Is civility reactionary?

Politics on the street corner
By Carole Gayet-Viaud

The concept of civility has become a highly polarizing one, from both an academic and an ideological perspective. While some view it as a paradise lost, to others it is but a booby-trapped watchword, a law-and-order device, reactionary by nature. This situation warrants a genealogical approach if one is to shed light on how this binary opposition has been allowed to prevail. This article shows how the rise of incivility as a public issue in France from the 1990s has contributed to splitting the study of civility and incivility into two separate domains, setting up the debate on civility as an ideological struggle centered on the question of order, in which civility is placed on the side of reactionary thinking. It will be shown that ethnographic surveying of civil interactions calls for us to move beyond this binary perspective, ultimately considering civility as a dynamic activity aiming to fine-tune public behavior, where the relationship of conventions to an ordinary sense of fairness is critically assessed and subjected to an iterative survey by city-dwellers, as opposed to being blindly applied or rejected.

  • civility
  • incivility
  • public policy
  • insecurity
  • fear of crime
  • civic practices
  • citizenship
  • urban public spaces
  • mores
  • democracy
  • sociability
  • reactionary
  • critical sociology
  • public problem
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