment, if it helps reshape the sense of belonging to the local space, is not the only dimension that needs to be taken into account to explain the avoidance of public spaces by 16-25 year olds. The way we look at them also matters.

Massive access to the internet and social networks has enabled a significant number of digital natives to share 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 relationships with the older residents of the spaces in which they live.

However, if the introduction of urban music, rap or hip-hop, could be perceived as a marker of a generational break, it wasn’t also in the past with the advent of black jackets and hippies among the young rural population in the quarter-century of the post-war boom?

If many avoid public spaces, it’s not so much because they’re not interested, but because mistrust has set in

If there is a break, it is better to look for it elsewhere than in these markers of “subculture”. It is not so much the young people who have changed, but society as a whole and thus also the rural areas in which these young people live. Overall, young people in the countryside say they live quite well in these spaces: 92% of them have a positive opinion of them, 87% would like to live there and 72% would like to work there.

So when they share the way of being, presenting and consuming close to their urban comrades, they share what they consider common values ​​with their elders and very often have a very derogatory discourse towards cities.

If many people avoid public spaces, it is less because they are not interested in it, but because distrust has spread. This mistrust of public space is explained by the fear of gossip or gossip in spaces where mutual acquaintance is important. Young people prefer to stay in the private sphere for fear of stigma in an environment where reputations are quickly built and destroyed. The “excesses” of youth such as drunkenness on public streets, parties or even fights, which could once be understood as part of the local “ambience” or the “village spirit”, are now perceived more as a sign of “savagery”. of youth and the associated risks.

The young people – in an informal and sometimes fantasized ensemble – are then portrayed as lazy, unmotivated, while at the same time one wonders why they are not taking part in the life of the commune. Stepping out of public spaces is understandable, as they prefer to avoid potential stigma in spaces where everyone knows each other, if only by reputation.

From public to private

Does this mean that young people in the villages no longer have a social life? If young people generally avoid public spaces, that does not mean that rural conviviality no longer exists. In reality, they move and reorganize around three forms: “together”; around the family home and through extensive use of social media and the internet.

The parental home is still largely the place where friendly relationships are cultivated among young people. Bars are perceived as ‘old-fashioned’, even stigmatizing, and encounters tend to be more intimate with a group of friends, chosen rather than prompted by geographic proximity alone.

Bars are perceived as “old-fashioned”, even stigmatizing

Few of these young people are “rooted”, simply attached to a country and the people who live there. One experiences the feeling of “home” more between small islands of private conviviality than in the nearby public space. Access to the car is becoming an essential issue both for professional integration and for maintaining and continuing one’s own circle of friends.

Young people have not disappeared from the countryside, but it is all public space and mobility that needs to be rethought today to help them reclaim 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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