Social Mobility and Relationships with Institutional Power: The Case of Hip-Hop Elites in French Communist Municipalities

By Pauline Clech

By the end of the 1980s, many young people living in the Parisian working-class suburbs identified hip-hop as their counter-culture. Along with family and school, this peer culture has constituted an important socializing space. Analysing the social trajectories of some of these youths into adult life, this paper shows that they have acquired an illegitimate form of cultural capital. This cultural capital consists in a familiarity with weakly institutionalized art forms, a specific ethos, and a politicization marked by a strong sense of conflict and of social revenge, as well as a deep mistrust towards the establishment. The possession of such a cultural capital has consequences on the social position these youth reach once they become adults. Two kinds of social mobility can be distinguished: interviewees from a working-class background experience upward social mobility, while those from a middle-class background manage to avoid a likely loss of social status. Overall, this form of cultural capital constitutes a socially effective resource only in a limited number of social spaces. We study dialectical links between this type of cultural capital, social mobility, and local institutional power.

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