Urban vendettas

What reasons, wonders a sociologist, push the gangs of young people confusethat is to say entering into rivalries which sometimes go to the death?

At the heart of confusion.

Violent clashes between groups of adolescents and young adults run through the history of French popular territories on a regular basis. This is particularly the case for priority neighborhoodsmore commonly calls quotes, who are today at the heart of the phenomenon, without being the only ones concerned. This is evidenced by the recurring portrayal of neighborhood rivalries in film productions which have covered the history of large groups since the 1980s with Of sound and fury (Brisseau, 1987), My 6-T is going to crack (Richet, 1997), Ledging (Kechiche, 2004), Commuters 2 (Kery James, Sy, 2023) or even Brawls (Bidan, 2021); presented by the associative volunteer Adama Camara as a documentary series on the war of the cities.

Of sound and fury
Jean-Claude Brisseau (1988)

Other fields have taken up the phenomenon, such as literature and journalism, like literary reporting. Basically, he was the good guy (Kefi, 2023) or Adama Camara's next publication in comic form. Like other subjects often raised in the cultural treatment of cities, rivalries between neighborhoods seem to be an element of everyday life to the point of being treated by the media sphere only as news items. In French social sciences, the phenomenon is noted, among other things, in the analysis of juvenile groupings in the form of gangs in the Barjots (Monod, 1968) or suburban heart (Lepoutre, 2001) which then highlight systems of revenge linked to the values ​​of honor of the street subculture in which the gangs are part.

The sociologist Marwan Mohammed then sets out to go further to understand the heart of the confuses, of what he understands as a true social phenomenon. By taking them head-on, the author meticulously dissects these rivalries in order to understand the reasons why groups of young people oppose each other violently, sometimes to the death, in conflicts that can last for decades to the point of forgetting the starting point.

The author puts at the service of this essay twenty years of research on gangs and juvenile delinquency punctuated, among others, by The formation of bands (Mohammed, 2011); an asset for the study of the subject in view of the links that this phenomenon can share with the world of bands. It is also the reading of countless newspaper dispatches, minutes as well as numerous exchanges with several actors in the disputes such as the young people involved and their families, residents of the neighborhoods concerned, educators, community activists who are put at the service of a sociological analysis, not to excuse (Lahire, 2016), but to better understand and act. One of the great assets of the book is in fact to offer a detailed analysis of the who, why and how in order to present means of action to prevent this phenomenon with multiple ramifications.

Anatomy of confusion

To understand its content, the sociologist's approach consists of approaching the confusion through a plurality of dimensions and scales which range from a historical approach, under the prism of different institutions (police, politics, media, judicial, etc.) a comprehensive sociology located as close as possible to the universe of meaning of the young boys, sometimes girls, involved. We can therefore move from the description of a socio-economic and urban context to the more micro-sociological such as the management of emotions during clashes.

Abdellatif Kechiche (2004)

Violent rivalries between groups of young people thus have a long history, traced by the author from antiquity to the modern era, regularly described as brawls since then. This historical detour recalls the antiquity of the logic of territorial affirmation which affected rural societies before taking root in the cities. The author takes care to deconstruct the use of the term brawl in favor of the vernacular term dconfuses. THE brawls bring together very different forms of violent behavior ranging from clashes with supporters to collective fights in nightclubs after an altercation.

The use of this term, favored by the media field, is partly explained by the predominance of the police view on this phenomenon, but also on working-class neighborhoods and youth gangs as also shown by the visibility of the concept of urban violence since the end of the 1990s (Mucchielli, 2001). The recurring observation of the worsening of the phenomenon through this prism produces fantasies according to which the gangs of young people in the cities have a stranglehold on their place of life which must be countered by a toughening of the criminalization of the gangs, which increases the control over the youth of the working-class neighborhoods and, moreover, their stigmatization. However, the sociologist notes that this has not hampered anything; neither the formation of bands nor that of confusion.

going against this institutional approach, sociological analysis makes it possible to finely identify what makes confusion possible, those who drive it and the forms they can take. This concept tote of brawl (p. 90) fails to clearly qualify everything involved in the quarrels which describe more precisely violence resulting from rivalries between groups linked to territories (a neighborhood, neighborhood alliances, a village) and whose cornerstone is a social resource, reputation.

I'm confused therefore I am

The backgrounds and profiles of the people most involved show that the disagreements draw on a social pool (p. 187) adolescents, mostly male, minors, from modest families and in academic difficulty or failure. School occupies a central role in the formation of this pool, because it reflects a weak future perspective hampered by difficulties in professional integration to which are added other social inequalities such as the living conditions of families, the weight of segregation and racism which recent research highlights. their influence (Talpin, et al., 2021). Thus, the investment in the street and the formation of gangs compensate for the disillusionment and suffering that school and family difficulties can produce.

My 6-T is going to Crack-er
Jean-Franois Richet (1997)

These structural elements produce available time which encourages investment in the street. While we are constantly talking about a rejuvenation of the phenomena of violence, the author notes an aging of the public of the gangs, which can have repercussions on those involved in the troubles. Whatever the case, young people invest themselves in a social life on the street, sometimes punctuated by confusion, and learn its codes, its norms and its values. This set provides, through the registration of a group and a neighborhood, recognition and social integration that is not recognized anywhere else.; I'm confused therefore I am (p. 200).

Thus, participation in disputes, the reasons for which vary greatly (p. 270-271), materializes this integration and proves attachment to the neighborhood by defending its reputation. This is accompanied by a socialization of confusion through the intergenerational transmission from the oldest to the youngest of the history of local disagreements, the formation of bodies and the transmission of values ​​of virility, respectability, loyalties which give meaning to these conflicts. confusion mentality, which requires preserving one's honor and that of one's neighborhood in response to any event that would damage it, is taking shape. Here lies the heart of the confusion, their persistence and their recurrence over time which make them much more than news items.

Commuters 2
Lela Sy, Kery James (2023)

Troubles therefore recruit from a pool formed by the street and social inequalities, but it is important to note that it is expanded by the modes of sociability in the city and the collectivization of its social life. On this point, which is mentioned, one could have expected an aside focused on the descents, which is the physical investment of the neighborhood with which we are at odds, one of the important forms it can take. The stories of descents are part of the major stories that circulate within this urban context, although the author specifies that the clashes often take place in residential areas (commercial areas, schools, transport).

The description of descents would make it possible to exemplify the analysis of the disagreements through the dynamics of the groups involved which go from the core of the group of friends, to the acquaintances of the peer group, to a sometimes numerically significant part of the youth of the neighborhood. From this, a sort of typology of forms of confusion could appear. In fact, the bigthe oldest young people involved in the life of the city, then play a central role in the descents either, because their position among the youth allows them to train large numbers for these attacks by mobilizing the smallthose younger than them, sometimes sending them their place, helping them with the organization of descents or to put an end to the confusion.

An endless cycle?

The complex combination of all these social logics linked to socialization in the city and its social relations, of which one of the many contributions of the book is to take into account intergenerational relations generally little mobilized in the analysis of this context, highlights a culture of confusion . The latter can structure local life and makes possible the reproduction of this violence. ad vitam ternam as long as socio-spatial inequalities are not tackled head on in order to absorb the social breeding ground from which the disagreements draw, the first lever of action for Marwan Mohammed.

Matthieu Bidan, Adama Camara (2021)

It then seems difficult to reduce this violence, punctuated by rare and fragile pacifications, although there are many very diverse local actions. Because it is then at the local level that we must act with a real desire to change things, in the long term, with increased knowledge of the field and the associated social logics. As a result, local figures among the older generations of youth socialized by the neighborhood can be actors involved through their behind-the-scenes knowledge of the street. At least, the author has the merit of putting on the table the use of this local resource with all that this can morally imply.

Ultimately, this work constitutes in itself a fundamental part in the prevention and reduction of confusion. By its clarity and its highlighting of the social question by taking advantage of sociological analysis in the face of the dominant judicial and police approaches, this book allows us to understand with precision the mechanisms of the confusion in order to dismantle also and perhaps especially for the main actors of these conflicts, all the representations and values ​​they imply as well as the consequences from the least visible (stress, loss of urban mobility, unpleasantness for the rest of the family) to the most dramatic, which shape the daily experience of part of the youth of the cities French that the book sincerely takes seriously.