The Everyday Occupation of Space by Teenagers in a Deprived Neighbourhood: Conflict Without Mobilisation

Isabelle Danic

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Danic, I. (1). The Everyday Occupation of Space by Teenagers in a Deprived Neighbourhood: Conflict Without Mobilisation. Population, Space and Place, 18(5), 659–668.

Conflict , Identification , Justification , Mobilisation , Space , Teenage populations

Around the world, there is increasing concern with the ways in which different populations use public spaces and places. Focusing on the French context, this paper investigates conceptual difficulties inherent in the co‐occupation of space by different population groups. The focus is to shed light on the ordinary engagement of teenagers in a working‐class neighbourhood in terms of differentiated social practices according to gender, age, social network, the physical and social morphology of the neighbourhood, and relational and situational criteria. Their occupation of space is channelled by public policies as well as educational, family, and socio‐educational care that structure their time and space. However, this paper highlights also the subjective dimension. Manipulating the ‘regime of familiarity’ and the ‘regime of regular planning’, teenagers learn through experimentation to use the ‘regime of justification’, thus challenging adult spatiality in terms of their moral and political involvement. The deliberate and involuntary characteristics of their occupation of space transgresses the accepted uses of public space and disturbs adults. Their actions produce discomfort, which adult residents express through distancing practices. Teenagers recall various situations of general dissatisfaction that they are unable to synthesise in a complaint with reference to a general problem, and they express this feeling through stronger transgressions. Low‐level conflict between adults and teenagers is thus self‐perpetuated. Furthermore, teenagers' occupation of space is differentiated between girls and boys, between the ‘cool’ teenagers and the ‘geeks’, the teenagers from the neighbourhood and those from the outside, those who ‘have origins’ and those who do not. This generates unpleasant reciprocal disturbance and an everyday conflict that is further perpetuated by the failure to frame this disturbance as a public problem.

Main finding
Teenagers use public space in a unique way, leading to low-level conflict and regulation over their presence in public space. Teenagers use identification and differentiation to navigate public space. By identifying with their peers and distinguishing themselves from adults, they express their existence and longing for social recognition. They occupy those spaces conceded to them by adults, complaining about restrictions placed on their use and attempting to justify their presence, but they are often unorganized and unsuccessful. This leads to transgressive acts and behavior, e.g., insults, spitting, noise, or property damage, which leads to social distance practices from adults and thus the perpetuation of low-level conflict. Varying levels of political mobilization are practiced against the presence of teenagers in public space. Residents express dissatisfaction with teenagers’ use of public space by voicing complaints but do not have organized mobilization against them. Political mobilization is instead initiated by the urban regeneration policy programs of politico-institutional organizations such as council services, the Ministry of Education, and civil society organizations.

Description of method used in the article
Data were collected in the Villejean neighborhood of Rennes, France, from 2006–2007, a deprived neighborhood of a medium-sized town. Researchers conducted individual interviews with seventeen teenagers and eight professionals, such as teachers, school supervisors, social workers, and socio-cultural activity organizers, and a focus group of seven teenagers. Data also included neighborhood tours with comments and photo-taking by nine teenagers and a questionnaire on their use of neighborhood space completed by 48 teenagers.

Of practical use

Organising categories

Crime and Aggression Gathering/Socializing
Interviews Participant Observation Survey
Physical types
Geographic locations