An exploration of “urban self-esteem” among stigmatized youngsters

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    This paper presents early findings of bigger ongoing research about the role of stigma on poverty and vulnerability cycles among youngsters in contemporary cities. Here the main idea is to demonstrate how some “institutional attitudes” reflect a model of urban experience which is driven by social fear and mistrust. Interviews with youngsters in Rio de Janeiro demonstrate that the creation of symbolic barriers and subtle practices of social avoidance have been contributing to the reinforcement of “spaces of embarrassment”. This unwelcoming environment is present in the public sphere as well as in some institutions, such as schools. In this paper, some selected research findings alert schools and educationalists to the dangers of stigmatizing practices. The paper also aims to illustrate some strategies that schools can adopt in order to produce a welcoming and stimulating environment for stigmatized youngsters.
    In Rio, violence-related stigma sustains institutional practices that reinforce a cycle of stigmatization, vulnerability and poverty. The idea that some youngsters are a “lost generation” is the best description of practices that have been transforming public institutions into instruments of socio-spatial control and enclosure. In this context, some institutions work as agents of management of the unwelcoming groups. This is reflected in the quality of public services as well as in the treatment that some groups receive from the state and institutions. Research has revealed that despite the universalization of education in Brazil over the last decades, there are high levels of school failure among pupils and most of them are unable to access higher education and qualified jobs. Thus, despite the access those groups might have to some services, the low quality and the stigma behind these services is observable. This “institutional attitude” reproduces practices based on stigma and reinforces the unwelcoming environment present in the cities where fear and mistrust configure the basis of the relationships between the “good citizens” and the “lost generations”.
    More vulnerable due to stigmatizing institutional attitudes, youngsters become unable to overcome the limitations imposed by poverty and have difficulties to access better life conditions. As some data suggest, schools have difficult to establish new languages. These institutions also reproduce stigmatizing practices. Thus, education can be depreciated by adolescents: the inability to enhance space-time experience in schools’ practice is reflected in life projects that might exclude formal education as a strategy of social mobility. As result children and adolescent have been starting the work life prematurely, reinforcing a cycle of informal and illegal circuits of economy and therefore the poverty cycle.
    Local institutions can produce relevant changes in local spheres through the involvement with the communities in active collaboration with local initiatives. For that they need to change conceptions and practices in order to overcome a subtle role of “custody institutions”. The challenge to face stigma is the promotion of “urban self-esteem” through the creation of welcoming environments that can gradually be spread to the public sphere as part of a culture of respect and valuation of any person as citizen.
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages3
    Publication statusPublished - 2011
    EventThe European Conference on Educational Research 2011 - Berlin, Germany
    Duration: 13 Sept 201116 Sept 2011


    ConferenceThe European Conference on Educational Research 2011
    Abbreviated titleECER 2011
    Internet address


    • Youth
    • Institutional attitude
    • Urban self-esteem


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