Insecurity, Participation, Politics*

 Since the mid-1980s, the income gap has widened in three out of four OECD countries, and the 2008 economic crisis has amplified it (OECD, 2008, 2011 and 2013). Poverty rates are on the rise (14.3% in 2015 as compared with 14.1% in 2014) as are the numbers of homeless. The Abbé Pierre Foundation estimates the number of people in inadequate housing in France at 3.5 million, including more than 140,000 with no fixed address.

In response to this phenomenon, targeted assistance programmes have been developed to combat poverty. In parallel, the last 10 years or so has seen the implementation of a policy to promote the participation of people on welfare assistance in the measures affecting them. In particular, Act 2002-2 of 2 January 2002 on medical and social action introduced a number of measures to protect “user rights”. 

Drawing on ongoing research conducted within the framework of a PICRI (Institutions-Citizens Partnership for Research and Innovation) financed by the Île-de-France Region, the aim of this seminar is to analyse the participation arrangements for vulnerable populations, by placing the work of civil society organisations at the heart of the analysis. In fact, the task of implementing the above-mentioned social policies has primarily been assigned to civil society organisations – Secours catholique, ATD Quart Monde, Secours populaire, Salvation Army, Petits Frères des pauvres, Emmaüs etc. – with the instruction to promote and encourage civic self-expression by the people they support. 

More specifically, the aim will be to study the effects of these arrangements on the population they address, but also on the organisations within which they operate, in other words on the different civil society actors working in these organisations, both paid employees and volunteers, in order to understand how they conceive this participation policy, the change in their role and the tensions and resistances it generates. 

More broadly, the purpose of the seminar is to explore the implementation of social and political democracy at a time of economic crisis, i.e. the forms of representation and action in these “insecure” populations, the driving forces and resistances, but also the capacity of the voluntary sector to be what de Tocqueville called a “school of democracy”. 

What role(s) do civil society organisations play in promoting this standard of participation? How do the civil society actors (paid employees and volunteers) appropriate and interpret this standard? What effects does it have on ways of working, of “supporting” their clients? In practical terms, how do they implement it? How is it perceived by the people they support? What effects does it have on the ways they categorise/perceive these people? All these are questions which – in line with the purpose of PICRI – the combination of scientific and practical knowledge will help to answer. The seminar sessions will alternate between talks by researchers from different disciplines (history, sociology, political science) and contributions from voluntary sector actors directly involved in the implementation of participatory practices.

*Action supported by the Île-de-France Region (PICRI)