Engaging with institutions from the margins of employment

Special report: Relationships to school, relationships to the state
Relationships to the welfare state and to school among urban working-class women
By Angel Baraud

Based on an ethnographic survey on unemployed urban working-class women and their relationships to work and public institutions, this article examines the relationships to school of a group of women who send their children to a private institution. To save money on school canteen lunches, they prepare lunch for their children, and they collectively mobilize to gain access to a municipal facility. Starting from a seemingly banal question—“Where do you get your children to eat?”—, the article shows how impossible it is, in this context, to achieve the “work–family balance” that public employment policies call for. It also shows that these women individually and collectively use public and para-public structures in order to get around the shortcomings of the institutions of the welfare state and of public services. The school is one of these institutions. The school plays a central role in the lives of these women. It sets the rhythm of their days and weeks and involves a heavy workload. From this point of view, it is not comparable to any of the other institutions they deal with. However, the practices and representations that they deploy in the schooling of their children and the resources that they mobilize when dealing with the obstacles they encounter invite them to think of the school as an institution like any other. The feeling of being kept at a distance, and the different modes of engagement with intermediary institutions that result from this, are not specific to schools.

  • private school
  • unemployment
  • localized analysis
  • work–family balance
  • working classes
  • associations
Go to the article on Cairn-int.info