Mafalda, the West : A travelling survey of young people and social anger

Mafalda, the West : A travelling survey of young people and social anger

By Cécile Van de Velde and Julie Richard

Mafalda: A long story

Her name is Mafalda the West and she’s a converted Westfalia van, equipped with a mobile radio studio. She just got to Saint-Anne des Monts, on the Gaspé Peninsula, the first stop of a travelling survey of young people and their social anger. For a whole year—pandemic permitting—she’ll travel throughout rural and urban Quebec and Ontario to hear the voices of young people away from education and employment.

This citizen endeavour began its work with young people in 2010. Inspired by the Wapikoni Mobile, led by filmmaker Manon Barbeau, Malfalda the West was launched by a team spearheaded by Julie Richard, who is currently writing her doctoral thesis on the political participation of rural young people.  Julie was then the coordinator of a community organization dedicated to youth development in the Charlevoix, a region east of Québec City. The van took the team out into the street, making it possible to meet young people who typically had little access to social services. The project sought to offer these youth a voice and promote their social and community involvement by proposing different means of expression, particularly radio. In partnership with several youth organizations and the health and social services network in the Charlevoix, Mafalda the West was involved in multiple local development projects until 2015.

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Capturing the dynamics of social anger

After a five-year hiatus, Mafalda is back on the road. We are now using her to conduct research on youth and social anger in Quebec and Ontario.  Our team members are Cécile Van de Velde, Marco Alberio, Leila Benhadjoudja, and Stéphanie Garneau, as well as several young researchers: Julie Richard, Quentin Guatieri, and Krystal Tennessee. Others will soon be joining the project.

Our overarching aim is to capture the roots and dynamics of social anger among the younger generation and to better understand its connections to the tangible experiences of inequality. Social anger is an emotional experience that has the particularity of being pointed not at an identified person, but at a group, institution or social entity. This research will lead to a theorization of this emotion, to provide a grid for interpreting its main pillars, targets and influences on political behaviour.

The project is the result of a long-held interest in social anger, which emerged as early as 2011. It is an extension of an international comparative survey coordinated by Cécile Van de Velde on forms of social anger expressed by youth in Montréal, Paris, Madrid, Santiago de Chile, and Hong Kong. It soon became clear that beyond examining the most apparent, collective “anger” (i.e. political protests), it would also be necessary to consider the rise of an individualized and silent anger that goes unchannelled by social movements and targets certain social institutions, society as a whole or, more often than not, “The System.” The need arose to renew methods and initiate an investigation aimed at better understanding these silent forms of anger, which are difficult to identify and quantify, but whose individual, social, and political effects are major. 

A comparative and participatory survey

To gain a better understanding of these underlying forms of anger, we propose a targeted comparative survey of a youth population that is characterized by a high rate of electoral absenteeism: young people who are at a remove from education and employment. The originality of our approach is in exploring these experiences of social anger not ex post in proven political behaviours (such as voting or social movements), but rather beforehand, in actions that are part of young people’s life trajectories. It aims to answer the following questions: Why and how does a young person come to be angry with another social group, institution or society? How does this anger play out in people’s lives? And what happens to it at the political level? Like other social emotions, anger is approached here as a strongly “dynamic” emotion so as to better understand the connections between the experience of certain social hardships, frustration, feelings of injustice, and anger. In the current context, our aim will be to understand the extent to which the side-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic fuel (or do not fuel) feelings of social anger among young people.

We will focus on four locations, in particular: In Quebec, we will cover Greater Montréal and the Haute-Gaspésie region, which is a highly devitalized area; in Ontario, we will visit Toronto and Sudbury. The survey targets young people, aged 18 to 30. At each of the four locations, we will offer participants several formats to express themselves including personal narratives and, for those who wish, a workshop on cooperatively developing a radio program in the form of a podcast. This participatory process is also an outlet for the anger, as our previous results highlighted the need to make space for expressing an otherwise taboo emotion. We are also planning a time to share the narratives with our partners involved with youth in these different locations and to reflect together about the issues as a group. Recruitment is done through local organizations and also directly in public spaces, which is made possible by the travelling nature of the van. The project has just received ethical approval, so we are now launching the field survey. Mafalda’s stops will be announced and our preliminary results shared on our Facebook page,

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Cécile Van De Velde

Je suis Cécile Van de Velde, sociologue et titulaire de la Chaire de Recherche du Canada sur les inégalités sociales et les parcours de vie. Dans mes différentes enquêtes, plusieurs sujets me tiennent à cœur : le sort de la jeunesse, les mutations des âges de la vie, l’évolution des rapports entre générations, ou encore les différentes expériences de la solitude et de l’isolement à différents moments de la vie. Je m’intéresse à ces sujets en comparaison internationale, afin de mieux saisir les dimensions de nos parcours de vie qui convergent au delà des frontières, mais aussi ce qui les différencie, entre les sociétés, les sexes, les milieux sociaux ou les âges. Avec cette approche, je tente de répondre à une interrogation de fond : comment les politiques publiques structurent l’évolution de nos parcours de vie et leurs inégalités depuis la crise? Sur ces questions, j’ai écrit plusieurs articles, chapitres et ouvrages (vous en trouverez la liste ici), dont « Devenir adulte. Sociologie comparée de la jeunesse en Europe » (2008), et « Sociologie des âges de la vie » (2015). Je finalise actuellement une recherche sur les « colères » du XXIème siècle et leur signification sociale, en comparant notamment quatre mouvements sociaux de jeunesse, qui ont eu lieu ces dernières années à Madrid, Montréal, Santiago du Chili et Hong-Kong. Mon objectif est de mieux repérer les nouvelles tensions dans les parcours des jeunes générations depuis la crise, et j’aurai l’occasion d’y revenir au sein de ce blogue.