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

11:51, October 6, 2022

Empty towns, public places that the new generations no longer frequent, a village spirit that is gradually being lost: if these images are far from fully corresponding to reality, they are very present in the discourse that circulates on the countryside. With such representation arises the idea that young people flee from these public spaces. However, things are much more complex, and in order to understand them, we must look at the underlying misunderstanding.

If young people animated, several decades ago, the public space of the cities and the countryside, we would no longer see them much in cafes or bars, very little also in associative places or when political events are organized. This is the observation shared by many elected officials and residents gathered in the context of a sociology thesis on rural youth, carried out between 2017 and 2021. We can certainly assume that the fragmentation of the labor market in rural areas has contributed to this development, however However, a whole series of other reasons are taken into account to explain this phenomenon.

In current public policies, young people are seen as a necessary resource for the survival of the countryside. On their shoulders would rest the future, employment, solidarity, the renewal of the “spirit of the people”; in a word, 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 received with open arms in the field and must also face some mistrust. It would be synonymous with danger, nuisance or “savagery” of society and its customs.

Between a resource that we want to keep “in the corner” to relaunch or perpetuate local life and a group to which we attribute many negative stigmas, today’s youth must face a real restructuring of relationships between acquaintances and a change in the feeling of ” home”. “.

Work place

The rural labor market is no longer that of an economy centered on agriculture or industry. Beyond the closure of factories and the modernization of agriculture, which is therefore less labor-intensive, the tertiary sector, and more specifically the field of low-skilled employment, is developing in rural areas.

This job change involves more travel and limits the maintenance of relationships at the local level. The logical relationship between workplace, place of residence and place of sociability seems less and less evident. The job market that young people have access to no longer really allows them to establish relationships “in the area” and anchor themselves socially in their living space.

If young people, and in particular the least qualified, adapt more easily to the countryside than to the city, the available employment becomes precarious and increasingly dominated by instability.

If young people adapt more easily to the countryside than to the city, the available employment becomes precarious

However, the increasing difficulty of accessing an indefinite contract and the increasingly frequent sequence of small temporary assignments and fixed-term contracts limit both professional integration and the complexity of the fabric of friendship networks. The growing professional instability in rural areas prevents, or at least restricts, integration into these professional and friendly networks.

While employment withers and disperses in the local living space of these young people, the social relations of proximity and intimacy are in turn restructured into “islands of sociability”. The parents’ house then retains a central place, since it can be a space of withdrawal from the public space, often perceived as stigmatizing.

Generational tensions?

The restructuring of employment, if it contributes to remodeling the feeling of belonging to the local space, is not the only dimension to take into account to explain the avoidance of public space by young people aged 16-25. The way we look at them also has a role to play.

Massive access to the Internet and social networks has allowed a significant number of digital natives share more or less formalized ways of feeling, thinking and acting. The fact that rural youth are heavily influenced by this dominant urban youth culture could weaken relationships with the older inhabitants 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 generational rupture, was it not also the case in the past with the arrival of black jackets and the hippies among rural youth in the quarter century of the postwar boom?

If many avoid public spaces, it is not so much that they are not interested, but that a mistrust has been installed

If there is a recent break, look elsewhere than these “subculture” markers. It is not so much that young people have changed, but rather that society as a whole is changing, and therefore with it the rural areas in which these young people live. In general, rural youth say they live quite well in these spaces: 92% of them have a positive view of them, 87% would like to live there and 72% would like to work there.

Thus, if they share ways of being, presenting themselves and consuming close to their urban comrades, they share what they consider values ​​common to their elders and very often have a very derogatory discourse towards cities.

If many avoid public spaces, it is not so much that they are not interested, but rather that mistrust has set in. This mistrust of public space is explained by the fear of gossip or gossip in spaces where interrelation is important. Fearful of being stigmatized in a space where reputations are quickly made and unmade, young people prefer to remain private. The “excesses” of youth such as drunkenness on the public highway, parties or even fights that could once be understood as part of the local “atmosphere” or the “spirit of the people” are now perceived rather as markers of a ” wild” of youth and the risks associated with it.

The young people, in a shapeless and sometimes fantasized ensemble, are then presented as lazy, unmotivated, while at the same time one wonders why they do not participate in the life of the commune. It is understandable to move away from the public space, since they prefer to avoid possible stigmatization in spaces where everyone knows each other, if only for reputation.

From public to private

Does this mean that young people no longer have a social life in the villages? If young people have a general tendency to avoid public space, this does not mean that rural sociability no longer exists. Actually, they move and rearrange themselves around three ways: “side by side”; around the family home and through extensive use of social media and the Internet.

The family home remains to a large extent the space where friendly relations between young people are maintained. Bars are perceived as “old-fashioned”, even stigmatizing, and encounters tend to crystallize in the private sphere with a group of chosen friends rather than induced by mere geographical proximity.

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

Few of these young people turn out to be “rooted”, simply attached to a land and the people who inhabit it. The feeling of “home” is experienced among small islands of private sociability rather than in the nearby public space. Access to the car is becoming an essential issue both for professional integration and to maintain and perpetuate the network of friends.

Young people have not disappeared from the countryside, but it is the entire public space and mobility that must be rethought today to help them regain a place in public space.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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