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


7. Catalan in young people's political positioning

In the tendency of young people to position themselves in groups that are close or more further removed from politics, there is a set of variables that have a powerful explanatory weight. These are the variables that refer to the intensity of the subjects’ feeling Catalan traits.

By "feeling Catalan", we understand all the variables that concern shared objective elements that favour individuals perceiving themselves and being perceived by others as an integrant of something as controversial as "being Catalan". In the setting of our piece of research, there are two anchors: the language spoken during infancy and the personal and family origin of the young people (Catalonia, the rest of Spain or abroad). “Feeling Catalan” is shown by the preferential use of Catalan during their childhood, and the young person and/or their parents having been born in Catalonia; in other words, the linguistic and family roots in Catalonia. This is an appropriation of the concept of being Catalan to which we gave an eminently analytical meaning.

Therefore, we would like to warn people that this is a sui generis use of being Catalan concept, that has nothing to do with the political or regulatory considerations about what could be considered to be the typical uses of being Catalan and what not, beyond the Catalan language. In this sense, we avoid falling into the demarcation of being Catalan based on other cultural, folkloric and artistic uses. Sure enough, there are cultural uses that are more easily identifiable as being Catalan -and identified by most of the population- however in our opinion they are not operational markers of being Catalan. At a social level, one can be considered as being Catalan or not by the general public -and by oneself- according to one's linguistic uses, but not according to whether one dances sardanes (a traditional Catalan dance) or not. Therefore, we do not consider these uses to be “feeling Catalan” not just because of their difficult analytical operationality, but also because of the conceptual considerations.

Neither do we understand by “feeling Catalan” the feeling of perceived assignment, because what we want to perceive are the elements assigned to an individual that places him or her in a position of the social structure that does not depend upon them, but on those who are ascribed beyond their own desire. Linguistic uses in childhood or the origin of the young person or the family do not depend on subjective decisions, therefore they are anchors. However, being Catalan goes beyond these objective anchors, in such a way that people can perceive themselves and be perceived as representatives of being Catalan in a way that goes beyond their origin or language of their childhood, whether due to the language they later use, or for the subjective perception they have of their national and cultural assignation.

In any case, we use the idea of anchoring because we have observed that the language used in childhood and the origin explain different political positions among young people. The feeling of being Catalan explains the differences in the political practices and perceptions of young people as much or even more than their social status. Therefore, although in the previous part we said, with regard to their variables, that they refer to social status, this also works in the same way with regard to the variables that anchor subjects into feeling Catalan. The greater the level of anchorage, the more possibilities there are that young people are more closely involved in politics. The main interest of this lies in the fact that part of this influence is independent of social status, measured above all on the academic level of families and their young people, and on their work position. In other words, although feeling Catalan correlates with status in explaining positions in the political field of young people, part of the influence of the variables of anchorage are not owed to this correlation. It is something that analysis based on models of regression enables to be shown.

The level of education is certainly an indirect and mistaken level of social status. Social status depends on other variables such as those related to social class (family capital and income, type of employment, etc.). In this sense, it is possible that behind the variables relating to feeling Catalan there are matters concerning social status that the variables concerning the level of education do not manage to deal with.

However, we believe that the overwhelming maze of the results is sufficient to make it clear that not everything behind the political positioning of young people is status. There are other structural questions that explain these positionings. In this sense, we would venture to say that the bulk of the variables concerning the political positions that we have analysed in the piece of research are signs of a structuring axis of the social position of individuals: the social centrality that operates as a second organising axis of the social structure. Our interpretation is that the variables of feeling Catalan refer in a very clear way to this second structuring axis of the positions on the social structure, that which situates subjects in more central or more peripheral positions of the social structure.

By social centrality, we understand the ability to immediately and without reflection understand the different institutional settings that make up the relational, organisational and communicative fabric that gives collective life sense beyond the group of people with whom we maintain face-to-face relationships. Therefore, centrality conditions the ability to decode and understand, first, and then to feel as one's own, the different social and political frameworks in which the individual moves. "Feel as their own" implies being able to be criticised or expressly distancing, not just adhering acritically.

The fact is that the concept of positional centrality is controversial, because it is difficult to make out what the "relational, organisational and communication fabric" is, which, if shared, gives meaning to collective life. In fact, one of the characteristics of the modern world is to unravel this institutional reference framework shared by all individuals. However, we believe that there is a bulk of institutions -formal and informal- and social norms -implicit and explicit-that mark off the bulk of shared things that are taken for granted that facilitate social life with strangers and the everyday orientation of individuals in all non-habitual situations thanks to the predetermined types of the action.

In fact, our interpretation is, as we said before, that not completely distancing oneself from politics is one of the best indicators of this central or peripheral positioning in the social fabric. Therefore, distancing oneself from politics is the indicator of something far more basic: the distancing from the institutional framework in a more generic sense. Here we should remember that we understand distancing in a deep sense, as the inability to recognize and identify anything that refers to the concept of "politics". This is something that affects a minority of the young people, in this radical sense.

“Feeling Catalan” is not the only element that favours centrality or periphery in individual people's social position. In fact, the variables of social status can also be interpreted as indicative of greater or lesser social centrality, as they only refer to different hierarchical positions in the social structure. As far as hierarchical indicators are concerned, the variables of social status tell us about the unequally distributed possibilities for enjoying the possibilities of material enjoyment or for occupying places of social relevance at different levels (this would be the axis of vertical ordering of the social structure). At the same time, however, the variables of social status are also indicative of the greater possibilities of individuals to be in central or peripheral social positions, in view of the fact that the better they are situated in the social hierarchy, the easier it is to develop these abilities to recognize the different significant social environments. The vertical axis (unequal distribution of the possibilities of material enjoyment) and the horizontal axis (what I have called social centrality ) are usually associated in individuals, as the distribution of cognitive resources and of resources to enjoy and position oneself socially usually come from the very same institutions and socialisation processes. They are, however, differentiated analytical axes which, as we see, have autonomous behaviour.

Therefore, “feeling Catalan” is also indicative of greater or lesser centrality. and they are so with as much or even more exclamatory capacity than the variables of social status. In fact, at an explanatory level, it often appears as being more influential than social status. In the regression models, both spoken language as well as origin systematically showed the same thing. Both those people who spoke more in Catalan during their childhood as well as young people born in Catalonia as children of parents born in Catalonia tend to be more participative and closer to politics. Our interpretation is that by being deeply rooted in the relational networks and the recognition of institutional environments -both those referring to social organisations as well as everyday relational frameworks -as references in their own right explained this greater tendency to social centrality of young people anchored in being Catalan. Both the origin as well as the language becomes central elements in the facility for recognizing and positioning in institutional environments and therefore, in the positioning within the political field -despite being affected by one or more of the foldings mentioned.

In addition, young people tend to identify the correlation between political positioning and feeling Catalan more easily than between political positioning and social status. In short, for the young people who are most opposed it is just as easy or even more so to identify politically committed young people as "Catalinos" (Catalan speakers of Catalan origin) than young people from privileged positions (we can find other references to this in the article by Roger Martínez in this same monograph). In addition, despite the fact that the influence of both elements can be considered as independent, and we have already shown how there is an accumulative influence, as feeling Catalan and the positioning in positions of privileged status tend to correlate.

Table 3. Young people’s positioning in the political field according to the language habitually spoken in their childhood. Percentages, Catalonia, 2005.

Language habitually spoken during childhood
Type of positioning
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)

The explanatory collinear nature that exists between the variable of origin, that refers to the "objective", material position of assignation of individuals in relational networks is especially interesting in that it shows, grosso modo, up to what point their insertion into them is recent or deeply rooted, or is only rooted by the cultural facility to insert oneself in it, and the linguistics, which tells us about the social uses of individuals, therefore, to a super-structural cultural assignation. One of the doors that the piece of research leaves open is that of looking more deeply, beyond the general collinear nature, into what happens in these individuals in which one or another position are not parallel. We refer to those individuals whose families are rooted in Catalonia but who are Spanish speakers, or to individuals who are relative newcomers but Catalan speakers, whether they were in their childhood or later. It would also be interesting to cover the situation of people who, not originating from Catalan speaking environments, acquire Catalan as a habitual language during their youth; in other words, those who "anchor themselves to feeling Catalan" through linguistic practice after their childhood.

This analysis would enable us to deal with a vitally important question: up to what point does Catalan become a cultural barrier to the identification with politics and more generically, in the social and institutional environments of Catalonia, or whether it is a cultural shortcut in this identification. Language can become, at a symbolic level, a cultural artefact that encysts individuals in situations of removing their roots and lack of recognition of their own social and political protagonism in the Catalan environment, and by extension in the entire social and political environment, or to the contrary, it can facilitate the transition to such a rooting and recognition, accelerating what Salvador Cardús calls solution of the condition of being an immigrant (Cardús, 2005).

Catalan could possibly generate either one or the other affect. In fact, depending on which statements of resistance towards the institutions, they would seem to state themselves with particular firmness among young Catalan people, born in Catalonia, but Spanish-speaking and with a low family and job status. They are young people who fit into Type 6 of the synthesis classification. In these cases -and also in part of the young Spanish speaking people not affected by this complete opposition, but by the rhetorical folding- that which is seen as the disaccredited political environment often goes beyond political parties and the administration. By identifying proximity, any political statement "contaminates" this dislike, even the anti-institutional and critical ones - many of them led by young Catalan speakers in situations of status that are not unfavourable belonging to Type 1- and also Catalan language, a cultural artefact with which this far reaching world of what is political, what is institutional, what is politically correct expresses itself sometimes, despite the appearance of radical nature. In the subjective perception of determined young people everything is part of the same institutional conglomeration against which they rebel or show reactive hostility.

As a cultural artefact, language is the object of emotional adhesions and other actions. This depends, to a great degree, on the kind of associative resonance of the artefact; in our case, Catalan. Catalan has different political resonance. Among a large part of young Catalan people who are more politically minded, Catalan is the object of political defence. For these young people, the language of the administration is that of the central state: Spanish. For many other young people, on the other hand, neither Catalan or Spanish are the object of explicit political defence. For Catalan speakers, on the whole Catalan does not resound as an institutional language, however for many Spanish speakers of Catalan origin it does resound like an institutional language, and therefore it is usually associated with negative connotations that the world has about what the institutional world involves, conventions imposed by the structures of power of which they are notably hostile. Suffice to say that at this initial moment, the negative resonance of Catalan does not have so much to do with that they are identified with the world of politics, but with their identification, during childhood and adolescence, with the more generic area of formal institutions: school, local administration and with the conventional world. To a great degree, adolescence is culturally constructed in opposition to everything that smacks of convention and formality - the study by Gonzàlez, Alegre and Benito, on advertising aimed at children, adolescents and young people is a good example of this (2006) - and Catalan can be associated to it. The quote of a young female university student from a Spanish-speaking working class district shows this symbolic role that Catalan plays:

I have differentiated a great deal between university friends and friends from my district (...) but you have to ... our district is ... more than immigrants, it is a district that ... we are the only people who speak Catalan and we are called "posers" because we go to university; that says it all ... I say to one of my friends in the district that I'm going to the theatre and they laugh at me I can't tell any of my friends that I've got to go and see a play or that we're going to a museum ... and that doesn't mean that every time I go with my friends from here [the University] I go to see a museum ...
Cecília, a Catalan University student

In many cases however, the resonance is underlying, it does not crystallise in ideologies of linguistic hostility. Among a large number of Spanish-speaking adolescents, in particular those who do not live on an everyday basis with Catalan speaking adolescents, Catalan is the language that tends to generate a certain rejection because of the underlying associations they make of it, but they are preconscious associations. In the passage from adolescence to youth, and later to adulthood, this resonance can be consolidated in ideologies of resistance, dissolve themselves and even invert their tone. Adolescent linguistic adhesions, often reinforced by consumer and leisure time areas in Spanish, are not irreversible. The passage to the world of work, to university or to having children often involves contextual changes that can generate emotional reversibility or ideological consolidation.

In the case of the University, it is particularly interesting in the framework of this article, because it enables us to speak of experiences narrated in the discussion groups. University is, for many young Spanish-speaking people, the first context in which they have habitual horizontal contract with a high percentage group of individuals who speak Catalan. We interviewed young people in whom this contact has neutralised the negative resonance of Catalan (or consolidated positive minority resonance in their childhood environments), and others, on the other hand, in whom they have crystallised into a discourse of linguistic resistance. The two following quotes, from two female university students from Spanish-speaking environments, exemplified these two trends that are generated by immersion into an environment, the University, (perceived as being) mainly Catalan speaking.

[Since I have been studying at University] I have noticed it ... I know it is I am much more left wing and much more “Catalan”, much more ... (...) In my neighbourhood, there are immigrants from Spain but they are not Catalan and this is very noticeable (...) I have always loved Catalonia and have tended towards Catalan nationalism, but since I came here, even more. And they stay neutral, or towards the other side, more fascist... And not just with matters concerning Catalonia, also with immigration ... I think I'm more tolerant, I don't know why, I don't know if this is because I've got more information or because I have other values (...)
Cecilia, a Catalan university student



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