The Project

Overview

The project, structured around the collaboration of academics from France (mostly Aquitaine) and the province of Quebec (Canada), aims at producing a multi-authored book on “Youth and Educators in the ‘Democracy of Identities’: togetherness and regulation of diversities (from late nineteenth century through twenty-first century)”. The edited book is to be used as a scientific and pedagogic tool. It will go beyond the juxtaposition of two points of view: one from Aquitaine, the other from the province of Quebec. It will not only intertwine local and international standpoints (reaching out to other geographical regions, in particular California), but also include surveys written jointly by members of both sides of the Atlantic. Far from simply putting together academic resources, the project aims at creating dynamic partnerships that will truly broaden the issue of citizenship from an outlook that is familiar enough but also foreign enough to foster fertile exchanges.

Implementation Procedures

a) October 2014 – June 2015:
organisation of 6 public seminars on the subject of identity: the participation of experts from different fields of studies and geographical areas will consolidate the frames of reference of each partner, and help refine the focus of the book. Seminars will be held in one of the two regions involved and broadcast through videoconferencing. In Aquitaine, eight experts have been invited. Seminars are open to the public, and will be available to watch online on the project website.

b) January 2015:
– two days in Quebec for the French organizers of the project: this sojourn will serve to draw up the introductory framework, choose the list of potential contributors, and define the table of contents of the projected book. Requests to the contributors with firm deadlines. Submission of the book proposal for a joint publication in France and in Quebec.

– academics from Quebec and from Aquitaine will conduct a joint investigation in Quebec on the construction of youth identities.

c) June 2015: academics from Aquitaine and from Quebec will conduct a joint investigation in Aquitaine on the construction of youth identities. Field work in school environment will be conducted by research assistants.

d) December 2015: contributions will be collected, reviewed, and edited by the book coordinators.

e) February 2016: submission to publishers in France and in Quebec.

f) June 2016 : publication and promotion of the book, both in Aquitaine and in Quebec. A public round table will be held at the County Council of Aquitaine to conclude the project and publicize the book.

Societal Context

The provinces of Aquitaine and Québec display models of identity management apparently different, in line with the models of integration inherent to the areas to which they belong (republican universalism on the one hand, interculturalism/multiculturalism on the other hand[1]. In each area, the models that were developed elsewhere appear either as a cure-all or as a threat, depending on which side you stand. In time of crisis, its is necessary to get a clearer picture , not only at the level of the principles , but also, and above all at the level of the effective applications of these models.

In France, since the 1990s, debates on social cohesion have shifted: the word and the concept of identity are from now on favoured avenues to analyze the way individuals seem to define themselves more and more, not in reference to an overall mutual project, but in reference to distinctive identities (gender, religion, ethnicity, handicap, etc.) related to their stories. They are also used to build administrative and political systems supposed to address the requirements of society[2]. The State is requested to establish and acknowledge each community in its singularity, even if it means to reduce democratic life to the performance of correct representation of the various groups forming part of society. It is on this account that Marcel Gauchet diagnosed in 1998, the advent of a “democracy of identities” in France[3].

In this context, the State seems to waver between recognizing differences and re-asserting the universalist principle that would prevail over individual singularities. French secularism is, not without difficulties, entrusted with a double concern: to retain national cohesion and to accomplish the republican emancipatory project, by inciting individuals to free themselves from their conditionings in order to choose autonomously their orientations. Controversies raised by the school program implemented by the French Department for Education (ministère de l’éducation nationale) bear witness to the difficult conciliation between theses objectives : a recent example is the “day of withdrawal from school” launched by Farida Belghoul to protest against the presumed intention of the department for education to teach children how to deconstruct gender identities. At the same time, management of public space outside school is affected by the way debates are expressed within the school, even though secularism does not impinge, in principle, on public space, and that individuals, associations and movements that express their views do not yield to the same rules in and out of school.

In Quebec, « the society of identities », to borrow the title of a highly publicized book[4], is affected by numerous tensions: requests for accommodation from faith groups called into question the principle of State secularism and forced the provincial government to initiate two broad public consultations in order to legislate on the wearing of “conspicuous” religious symbols. In this debate, intellectuals and experts have been continually asking whether the French experience could be replicated in the North American context.

In Aquitaine like in Québec, youth –a category of which we will question the contents and the relevance– hold a singular place in this configuration. In fact, adolescence and the beginning of adult life are traditionally considered as key periods in the construction of identity. While the latter is associated with the acquisition of autonomy, it may also become for some youths, a way of asserting their singularity in relation to past generations and existing institutions. Conversely, youth, like children, constitute a favorite target for those who wish to shape tomorrow’s society. Therefore it makes it more delicate to apprehend the “phonomenon of youth identity”.

[1] See C. Taylor, Sources of the self: the making of the modern identity, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1989 ; D. Schnapper, La relation à l’autre: au coeur de la pensée sociologique, Paris, Gallimard, 1998.

[2] V. Descombes, Les embarras de l’identité, Paris, Gallimard, 2013.

[3] M. Gauchet, La religion dans la démocratie : parcours de la laïcité, Gallimard, 1998.

[4] J. Beauchemin, La société des identités. Éthique et politique dans le monde contemporain, Montréal, Athéna, 2005.

Current State of Knowledge

The Bordeaux network of higher education institutions has developed strategies for excellence in the study of educational phenomena (in History of Education and in Comparative Education), and in the study of identities (in particular in Political Sciences and in Psychology).

In the Department of Social and Human Sciences of the university of Bordeaux, the question of identities is a structuring question in research projects of the two following research units:

Centre Émile Durkheim, program 2: Comparative research on processes of identification », with a subprogram specifically dedicated to religious identifications (axe 2 : « Recherches comparatives sur les processus d’identification »);

Laboratoire de Psychologie, Santé et Qualité de Vie (Laboratory of Psychology, Health and Quality of life), program 4, “Identities, inclusions and society” (axe 4 : « Identités, insertions et société »).

The question of youth and education has inspired numerous research projects. In the Department of Social and Human Sciences at the university of Bordeaux, it is more specifically studied by the Laboratoire cultures éducations sociétés (laboratory of Cultures, Education and Societies): program 2 : public policies, professions, and prevention in education (axe 2 : politiques publiques, professions et prévention en éducation.) Within the university of Bordeaux-Montaigne, the Centre d’étude des mondes modernes et contemporains (Research Center for Contemporary and Modern Worlds) has devoted subprogram 2 of program 2 to this subject “Powers” (“Knowledges and Education”). In addition, the study of youth is central to the research program MSHA (2011-2015) GENERATIO : « La construction des jeunes générations en Europe (xixe-xxe siècles) » [The construction of young generations in Europe (19th-20th centuries)].

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The Quebec network of higher education institutions has developed an expertise in the field of education for citizenship, in particular with the introduction (in 2006) of a two-year program in high schools. This program has arisen numerous debates and fostered an overall reflection on the role of the school in the development of consciousness of citizenship based on openness to diversity. For the past ten years, Quebec has been through a series of crises (reasonable accommodations , Bouchard-Taylor Report, Charter of Values, teaching of national history, etc.) that enabled relevant players to refine their position, and to arouse fundamental questions on what has been coined by some “society of identities”. The Centre de recherche interdisciplinaire sur la diversité et la démocratie (Interdisciplinary Research Center for Diversity and Democracy) is specifically working on these questions.

They are a core element of Quebec Contemporary History, which is studied by the Concordia University Research Chair on the Study of Quebec.

Core Topic and Research Programs

Program 1 / Identities and identification in school : policies, pedagogical and administrative practices in the management of identities (late 19th-21st centuries)

Lately, the subject of identification processes by individuals has produced very fruitful collaborations at the crossroads of History, Sociology and Political Science, [5]. So far these projects have neglected the role of school, despite its great importance in the identification process– or its denial – of categories of students and teachers. It constitutes an unchartered territory to explore, taking into account both the definition of national policies (state-controlled) and the various forms they take on in administrative subdivisions and in schools.

Program 2 / “Togetherness” and “Intercultural ”: origin, implementation and local effect of schemes inspired by the policies of recognition

Is it possible to measure the impact of schemes inspired by the philosophy of recognition, as it has been theorized, for instance by Axel Honneth[6] ? How and by whom are these schemes designed and circulated? How do educators acquire these mandates? What response among youth? Which observables effects on the life of schools and neighborhoods?

Program 3 / Identity Affirmation of Youth : a generational specificity?

Starting from previous work on the subject[7], the following areas will be explored: is identity affirmation of youth a simple variation of a larger phenomenon or does is show specific characteristics for this age group? To which extent do young people, within community areas, build identities that become starting points to integrate themselves into global society?

[5] Statuts sociaux – stratifications – identités, Annales, vol. 68, n°4, 2013 ; V. Denis, Une histoire de l’identité. France 1715-1815, Champ Vallon, Seyssel, 2008.

[6] Axel Honneth, The Struggle for Recognition, Boston, MIT Press, 1996.

[7] Notably N. Tietze, Jeunes musulmans de France et d’Allemagne: les constructions subjectives de l’identité, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2002.

[8] M. Castells, The information Age: economy, society and culture. The rise of network society, B. Blackwell, 1996.

Expected Benefits

By encouraging the sharing of expertise and the comparison between analyses, the project will allow to debunk easy simplifications. Creating synergy between complementary skills from both sides of the Atlantic it will allow to enlighten an urgent societal question, crucial in the public debate in France as well as in Quebec. It will be a pooling of resources, not a simple upgrading, but a true scholarly and socially responsible exchange.

The project is in line with the new trends in Applied Social Sciences, and includes a substantial amount of knowledge transfer. Through scientific cooperation between France and Quebec, it will:

– Develop knowledge on a research theme little studied by mobilizing multidisciplinary and comparativist approaches..

– Promote the enrollment in international networks of academics, teachers and students from Aquitaine and Quebec.

– Enable the emergence within the university areas of Aquitaine and Quebec, of a new theme of research with great potential along social lines that could be eligible for national and supranational funding.

– Give rise to practice transfers favorable to social cohesion (between Aquitaine and Quebec but also between associations and schools ).

Publicize field experiments and innovations so that they are spread in the two regions.

Produce and spread knowledge in order to develop courses for teachers and educators, and enlighten decision-making at several levels (Aquitaine area, schools and university institutions).

At a time when challenges revolving around the notion of togetherness are accumulating, it is important to think out of the box to take advantage, through emulation or contrast, of the experiments carried out in areas faced with the necessary balance between the right to be different and the public law.

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