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

11:51 on October 6, 2022

Empty cities, public places that the new generations no longer visit, a village spirit that is being lost: if these images are far from reality, they are very present in the discourse that circulates about the landscape. With such a representation, the idea arises that young people flee from these public spaces. However, things are much more complex, and to understand them we must look at the misunderstanding on which they are based.

If, several decades ago, young people animated the public space in cities and in the countryside, we would no longer see them much in cafes or bars, much less also in places of association or when organizing political events. This is the observation that many elected officials and residents share in connection with a sociological thesis on young rural areas, 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, but a whole range other causes have been considered to explain this phenomenon.

In current public policies, young people are seen as a necessary resource for rural survival. On his shoulders would rest the future, the employment, the solidarity, the renewal of the “village spirit”; in short, the realm of the possible. From this perspective, their lack of involvement in local life would be an important issue. But if youth is seen as a promise of better days, it is not always welcomed with open arms in the countryside and must also face a certain distrust. It would be synonymous with danger, nuisance or a “wildness” of society and its mores.

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

The place of employment

The rural labor market is no longer an economy self-centered on agriculture or industry. In addition to factory closures and the technologization of an agriculture that is therefore less labor intensive, the tertiary sector, and especially the field of low-skilled employment, is developing in rural areas.

This change in employment involves more travel and limits the maintenance of relationships at the local level. The logical relationship between workplace, residence and registered office seems less and less obvious. The labor market to which young people have access no longer really gives them the opportunity to establish relationships “in the area” and to anchor themselves socially in their living space.

If young people, and especially the less qualified, fit in more easily in the countryside than in the cities, the available employment becomes uncertain and increasingly dominated by instability.

If young people fit in more easily in the countryside than in the city, available employment becomes uncertain

However, the increasing difficulty of accessing a permanent contract and the increasingly frequent series of small temporary assignments and short-term contracts limit professional integration as much as it makes the weaving of friendly networks complex. The growing professional instability in rural areas prevents – or at least limits – integration into these professional and friendly networks.

As employment withers and is dispersed across these young people’s local life spaces, the social relations of closeness and intimacy are once again restructured into “islands of sociability”. The parental home then retains a central place, as it can be a space of withdrawal from the public space, which is often perceived as stigmatizing.

Generational tensions?

The restructuring of employment, if it contributes to reshaping the sense of belonging to the local space, is not the only dimension to be taken into account to explain the avoidance of public space by 16-25 year olds. The way we look at them also has a role to play.

Massive access to the internet and social networks has enabled a significant number digital natives to share more or less formalized ways of feeling, thinking and acting. The fact that young people in the countryside are largely influenced by this dominant urban youth culture can weaken relations with the older inhabitants of the spaces in which they live.

But if the introduction of urban music, rap or hip-hop, could be perceived as a marker of generational rupture, this was not also the case previously with the arrival of black jackets and hippies among young rural dwellers in the quarter century of the post-war boom?

If many avoid public spaces, it is not so much that they are not interested in them, but that a distrust has arisen.

If there is a recent hiatus, it had better be sought elsewhere than in these “subculture” markers. It is not so much that the young people have changed, but that society as a whole is changing, and thus the rural areas in which these young people live. Overall, young rural people say they live reasonably well in these areas: 92% of them have a positive view of them, 87% want to live there and 72% want to work there.

If they thus share ways of being, presenting themselves and consuming close to their urban peers, they share what they consider to be values ​​that are 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 in them, but that distrust has set in. This distrust of public space can be explained by fear of gossip or gossip in spaces where mutual familiarity is important. Afraid of being stigmatized in a space where reputations are made and unmade quickly, young people prefer to remain in the private domain. Youth “excesses” such as drinking on the public road, parties or even fights, which could once be understood as part of the local “mood” or “village spirit” are today rather perceived as markers of a “wild” youth and the risks which is connected with it.

The young people – in a formless and sometimes fantasized ensemble – are then portrayed as lazy, without motivation, while at the same time one wonders why they do not participate in the life of the municipality. Getting away from the public space is understandable, as they prefer to avoid potential stigmatization in spaces where everyone knows each other, if only by reputation.

From public to private

Does this mean that the 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. In reality, they move and reorganize around three forms: “with each other”; around the family home and through the extensive use of social networks and the Internet.

The family home is still largely the space where friendly relations are maintained among young people. Bars are perceived as “old fashioned”, even stigmatizing, and encounters tend to crystallize in the private setting of a group of friends chosen rather than being induced by geographic proximity alone.

Bars are perceived as “old fashioned”, even stigmatizing

Few of these young people happen to be “rooted”, simply attached to a country and the people who live there. The feeling of “home” is experienced between small islands of private sociability rather than in the nearby public space. Access to the car is becoming an important issue both for professional integration and for maintaining and maintaining one’s network of friends.

Young people have not disappeared from the country, but it is the entire public space and mobility that today must be rethought 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.

Leave a Comment