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The political positioning of young Catalan people. An approximation in linguistic key,
by Isaac Gonzàlez i Balletbó


5. The rhetorical and ethical foldings

Apart from dislike as a common characteristic, there are two more foldings that enable two tendencies to be perceived on the reinterpretation that is made of politics based on this shared dislike. Suffice to say that they are tendencies that operate, above all, among the main bulk of young people, but not among all of them. Neither the minority of youths who are far removed from politics, or the minority of youths who are more committed see themselves affected by these foldings, which we have called rhetorical folding and ethical folding.

By rhetorical folding, we understand the tendency that the scepticism with which politics and politicians are viewed does not lead to complete distancing, but to the reduction of the field of political action of informal debates and discussions. Young people with the rhetorical folding are those who talk about politics, who understand it, but who limit their political action to debates with their friends and informal criticism. Among young people, this rhetorical folding could even be considered to be a kind of transforming action; and in others, a necessary way of letting off steam.

To the contrary, the ethical folding is that which transfers political action to the terrain of small everyday actions. Whether through lack of knowledge of the political field, whether through being disenchanted, the conceptualisation that is made of political action refers to the idea of think globally, act locally. The ethical leading of their everyday life is seen as the best way of achieving a global transforming action.

6. Young people's positioning in the political field

So far, we have gone over the main contributions referring to the political actions and perceptions of young Catalan people. We have seen how politics is re-conceptualised among young people by means of four foldings: a) the symbolic folding, which makes low intensity political activism -that which a good part of young people do- into a language in their identity-making self-positioning as a young person and as an individual; b) the free time folding, which relocates the times, the space and the objects of politics among the main part of the minority of young political activists; c) the rhetorical folding, which confines politics in a more restricted sense to a matter for debate and discussion from a sceptical and disenchanted distancing; and d) the ethical folding, that re-situates the field in which political action is possible in the terrain of everyday ethically correct behaviour. Beyond these foldings, there is also a considerable group of young people who are situated in the strictest dislike and political passivism.

The approximation we have made to the political field, through this analysis, is more interpretive than descriptive. Rather than finding and x-raying different kinds of young people, we wanted to approximates ourselves to the deep transformations that the political field is suffering, from the point of view of the perceptions and actions of young people.

In this part, we would like to make this approximation more descriptive We would like to get closer to a youthful classification that situates the different groups of young people that we can find according to their positioning in the political field, as has been done in the research that inspired this article. In the piece of research, we drew up a map of the positions of young people in participation and politics through an analysis of correspondences . The different variables considered to make the map of positionings was a) Intensity and kind of non-electoral political action; b) Political leaning; c) Interest in what is going on in the social and political aspects in various territorial areas; d) Ethical habits; e) Electoral practice; f) Perception of effectiveness of different political practices; g) Positioning on the ideological axis; h) Positioning on the national assignation axis; i) Current participation in organisations, groups and associations.

On the resulting map of positions we can situate seven categories of young people. It is the classification of synthesis on young people's positions in the political field. The level of differentiation of some of the kinds between each other -especially the intermediate ones- is rather low, and this is an initial consideration to be made. Type 1 – we decided not to give labels to each kind so as not to give rise to an excessively forced characterisation - of young people (11.2%) is differentiated by being particularly active and close to politics - although not necessarily any less critical about the policies. This is a transversal characteristic which is expressed with different clarifications, and Type 2 (17.7%) shows an average level of activity and proximity. Type 3 (14,7%) and Type 4 (20%) are characterised by showing a considerably lower proximity and activism – one-off events, partial proximity to politics - and the other three kinds show a far greater distancing from politics, which seems to derive in a radical distancing and with symbolical-ideological connotations of resistance in Type 6 (13.4%), and on the other hand in the distancing through lack of cognitive attitude in Type 7 (10.6%) - which is where we find a highly notable proportion of young people of foreign origin.

Table 2.Young people’s positioning in the political field according to the educational capital of their parents. Percentages, Catalonia, 2005.

Educational capital of their parents
Type of positioning
Neither of the parents with post-compulsory education
At least one parent with post-compulsory education
At least one parent with a universityqualification
Type 1
Type 2
Type 3
Type 4
Type 5
Type 6
Type 7

Source: Participation, politics and young people. (Gonzàlez, Collet and Sanmartín, 2007)

Despite this, the undeniable correlation between status and political leaning tends to hide the fact that close young people (those of Type 1) are a minority and, even more, they are also a minority among young people of greater social status. Thus, the majority of young people of Type 1 have studied or are studying at university, and have parents who studied at university. However the immense majority of young people who study at university and/or have parents who studied there, are not found in Type 1. We could make the same reflection about the kind of young people who are more radically opposed. Most young people, whatever their structural position, are found in intermediate positions, in the types that are objectively not very differentiated.

On the other hand, the differences operate in a very intense way at two levels. On the one hand, the more extreme minorities clearly correlate with positions of very different statuses, in such a way that their extreme, and therefore particularly visible situation, "contaminates" the subjective perception of young people, who tend to a certain Manichaestic dichotomisation. Young people who perceive themselves as being "committed" tend to be in situations of privileged social status, and identify young people who do not care about politics as those who are most different from them due to their existential attitude. Therefore, for example, they characterise young people who do not care as those who start to work younger because they want to earn money as early as possible, or those who only have one objective in life, which is to make every weekend into a long party. On the other hand, young people in positions of lower social status tend to see young people in more privileged situations as those who commit themselves to political matters, although this recognition is not always interpreted as an altruistic dedication of no personal interest.

This dichotomous illustration, which concerns the over-viewing of extreme types of young people, correlates with actions of low intensity which we have called the symbolic folding. The symbolic folding, as we have already said, operates on a perceptive dimension that divides the mental map of young people into those who do not care about anything and those who do. It is a division that is related to the structural plan and tends to position young people according to their status. Suffice to say however, that the situation is not one of an extreme dual position, for the simple reason that a good number of young people cannot feel unmistakably identified with positions of high or low status, but are found an intermediate situations. In any case, it is interesting how this youthful dual nature tends to be interpreted in terms of ideological positioning by the young people who perceive themselves as being politically active (the symbolical folding), while young people who are more distant from politics tend to interpret more in terms of the position within the social structure. The former tend to fall into certain individualising reductionism (at the same time, mentioning that young people are divided into those who commit themselves or those who do not care, depending on personal decisions), and the latter into environmental reductionism (they tend to interpret that young people are interested in politics and participation or not depending on the world in which they move, who their parents are and whether they have studied or not).

As we mentioned in the previous paragraph, the different foldings are not independent from the structural position of people. We saw how the symbolic folding , despite showing practices that are not very different, affects most of the young population who perceive themselves as being committed and to differentiate themselves from those who do not care. A very significant part of young university students activate this folding, which correlates with the other structural positions which refer to more favoured existential situations. To a great degree, we can identify this folding with Type 2 of the synthesis category (although also with Type 3, Type 4, and even with Type 5).

Young people affected by the free time folding are a good part of the most politically active minority of young people. They are young people who we can identify with Type 1 of the category of synthesis (the most active and committed), and as in the previous case, we tend to find them among young people with more favourable social positions. In addition, they are usually young people who identify themselves, on the axis of ideological assignation, as left-right wing and of national assignation, with the categories being extreme left-wing, or being a citizen of the world.

As far as the rhetorical folding is concerned, it refers to a kind of political disenchantment which, although it also correlates with positions of more privileged status, does so with less strength than the two previous foldings. The rhetorical folding is more present in young people who have gone through or are still studying at university. It is an informed folding, which affects young people who have politics as a subject of conversation - and for many young university students this is what it is. However it is also characterised by being a more masculine and feminine folding, more typical of slightly older young people and found more often in large cities -in particular Barcelona.

On the other hand, the ethical folding is more easily identifiable in small towns and in girls. We should remember that by ethical folding we understand a greater concern for the active incidence on small everyday matters with which individuals consider that they are adding their small grain of sand to transforming the world. The kind of attitude that involves tuning in better with some characteristics of the traditional female habitus -that remains as an unconscious substratum in current ways of being, which does not happen with male ones; this is why in the rhetorical and ethical foldings we find one of the main historic reminiscences of gender inequality. The assessment of invisible, everyday work refers to the private and domestic sphere, while a discursive statement clearly fits in with the traditional public presence reserved for men. Another area in which we detect this differential distribution due to gender reasons that have resonance on the traditional organisation of life in the public-male world and private-female world can be found in the taking on of political responsibilities among the minority of most politically active young people. It is true that there is not a great difference in the percentage of boys and girls who belong to political activism groups. However, beyond this apparent homogeneity -which also reveals the growing equality between the sexes-while girls tend to take on more invisible tasks, organisation or internal management, boys tend more to take on tasks of public representation of the institutions and organisations in which they are militant.


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