9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN26 Sociology of Social Policy

2009-09-05 11:00:00 2009-09-05 12:30:00 Saturday, 5 September 11:00 - 12:30 Exploring Social Policy Reforms: Poverty and Social Exclusion Building II, Auditório C1.04

"Monkeys hang in trees, Ma'am." On the social construction of fear of and among urban youth in The Hague and Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Youth hanging out in urban public space is by no means a new phenomenon in the Netherlands. Yet, recently, these youths - particularly of ethnic origin - have become even more a matter of public concern than ever before. In response to this public fear the Netherlands witness a shift of urban policy to a more repressive model. There are, however, two peculiar empirical patterns that raise the question of effectiveness of more repressive policies towards urban youth in public space. First, statistically, the Dutch neighbourhoods targeted most intensely by these policies continue to show high degrees of feelings of fear. Second, the number of incidents between youth and police do not drop, but rise instead, affecting the crime and nuisance rates as statistically measured. This paper proposes four hypotheses which may explain these trends. First, relying on the work of Body-Gendrot and the literature on moral panics, we argue that feelings of safety may be explained through factors outside the actual interactions between urban youngsters and other residents, so that intervening in the behaviour of the first fails to produce the desired results. Second, we maintain that these youngsters are not isolated from the community so that treating them harsher does not have to affect the feelings of safety of others in a positive way, but may not affect them or affect them negatively. Third, relating to Wacquant's work, we propose that approaching them more repressively will increase their sense of social exclusion and the denial of their full citizenship and therefore increase - not decrease - their felt need to present themselves publicly. Finally, and adding to the perspective of Wacquant, being denied a status as full citizen affects the masculine behaviour between youths themselves, often resulting in violence and therefore confirming the moral panic about unsafe streets once more. We formulate these hypotheses drawing on empirical data from studies in disadvantaged neighbourhoods in Rotterdam and The Hague, two large urban centres in the Netherlands.