Accueil MSH-Alpes


Producing access to rights and to the right Français

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Authors :

Catherine Chauveaud, Pierre Mazet, Philippe Warin (responsable du projet)
Grenoble, Odenore, November 2010, 105 p.

Collection :

Study n°35

Language :


Research report
Participant observation, interview survey, focus group.

Full text in french.



The relationship between rights and poverty can be analyzed in terms of the processes through which people are put (back) into situations of precariousness or exclusion, with the idea that they are accountable and have rights. Inequalities in access to rights and to the law stem from social and psychological difficulties that people have in imagining their own entitlement. The research reported here examines how changes at this personal level can alter the relationship that people in situations of precariousness or exclusion have with regard to their rights and the law. Social actors (three non-profit organizations and a collective) were chosen for the study because of their role in producing access to rights and the law without being “legal actors”. The research consisted in identifying the dynamics between professional or voluntary actors and people in situations of precariousness or exclusion who approach, or are referred to (the case of social prescriptions), these “agencies”.

Our analysis of these relations shows that these structures play a particular role in the production of individuals’ relations to their rights and to the law. By enabling individuals to improve their social situation, via access to various services and/or resources, they enable them to attain a socially recognized status (as employees, tenants, social welfare beneficiaries, etc.). A whole series of rights are concretized through such statuses. At the same time, owing to relations based explicitly and deliberately on social recognition and listening, these structures contribute to strengthening individuals cognitively (knowledge of resources that allow for access to rights, knowledge of rights), socially (broadening of possible support) and psychologically (social recognition, shift away from social anxiety linked to stigmatization when contempt worsens precariousness and the erosion of solidarity between family members, peers, neighbours, etc.). They place people, or help them to place themselves, in a position where they feel entitled to their rights. At the same time, they place the law (here, the idea of being accountable) within people’s reach by enabling them psychologically to command respect in multiple circumstances – as users of social services, employees, tenants or applicants for housing, etc. – including when an issue of equal treatment arises that challenges their status as subjects with rights. The relation to rights and the law is then established at three levels:

-    In the implementation of services or resources that inform people of their prerogatives, that is, the individual advantages that can be recognized as theirs in many respects (in access to housing, jobs, social welfare, training, administrative transparency, etc.) and from which they can benefit. In this case, the relationship to the law is abstract and general.

-    In the implementation of subjective rights which concretize these prerogatives. In addition to informing people of their prerogatives, these structures enable them to benefit from rights in relation to third parties (rental contract, employment contract, claiming a social welfare benefit, etc.). In this case, there is access not only to rights but also to the law because these rights can be defended legally.

-    In the psychological comfort that many derive from relations with the people in these structures and that makes them open to the idea of having rights and access to the law. Here the relationship to rights and the law is no longer functional, as on the first two levels, but psychological. Those relations that afford a functional access to rights and the law also sometimes open people (again) to the idea of that access. This is why some people subsequently change their behaviour when they consider that they have been treated unfairly or have been wronged. They react whereas in the past they gave up, because they have integrated an idea of the law.

The first two levels are related to the practices of structures; they activate a functional, materialized relationship to rights. Depending on the circumstances, people become effectively able to take up their legal rights (e.g. to sue a dishonest landlord) as well as their social rights (e.g. the case of people who enter into training, employment or rental contracts). The third level corresponds more to the effects of interactions, even if it is closely intertwined with the other two. It activates an ideal relationship with rights/the law. Here individuals expect to be respected and to be treated equally and fairly (we have spoken of emancipation with regard to women who acquire the status of employees; this is clearly a matter of re-evaluation of the self – from a psychological point of view – or of one’s autonomy – from a social point of view). Between these three levels, a process of “social requalification” is initiated in three respects affecting people as both citizens and individuals: (re)acquiring access to the law; becoming subjects with rights (again); and being respected (again).

These findings enable us not only to consider the structures studied as producers of access to rights and the law, but also to assess their limits:
-    Access to rights does not guarantee access to the law.
-    The structures intervene in professional environments where recourse to rights is rare or non-existent.
-    Structures do not solve the anxiety of being abandoned that characterizes precariousness and exclusion.

Yet this type of structure would warrant further study so that their “social added value”, related to their ability to connect people to their rights and the law, may be perceived and assessed in terms of criteria other than the activity or results indicators sometimes required.