Streetcorner Politics: Urban Public Life, Civility and Everyday Citizenship (France)

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 19:54
Oral Presentation
Carole GAYET-VIAUD, CNRS, France
Streetcorner politics : urban public life, civility and everyday citizenship

This paper will draw on an ethnographic research to shed light on how everyday urban interactions raise normative questions about what it means to be a good citizen: civility "rules" and democratic principles in the making. Good behaviour, as we'll see, never only means complying with the rules. Civility is also an activity of defining and criticizing the way things happen (gender interactions, for example). So we'll approach ordinary citizenship through these everyday trials that civil interactions provoke. What is at stake is to define "how to be good", how to do well, when facing a homeless, when being bullied, etc, and more generally, what can be said, done, argued, requested, with and among others.

Considering democracy as a way of life (Dewey, Lefort) means studying citizenship as a daily experience of belonging to a political community, being attentive to the way individuals practically define what is the perimeter of their responsibility, what can be done and said. From forms of mutual perceptions (categorizing processes) to forms of interventions (the ways people commit into situations to help, avoid, educate, quarrel, and so on), everyday urban interactions allow to study the way (urban) public life participates in the making of everyone's political culture and opinions regarding the world we live in.

Data : ethnographic descriptions from a 7 year long research lead in France (Paris & a large city in the south) on public life, observing interactions in public settings, streets, cafés, gardens, public transportation, etc, and producing hundreds of little scenes of interactions. Plus, more than a hundred interviews and narratives about the experience of urban everyday life and the importance those fleeting (and apparently superficial and neglectable) relations actually have in people's experience of the society they live in.