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Construction and modes of expression of differences in collective action of Afro-Americans and Latinos in a California barrio. Two case studies: One East Palo Alto and San Francis of Assisi

Final Report Summary - GENIDMOV (Construction and modes of expression of differences in collective action of Afro-Americans and Latinos in a California barrio. Two case studies: One East Palo Alto and San Francis of Assisi.)

The project examined political participation of the most disadvantaged people and its potential emergence into public space following the financial crisis of 2008 and the rising economic and social inequalities in the United States of America since the 1980s. The training environment consisted in courses, seminars & colloquiums organized by the Institute of Governmental Studies (IGS) and the Center on Immigration, Race and Ethnicity (REI) at Berkeley University, California during the outgoing phase (firsts two years) and at the Centre for international relations of Sciences Po (CERI) in Paris, France.
The project focused on the study of the main obstacles and specific factors that impede vulnerable people (Women, Blacks and Latinos) to participate into public space and to affirm their citizenship. This research was carried out in collaboration with two organizations - Oakland Community Organizations (OCO) and Just Cause/Justa Causa (CJJC) in one of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods of Oakland City in Northern California - West Oakland - characterized by large socioeconomic inequalities, poverty and segregation.
The empirical data consisted of 63 exploratory, in-depth and semi-structured 53 interviews, carried out among a representative sample of individuals. The interviews included information about new obstacles produced by the 2008 Great Recession and the rising economical, social inequalities, as well as on restrictions of Welfare policies for vulnerable people (women, immigrants and minorities) in California (in particular in the San Francisco Bay Area). I have reconstituted individual trajectories of underprivileged people and showed the diversity of their relationship to politics by examining the dynamics of gender, class, race and ethnicity as barriers and fosters to political participation.

Main results

The preliminary results of the research allowed to participate in several academic and international events to prepare publications for peer-reviewed journals: at the Third ISA (International Sociological Association) Forum of Sociology (10-14 July, 2016) in Vienna/Austria; and IPSA (International Political Science Association) and the 24th World Congress of Political Science in Istanbul (23-28 July, 2016); 10th ECPR General Conference (The European Consortium for Political Research), Prague (7-10 September 2016) with the ECPR Standing Group "Identity".
I have also organized a workshop “ Inequalities and Poverty : Developments, Perceptions and Attitudes in Europe and the US at CERI/Sciences Po on October, 4th 2016 to compare the political consequences of poverty and inequalities in Europe and USA.

Scholars have shown that one of the effects of poverty is to keep away from political and electoral participation (Verba & al. 1993). The general political science literature finds a positive correlation between an individual's levels of trust, efficacy, and alienation and his or her ties to and involvement in the political process. In addition, these orientations are related to both civic and political engagement. This literature emphasises that political participation depends on high socioeconomic status: income and education (Verba and al. 1995). Political participation also requires both time and attention, and it can demand some level of cognitive resource to decipher what is at stake, what candidates believe, and the like. This seems difficult for poor people for whom the time is dedicated for a major part to daily survival.

This study confirms widely as the most fragile in their majority do not participate and vote, will show both less interested, less convinced of the effectiveness of voting and less able or willing to position themselves for a political party and for a collective action. Political knowledge are less safe. However, the political link is not broken. Even though many of these people will not vote, they have followed the presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012, they have political preferences. They are able to position themselves politically (except the illegal immigrants from Latin America) for the upcoming 2016 presidential election. Even among those who have been totally deprived of political socialization. The relationship to politics of poor people is not uniform because it depends as much on life trajectory as on current living conditions. Consequently, the identity is not a fixed property and is the result of a process (Becker, 1963), interactions between "them" and "us. The identity work is done continuously throughout the individual path and depends on both the context and the resources that can be mobilized and social experiences faced by individuals.
The data highlights three main findings that reflect the difficulty of objective and subjective membership of interviewees to a common social class or collective identity:

First, poverty is not necessarily a permanent state. People fall in and climb out of it. We find two different processes of pauperization: inherited poverty, and poverty as a “bump on the road.” We can hypothesize that the interviewees who express a feeling of an identical reproduction or of an ascendant trajectory have “inherited” a situation of poverty from their family history, while the ones who express the feeling of a descendant trajectory have rather been pushed into situations of poverty that were not typical of their social or familial origins.

Second, the daily struggle for survival encourages individualistic behaviors and leads to a search for scapegoats, for “others:” “Blacks” for Latino immigrants, “Muslims” for naturalized Asians, etc. I hypothesize that these attitudes have three main motivations: first, the “last spot aversion” (Kuziemko & al, 2014) that increases as income decreases and the last social place is closer. This attitude is mainly from those who, second the stigma flowing from the exposition to social assistance in a country where poverty explanations are dominated by individual responsibility and racializing discourses (“the Black welfare queen,” see Fraser and Gordon, 1994); the experiences of ethnic discrimination linked to migration or immigrant status and that are accentuated by the ethnic and racial fragmentation.

Third, the picture emerging from the interviews which is very far from that of a “class of precarious people in formation” (Standing, 2011) that would be the new working class in post-industrial crisis societies. With the few exceptions of those who “stick together,” the competition for aids and the daily struggle for livelihood are ill-suited to the emergence of a collective solidarity and of a group consciousness based on gender, ethnicity, etc. Furthermore, the diversity of social trajectories and socializations that occurred before the fall into poverty reinforces the boundaries and the sociocultural distinctions that are internal to the group.

Impact Action

Collaborations with researchers, associations and philanthropic agencies was essential to generate information, to encourage active sharing, and identify pressing priorities via international and national Conferences, Study day, Colloquiums, press releases, etc. in order to guide patterns of public policy-making such as:
- l'Observatoire des inégalités that draws up a complete inventory of inequalities in France, Europe and the world. It broadcasts information to the media, elected officials and the general public and contributes to a better understanding of the phenomenon of inequalities and poverty through the contribution of different scientific disciplines and its scientific council is made up of researchers and teachers concerned with providing quality information. It is partnering with other independent European observatories within Inequality Watch in a way to more balanced economic and fiscal policies and/or a variety of measures with temporary effects at European level.
- philanthropic agencies or organizations such as ADT Quart Monde, The National Federation of Associations for Reception and Social Reintegration (FNARS), Action Contre la Faim/ Action against Hunger, Fondation Abbé Pierre, etc.