Yearning to Labor: Youth, Unemployment, and Social Destiny in Urban France

Yearning to Labor: Youth, Unemployment, and Social Destiny in Urban France

Yearning to Labor: Youth, Unemployment, and Social Destiny in Urban France

Yearning to Labor: Youth, Unemployment, and Social Destiny in Urban France


In the first decade of the twenty-first century, France underwent a particularly turbulent period during which urban riots in 2005 and labor protests in 2006 galvanized people across the country and brought the question of youth unemployment among its poorer, multiethnic outer cities into the national spotlight.

Drawing on more than a year of ethnographic field research in the housing projects of the French city of Limoges, Yearning to Labor chronicles the everyday struggles of a group of young people as they confront unemployment at more than triple the national rate--and the crushing despair it engenders. Against the background of this ethnographic context, author John P. Murphy illuminates how the global spread of neoliberal ideologies and practices is experienced firsthand by contemporary urban youths in the process of constructing their identities. An original investigation of the social ties that produce this community, Yearning to Labor investigates the ways these young men and women respond to the challenges of economic liberalization, deindustrialization, and social exclusion.

At its heart, Yearning to Labor asks if the French republican model of social integration, assimilation, and equality before the law remains viable in a context marked by severe economic exclusion in communities of ethnic and religious diversity. Yearning to Labor is both an ethnographic account of a certain group of French youths as they navigate a suffocating job market and an analysis of the mechanisms underlying the shifting economic inequalities at the beginning of the twenty-first century.


This book is about social inequality and how people make sense of it in everyday life. It is about the categories and distinctions they use to position themselves and others, the meanings and significance they give to these, the feelings of connectedness or difference involved, and the tensions, contradictions, and ambiguities that may arise along the way. This book is also about unemployment. Drawing on a case study I conducted in France amid widespread fears of rising job insecurity, I portray the daily struggle of a group of young people from the outer city of Limoges, one of France’s poorer, multiethnic banlieues, as they confront more than triple the national unemployment rate. in the process, I aim to illuminate how changes in the global economy sometimes referred to as “neoliberalism” shape and are shaped by local frameworks of thinking and being.

To say that the timing of my research was fortuitous would be a tremendous understatement. During my fieldwork year, France found itself in the throes of what have come to be known as the fall 2005 riots, a conflict so unprecedented in scope—more than 270 cities, including Limoges, were simultaneously engulfed by violence for three full weeks—that it made front-page news across the globe. Just months later, also during my research period, trouble erupted again in France, this time in the form of massive opposition to a proposed government employment bill called the Contrat première embauche (CPE; First job contract). Both conflicts implicated young people, and both involved explicit claims about social . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.