Order the summer edition here

Not around my luxury villa

Ce que les riches pensent des pauvres
If this book is translated into English, it becomes a new French academic bestseller.


Four sociologists, three French and one Brazilian, all based in renowned research institutes in Paris, have examined what the richest in Paris, Sao Paulo and Delhi think about the poor. 80 interviews have been conducted in each of the cities; altogether, 240 kingdoms have been talking for a long time – for one to two hours, according to the method chapter – about how they perceive poor people. Long direct quotes from the interviews take up a lot of space in the book's first 200 pages – and that is very good. I get the feeling of reading some kind of new edition of Bourdieus La Misère du monde (1993) – but instead, like Bordieu, talking to poor Frenchmen about living conditions, working life and (lack of) education, the authors of this book talk to the richest rich about their views on the same. The quotes, the analytical approach and the theme in itself nevertheless make Bourdieu stay with me during my reading, without the authors mentioning him many times.

Not In My Backyard. The starting point for the book is a protest action led by some of the most privileged in Paris. Barely two years ago, there was talk of creating a center for refugees and the homeless in the Boulogne Forest to the west of the French capital. 40 signatures from Paris' 000th arrondissement – ​​the quarter which huser most embassies and goes for being the most expensive and chicest in the world city – was sent to the mayor in protest: The rich and successful did not want a refugee home so close to them. This may not be so shocking in itself; opposition from local residents to development projects that they believe harm them economically, culturally, socially or health-wise has since the early 1990s become so common that it has been given its own name: NIMBY-ism ("Not In My BackYard"). But the resistance in Paris made the sociologists want to investigate thoroughly what the rich really think of the poor.

Corrupts morality. Hundreds of interviews later, we know that the rich in Paris, Sao Paulo and Delhi want to keep a physical distance to the poor. We know that the rich are skeptical of the personality and character of the poor, and that their attitudes are discriminatory on the border with racist. While the richest in Paris highlight the poor attitudes and lack of education of the poor as the most problematic, the rich in Sao Paolo speak more about the poor as dangerous, criminal and erratic. In Delhi, the poor are dirty and smell bad.

The rich people's views on the poor can be categorized as either moral objections, as a need to protect themselves or as various forms of legitimization of economic inequality. The poor are said to corrupt morality – decency, decency and discipline – to the rich in a number of areas: by drinking too much alcohol, not distinguishing between good and bad quality, by being dirty and smelling tight, and by having bad manners. Poor people act obscene and lack (self) discipline. They spit on the street, rarely wash, drink openly, steal and talk loudly. In doing so, they become a threat to the bourgeois lifestyle and values. The kingdoms live as they live because they are surrounded by like-minded people: people with a high education and good manners. People who know how to behave and who look decent. "Normal people," as they say.

Poor people are indecent and without discipline. They spit on the street, rarely wash, drink openly, steal and talk loudly.

Robbery, stench and abuse. The desire for protection is strongest in São Paulo, where very poor and well-kept quarters lie side by side. Here, the rich spend great resources on keeping the poor excluded from their areas; entire neighborhoods are fenced and guarded. In addition, people have both private surveillance cameras and their own security guards outside their wall-mounted and burglar-proof houses. The kingdom of São Paulo is afraid of robberies and attacks by the slum people – which is why they stay mostly at home. No one uses public transport. In Paris, on the other hand, it is not crime that the rich fear most, but infectious diseases, bad smells and dirt. The metro exposes them to all this, but the wealthy Parisians still use it, at least during the day; in the evening they drive a car when they go out. In Paris, the rich are not afraid to be out. Unlike in Delhi, where the rich move little outside in public space. Wealthy women and girls are taking good care and are being looked after particularly well. They fear sexual approaches and the aggression that is especially directed at wealthy women. Furthermore, the traffic is so tight and the air so polluted that the upper class does not like to travel outside "their own", safer quarters.

Their own fault. Finally, we analyze how the rich legitimize the great inequality and the many poor. Wealthy Parisians like to explain the poverty of the poor being too lazy; they have not used their talents and therefore not deserved better. Everyone in France can get a good education, work hard and do well. In São Paulo, on the other hand, wealth and poverty are spoken of as natural phenomena: There is no point, nor anyone's responsibility, to overcome the poor living conditions of large sections of the population. In Delhi it is caste, karma and class that largely legitimize the differences for the rich elite. Here, too, the poor are largely seen as guilty of their own situation; they must have done something morally reprehensible in their past lives since they got so broken in this.

Although the upper class's attitudes toward the unmediated are different on the three continents, all interview objects have a desire for distance from the poor, both physically and morally. Some of them express some solidarity, but this is only expressed as long as the distance is maintained. The authors talk about a "solidarity à distance" that we can translate a little with "distant solidarity", for example by being Save the Children sponsor.

Pioneering work. The study is fascinating reading. We gain detailed insights into a little-known thought – rich attitude to the world's poorest. We get methodological assessments and analytical categories, and relevant comparisons that give us important new knowledge. We'll also get that soon Ce que les riches pensent des pauvres translated into English, a new French academic reference work.

avatar photos
Ketil Fred Hansen
Hansen is a professor of social sciences at UiS and a regular reviewer at Ny Tid.

You may also like