Tom de leeuw


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connecting youth with society

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Tom de leeuw

  1. 1. Social inclusion of young residents of disadvantaged areas ends up in more social exclusionMsc. Tom de Leeuw – Erasmus University Rotterdam, School of Law, Department of CriminologyIn this short contribution I want to speak about the paradox of the intention to socially include youngpeople with the unintended consequence of more social exclusion in the end. Young people indisadvantaged neighbourhoods live under more pressure of social control than youngsters in moreprivileged neighbourhoods. This strain is a consequence of safety problems in this kind of areas inbig cities like Rotterdam and Antwerp. However, we cannot compare the situation of danger,disorder and crime in West-European cities with the risks in the poor areas in the United States, butwe can learn from their experiences around social inclusion and exclusion. A six year ethnographicresearch of Alice Goffman (2009) in an Afro-American poor area in Philadelphia shows for instancehow youngsters have to cope with the situation of heavy surveillance. She describes a world in whichalmost every young black male of 19 years old had already some or several experiences with thejudicial system. She shows how almost every young man she got to know distrusted the state,because, in their perception the state always find a way to lock you up. One of the consequences ofzero tolerance policy in Philadelphia and other North-American cities is, in the words of Goffman, aculture of suspicion and fear. Young men avoid taking a job, going to the hospital and ask forassistance of the police when they are victim of crime, because they have to avoid arrest for finedefaulting or other warrants for minor offences. She concludes her publications with a reference tothe French philosopher Michel Foucault, who wrote about the panoptic power of state institutionslike the prison, the asylum and a mental institution. In his book ‘Discipline and Punish’ (1979) heexplains that the aim of the eye of the state that sees everything is finally internalisation of preferredbehavior. The result of the heavy surveillance in the Philadelphian neighbourhood was just about theopposite: young men who ‘dip and dodge’ for the police and local communities that becomefragmented as a result of distrust of the state and finally each other. The discussion about the social inclusion of youth in Western Europe starts with a similarcontext in which our cities design and use urban revanchist policies to conquer public space for the‘decent resident’. Although, our governments use the same rhetoric of zero tolerance , we do nothave the same amount of arrests and punishments as in North-American cities. In cities likeRotterdam and Antwerp local governments use identity checks of youngsters on public squares andother public venues, prohibition of gathering of more than three young people in special designatedareas and we have administrative fines for all kinds of misbehavior and disorder like smoking a jointor making too much noise. The safety problems of our disadvantaged areas got also mixed up withanother domain like migration and integration. Like French sociologist Loïc Wacquant (2008) showsfor the United States: although zero tolerance symbolises authoritarian control of all people whobreak the law, they affect ethnic minority groups more. In this context we talk about the socialinclusion of youth, because we witness a lot of social exclusion as a indirect outcome of thegovernmental aim to make inner-city neighbourhoods safer. I am not a stranger to the exclusionarypractices in such neighbourhoods and its many social control measures, but I got acquainted to someyoungsters who experience this inclusion during my ethnographic fieldwork in two areas inRotterdam and Antwerp since September 2008. I got into contact with mainly Moroccan boys whowere notably present in public space as well as in social facilities especially designed for youngpeople in the area. I trained with them in a local Thai box gym, I played football with them, I talkedwith them about their neighbourhood and I participated in social activities like a video clip for acampaign about respect in public transport and facilitated with others a visit of some boys to theDutch minister of Communities, Housing and Integration. These boys live in areas where neighbourhood residents complain about disorderly youth. Inorder to increase feelings of safety and security, local governments use different social controlmeasures towards youngsters who are present in public space. The neighbourhood police in Antwerphas a special action programme to re-conquer public space and in Rotterdam the police use theirpower to send youngsters away from streets where drug dealers and drugs users meet each other 1
  2. 2. regularly. However, there is not only repressive state control to tackle crime and disorder, but localgovernments also add social preventative initiatives. There is a Youth Intervention Team in Antwerpthat visits families of children, teenagers and adolescents who are framed as potential risks, becauseof official signals of misbehavior after identity checks of the police or as the result of anadministrative sanction. There is an intervention programme from the Rotterdam local governmenttowards disorderly and criminal groups of young people. The police and youth workers work togetherin periodic gatherings to talk and distribute information about young residents of the area to makearrangements about collective and personal preventive treatment. The result of these discussionscan be psychological and social coaching, finding proper recreation, and guidance in education.Despite of all good intentions, this kind of social investments can become negative in itsconsequences. In the system of state control all preventative and repressive efforts together becomealmost the panoptic power Michel Foucault mentioned within institutions. Instead of theinternalization of self-control, all these different kinds of attention seem to be interpreted asnegative interference in private matters in the perspective of many youngsters. More prevention inearlier phases of growing to maturity means state interference when probable or uncertain riskshave not become real yet. This can lead to the culture of suspicion and avoidance Alice Goffmanspeaks about. Local governments therefore have the difficult task to control their own control system Inour welfare state we do not risk a culture of negligence in comparison with neo-conservative liberalcountries like the United States. We run the risk of engaging in too much interference on the wrongmoments and with too many irreconcilable ambitions. We want our youngsters to becomeresponsible middleclass citizens, although a lot of them grow up in disadvantaged socio-economiccircumstances. We want them to be disciplined, ambitious and educated. This reflects the ideal ofinclusion, but not the whole reality of our social policies. The problems in our welfare policies arisewhen young people do not fit this ideal and seem to resist our initiatives to model them towards theactive and responsible citizens we want them to become. Disappointment and frustration about thestubborn and sometimes fatalistic attitude of those youngsters with the biggest problems leads theauthorities to enact more repression and sanctioning in our caring welfare system. In my fieldwork Icame across enthusiastic social workers on public meetings who only put blame on the youngsterswho gave them most difficulties and rather talk about the nice kids of nice families who respectfullycontribute to their social events. I came across severe stigmatisation of a critical and stubbornMoroccan boy who was labeled as a negative element in the neighbourhood who was avoided byalmost all professionals. So, what is missing in our approach of an inclusive youth policy? In my opinion there is a lackof a realistic vision around the development of self-confidence and personality of youngsters with adifferent social context and expectations than the average citizen who develops policy. Localgovernments need to invest more in understanding the social circumstances and the perspective ofthese young people to deal with these circumstances. They need to understand their socio-psychological coping with different kind of socio-economic strains in order to help them overcomeminor and major setbacks. How is it possible that I can talk about social problems with the sameyoung men who are interpreted as troublemakers in the opinion of policy makers and street levelbureaucrats? It has something to do with social distance between social actors in daily interactions. Apolice officer without a community policing responsibility does not have a lot of positive contactswith youngsters, because he only speaks to them when there is a problem. Youngsters distrust thecommunity police despite their efforts to establish a relationship, because they had too many badexperiences with the police in general. Social workers have less time for investing in socialpreventative contacts with youngsters, because they ended up in new public managementarrangements with their local government who wants more control and less talking. Youngsters havetense relationships with residents, because they distrust each other in the context of safety. They arethinking: is this young man threatening my safety and does the resident call the police, when I amloitering too long on this place? Again we see social distance instead of social understanding. 2
  3. 3. Therefore we need more stable personalities and mentalities in times of growingperceptions of insecurity. Residents, professionals, policy makers and politicians need to invest onsocial understanding and tolerance in order to receive the same social understanding we expect fromsometimes rowdy youngsters. At the same time local governments have to invest in professionalswho can teach youngsters social skills to see a world of opportunities rather than closed doors andrestricted horizons. These educative signals are not given through more surveillance and control;they need to be taught at school, at home and in the community during normal daily interactions. Itis also us as residents who have to include young people in our local communities instead of the statewith his restricted socialising opportunities.Literature:Foucault, M. (1979). Discipline and Punish. New York: Vintage.Goffman, A. (2009). On the Run: Wanted Men in a Philadelphia Ghetto, in: American Sociological Review, 74(3): 339-357.Wacquant, L. (2008). Urban Outcasts. Cambridge: Polity Press.e-mail: 3