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Closed circles of mistrust: envy, aspirations and urban sociality in coastal Madagascar

  • Patrick Desplat
Abstract

In this article, I examine the fear of others’ envy among young students and graduates in the port city of Mahajanga, Madagascar. Although the city provides a favourable environment in relation to the economy, employment and general well-being, many young people from middle-class milieus worry that their aspirations will remain unfulfilled because of envious peers who resent them for any advantage they might have gained. While malicious envy is most expected within close social relations in which social comparison and competition are prevalent, most social actors respond to this threat with tactical practices of secrecy that arguably help to secure an individual's well-being and shield them from unsocial behaviour. I scrutinize these micro-politics of life projects, social comparison, increasing inequalities and a rising sense of mutual mistrust. Yet, I depart from approaches that frame envy as a human condition that socially produces either a prosocial levelling mechanism or a destructive force that bulldozes social bonds. Instead, I understand envy as an assemblage that points to intertwined and often ambivalent social aspects. For many young individuals, overcoming their fear of envy is part of becoming a complete person, a sign of being successful and a responsible adult.

Dans cet article, l'auteur examine la peur de l'envie des autres parmi les jeunes étudiants et diplômés de la ville portuaire de Mahajanga (Madagascar). Bien que la ville offre un environnement favorable pour ce qui est de l’économie, de l'emploi et du bien-être général, de nombreux jeunes issus des classes moyennes craignent que leurs aspirations ne demeurent inassouvies parce que des pairs envieux leur en veulent d'avoir profité d'avantages. L'envie malveillante ne saurait surprendre dans le cadre de rapports sociaux étroits dans lesquels la comparaison sociale et la concurrence sont prévalentes, mais la plupart des acteurs sociaux répondent à cette menace par des pratiques tactiques de secret qui aident sans doute à assurer le bien-être d'un individu et à le protéger des comportements asociaux. L'auteur examine ces micropolitiques de projets de vie, de comparaison sociale, d'inégalités grandissantes et de sentiment croissant de méfiance mutuelle. Cependant, il s’écarte des approches qui cadrent l'envie comme une condition humaine qui produit socialement soit un mécanisme de nivellement prosocial, soit une force destructrice qui piétine les liens sociaux. Au lieu de cela, il interprète l'envie comme un assemblage laissant entrevoir des aspects sociaux imbriqués et souvent ambivalents. Pour beaucoup de jeunes, surmonter la peur de l'envie fait partie de l'achèvement personnel, un signe de réussite et de statut d'adulte responsable.

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