The moral economy of contemporary working-class adolescence: managing symbolic capital in a French public ‘Adolescent Centre’

Abstract : Working-class adolescents of French urban peripheries are key figures in a new social debate that reactivates the nineteenth century spectre of " dangerous " classes to be controlled. Since the 1990s, French social counselling has privileged two modalities of response: taking account of suffering and government by listening and speech. We hypothesize that the contemporary moral economy allows for social interactions that go beyond social control and institutional domination. This is partly because professionals engaged in this moral undertaking may keep a critical distance, and partly because the concerned populations aren " t necessarily devoid of resources to advance their interests or incapable of resistance. The concept of moral economy, coupled with the ethnographic method, is heuristic for fully comprehending the complexity of these issues and their stakes. Our fieldwork was centred on a French Adolescent Centre in an impoverished commune in Paris " s periphery, from January 2010 through March 2011. These institutions were established in the early 2000s to respond to adolescent " suffering " by crossing social work and psychiatry. Adolescents, parents, and other institutions (especially schools) solicit the professionally diverse staff for assistance, which in turn may take on cases and/or make referrals to other support institutions. By paying attention to all the scenes upon which the story of a counselled adolescent evolves, and bearing more general social evolutions in mind by applying the concept of moral economy, we can consider the multiplicity of seemingly contradictory processes as a whole. We see the destabilization of parents and their loss of symbolic capital, partly due to the norms of contemporary parenthood and partly due to the stigmatization of working-class adolescence. But we also discern possibilities for expressing sentiments of injustice and humiliation, for increasing symbolic capital, and in some cases a reappropriation of the system, particularly in trajectories marked by a will for social ascension.
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Isabelle Coutant, Jean-Sébastien Eideliman. The moral economy of contemporary working-class adolescence: managing symbolic capital in a French public ‘Adolescent Centre’. The British Journal of Sociology, 2013, 64 (2), ⟨10.1111/1468-4446.12016⟩. ⟨hal-01241618⟩

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