During recent decades, social issues in disadvantaged neighborhoods have been understated by public discourses and governmental policies, which have focused instead on the criminalization of youth misconduct, often associating delinquency and immigration. In France, as in other Western countries, the need for more severe penal measures has been emphasized to fight so-called ‘new forms’ of deviance, whereas combating racial discrimination and economic inequalities, and preventing petty crime via social work intervention, have been neglected. Retributive justice has been regarded as more legitimate than distributive justice. This evolution is challenging French institutions dedicated to youth issues and questions the current evolution of social policies.
Our multi-sited research was based on both analysis of discourses relating to youth and ethnographic fieldwork of social institutions dedicated to teenagers in social and penal difficulties. By studying how moral and emotional issues intertwine with the implementation of social policies, we tried to comprehend how social workers manage to articulate contradictory tensions between repression and prevention, with the call for stronger action against delinquency and the reduction of human resources.
We addressed these issues through two fieldworks conducted in the outskirts of Paris. Sarah Mazouz studied “youth employment centers” and focused on the advisors and their public who belong to immigrant families or racial minorities. The moral and emotional issues included the general stigmatization of young people, the process by which they are attended and assessed by the center advisors, and the way both sides interact with each other. Sébastien Roux observed a social and educational institution of the Ministry of Justice involved in juvenile delinquency control: the youth protective services. This facility is in charge of supervising educational measures adopted by juvenile judges. Moral issues involved the application of juvenile court sentences and more broadly the meaning of educational coercion.