“The vast majority of parents in working-class neighborhoods hold their children in the evening”, estimates sociologist Fabien Truong

Faced with the urban violence that set France ablaze, Emmanuel Macron, like several members of the government, called on the parents of the young rioters to “responsibility”. Sociologist Fabien Truong analyzes this political discourse.

Many minors were arrested during the riots which broke out after the death of Nahel during a police check on June 27 in Nanterre (Hauts-de-Seine). Faced with this violence, sometimes committed by young adolescents of 12 or 13 years old, the executive turned to the parents. During a speech on June 30, Emmanuel Macron called on thes fathers and mothers to the responsibility” to keep their children at their home”, after dark. Within the government, several ministers have also reminded adults “their duties”in particular with regard to“parental authority”.

The Head of State also said he was in favor to the possibility of “sanction families financially and easily, a kind of minimum price from the first bullshit”. As for the Minister of Justice, Eric Dupond-Moretti, he announced the distribution of “flyers” to destination “parents” to explain “in simple terms”to those who “would have forgotten”what are their obligations. For the sociologist Fabien Truong, professor at the University of Paris 8 and author of the essay French youththis type of speech “humiliating” misses the point.

Franceinfo: Emmanuel Macron called for the “responsibility” of parents who, according to him, must keep their children “at home”. Does this mean that there are irresponsible parents?

Fabien Truong: These remarks testify to a side somewhat above ground, far from the field. With the nights of urban violence in recent days, young people from working-class neighborhoods have suddenly been extremely visible. But it must be remembered that it is a minority of the youth of these neighborhoods who went out at night. And among this minority, we have mainly boys. Girls are not very present, even though it is still half of the population. The older ones did not go out at all or very little. And within this adolescent age group, remember that only a very small part was on the street. The vast majority of parents in working-class neighborhoods hold their children in the evening, so don’t let yourself be trapped by the spectacular images.

Throughout the Covid-19 streak, the nation has applauded all of the essential workers who have kept the country running. We have seen that these workers are the parents who live in working-class neighborhoods and go to work in the city centres. These are all people who work in logistics, truck drivers, taxis, food delivery people, cleaning ladies, all those who work in the “care” professions, including at night, in hospitals. One thinks of the nurses, the paramedics, and all those who look after the children of other parents… Not to mention those who do the three-eight in the factories. We know that these trades are most popular in working-class neighborhoods. Many parents are invested in the education of their children, follow them closely, but they also work at night. They cannot be as present as they would like.

Of the nearly 3,700 people arrested by the police and the gendarmerie, 60% were not known to the police, said Gérald Darmanin during his hearing in the Senate. What do you think this figure says about the profile of the rioters?

This shows that we are not dealing with bands of potential delinquents and organized as such, the profiles of the young people arrested often have little to do with that. Those who left are mainly teenagers, around Nahel’s age, because there is a very strong identification phenomenon. They know the checks that go wrong and leave traces. And then, there was an effect of excitement, the expression of anger misplaced with phenomena of collective training.

“We must not see in these kids seasoned political strategists: they expressed themselves with what came to hand, at adolescent height.”

Fabien Truong, sociologist

at franceinfo

What we see is that we are losing a certain number of these young people, for lack of adult educational presence on a daily basis in a context of concentration of socio-economic problems. Many have the feeling of being at an impasse: most of their relationships are imbued with social violence, they struggle to project themselves into the future and have the impression that the present will always be worse. The only way to recover them is to establish a relationship of listening and trust.

“13-year-old teenagers hanging out in the streets at night is not normal,” lamented Eric Dupond-Moretti in The Parisian. Do these words cover a reality? Are there many teenagers who evade the authority of their parents, including at night?

This is certainly not normal, but it is necessary to specify what we are talking about. There was above all an effect of opportunity, in this case, to express a suppressed and deep anger. Usually these kids “who hang around the night”as the minister says, there are a few, but not that many either. In the context of urban violence, these are idle kids, who have lost confidence in the future, who gave in to temptation, because something exciting was happening, in the wake of a revolting murder. But most of the time nothing happens The evening. There are some kids who deal, that’s true, and who work at night to keep the “ovens” [les zones de deal de drogue]but don’t think that whole gangs are walking around at night, because there’s really nothing to do in the neighborhoods at night, let’s remember.

We can however note that, in general, if there are more young people outside, in the public space, within the districts, it is also because many are not well at home. They live in small, often dilapidated housing. The social norm is one bedroom per child. However, in many families in these quarters, the children sleep together in the same room. They are also outside because there is no place at home.

“The discourse on responsibility is easy to hold when each child has their own room, their own toys, their tablet…”

Fabien Truong, sociologist

at franceinfo

The Minister of Justice also threatened to punish more severely the parents, prosecuted in the event of lack of education. What do you think of such a proposal? Can we really demonstrate the existence of a causal link between the criminal offense committed by the minor and the lack of education of the parents?

Children left alone, left to themselves, mechanically risk taking action, but there is no systematic causal link with the responsibility of the parents. Those who took action mostly had rage in their hearts and saw an opportunity effect. These words, which send parents back to their individual responsibilities, are doubly hurtful. Especially when you’re parents, working nights and being told you’re not doing the right thing. It’s an ethnocentric discourse, which you can only hold in the upper classes, when you also have the means to have a whole bunch of people who can work for you, especially when you’re not there. for your children. We are also in a rhetoric of the individual who could self-determine, ignoring the material conditions of existence.

And then, if we want to talk about responsibilities, let’s also talk about collective responsibilities. We have to put things straight, on the question of the deal in particular. Who comes to consume? For example, we see the cars coming from Paris into the neighborhoods. They are affluent consumers, who maintain a system where some are connected to others. Let us ask the question of shared risks. Because the first victims of the deal are the inhabitants of working-class neighborhoods, who suffer from trafficking, settling of accounts…

Emmanuel Macron also submitted the idea of ​​”financially sanctioning” parents, by setting up “a kind of minimum price from the first bullshit” committed by their child. The president of the Les Républicains group in the National Assembly, Olivier Marleix, demanded “the abolition of family allowances for parents of delinquent children”. How do you view this kind of proposal?

Doing that would only make things worse, economically speaking, for those families. And to believe that individuals would only be interested in their wallet is absurd. We are in the shock sentence and we go against the investment educational over time. In the short term, this type of proposal will above all unravel the confidence of these neighborhoods in the relevance of politics. These measures are not addressed to families in the neighborhoods. Rather, they are aimed at an electorate that does not live in these neighborhoods. On the contrary, we should try to hear the anger of adolescents in order to renew a link, by giving ourselves the human means, rather than trying to garner votes with proposals that are completely disconnected from reality.

As we know, a large part of the problem lies in relations with the police, which are extremely problematic. If instead of attacking it, we choose to hit harder, if we choose repressive logic, the next wave of violence will be even stronger too.

“Authority is never earned that way, especially with people in pain.”

Fabien Truong, sociologist

at franceinfo

We must have a truthful discourse on these educational problems. I’m not saying to be light and naive: young people who broke, looted or burned will be punished. They must be. But without support and without understanding why they receive this or that sanction and how to overcome it, to project ourselves, we know that it will not work. And we’re going to miss an educational turning point.

Parents are not the only adult figures with which children and adolescents are confronted. Is this educational responsibility not also societal?

The teenagers who participated in the violence in sensitive neighborhoods do not have enough adult ears around them. It’s very clear. Some families are broken: their parents are in prison, others are dead or abroad… This is not the case for all families but, statistically, there are more of them than elsewhere. It is a concentration effect.

What is needed is more adults who will do a job of listening, of dialogue, which these parents cannot do. However, we have broken social work: there are not enough street educators, and those who remain are underpaid. It is a downgraded profession. In the same way as teachers, poorly paid and discredited in France, who have to manage 30 children per class.

“It’s impossible for teachers to give everyone an ear. Social work requires political will. Educational work goes beyond political time, at least election time.”

Fabien Truong, sociologist

at franceinfo

For now, we prefer to ride mechanics with repressive responses, advocating “a pair of slaps and off to bed”, to use the terms of the prefect of Hérault. For all the people in the neighborhoods, this kind of response is humiliating, because you don’t realize efforts made by many adults around this youth. And who have held things together for so long, but only by a thread.

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