Shirley Tillotson

Published on August 30, 2016

Shirley Tillotson is a professor at the Department of History of Dalhousie University. She specializes in the social history of citizen contributions, from volunteering to tax-paying. She has published several journal articles on tax history in Canada, and her book manuscript, tentatively titled The Power to Govern: Taxation and Democracy in Canada, 1917-1971, is currently under review at UBC Press.


An interview by Cory Verbauwhede. Professor Tillotson will be participating in the round-table discussion which will close the social question and citizenship conference.


Cory Verbauwhede: The round-table discussion in which you will be participating will attempt to open up the conference to future research and collaborations. We invited you to read the interviews thus far – what is your initial impression?

Shirley Tillotson: Well, one thing I will say about the interviews I’ve read is that there seems to be an emerging consensus about the 1920s – 1970s period, roughly, being an analyzable whole, even if World War Two can be seen as a rupture in its own right in terms of social policy. This realignment of traditional periodizations which start after the war means that we also have to rethink the “neo” of neoliberalism. Hayek and Friedman, for instance, were deeply rooted in the 1930s; they were responding to Keynes, they read Mill and, along with the Catholic Church, were adepts of laisser-faire economics. Events in the mid-1970s and 1980s were of epochal significance – the oil crises, stagflation, and 20% interest rates – but calling the liberalism of the 1980s and onwards “neo”-liberalism obscures the connections between current market-fundamentalism and much of classical liberal thinking.

CV: Tell us a bit about your own work, and how you see it interacting with the conference themes.

ST: My research has focused on citizen engagement and, in my current project, that focus has brought me to the study of taxation – the practice, the policy, the politics, and the culture that underpins these matters of state. These themes are deeply rooted both in the changing notion of citizenship and in the difficult head-on confrontation of the social question that is apparent in debates about who should be taxed, how, by how much, and especially for what reason. There is a very real sense in which more money from my pocket is less money from yours, and that gives rise to heated arguments and to resistance of all kinds. Taxation debate is about conflicting interests. The wisdom of the “old” liberalism was that it valued political conflict. Consensus is often a convenient fiction produced by those in power for their own purposes. Good public policy is made by people who understand what’s driving those who are opposed to them. I’m a fan of conflict if it is done right, and the conflicts around taxation certainly give lots of material to the social historian – material that I must emphasize is vastly underexploited!

Court cases are precious windows into the stakes of tax conflict, but so are the everyday letters, for example, that were the basis of my work on the self-interested pocketbook politics driven by lower-income Canadians who opposed tax innovations such the 1942 Income Tax amendments. The views on taxation presented in those letters, and the labour politics which reflected those views, greatly contributed to the implementation of universal family allowances at the end of the war. As John Kenneth Galbraith argued, popular organizations such as unions provide a socially useful mechanism of conflict in modern economic life as a countervailing power to big business. And Galbraith was in some way just extending Mill’s view that civil society organizations were valuable as a check on the power of the state. As historians, we only do our job well if we really work to understand all the parties to conflict, what their assumptions and daily realities were, and so forth. This is perhaps another common thread in the interviews I’ve read on this blog: the conference presenters are interested in understanding social conflict on the actors’ own terms, thus questioning some of the common assumptions we hold on social issues and ultimately on citizenship, and especially on its relative triumph, which is too often taken for granted.

In my own field, the history of taxation, so much was done behind the scenes until the 1960s that it is hard to be optimistic about the democratic nature of the politics before that time. Linda McQuaig, then a journalist for the Globe and Mail, wrote a book in the 1980s from an anti-elitist perspective on “how the rich won control of Canada’s tax system,” but there is more to the picture than that. Along with my colleague Elsbeth Heaman, whose book on taxation in Canada between 1867-1917 will soon appear from McGill-Queen’s, I tell a story that shows Canadians to be tax resisters and eager participants in tax debates at Confederation and since. I think you can say that our work all but destroys the picture of the cheerful, compliant Canadian taxpayer. Though such essential works such as economist Irwin Gillespie’s 1991 book, Tax, Borrow and Spend, are useful, they are too often top-down, based on official reports and House of Commons debates. There’s a lot to learn from digging down into the histories of the people involved at all levels.

On one hand, the tax officials are human beings whose engagements with taxation are not simply rational. Kenneth Eaton, a World War I veteran from rural Nova Scotia who came to Finance as its first income tax specialist in 1932 with a Ph.D. in public finance from Harvard complained contemptuously of progressive income taxation, a system he helped design and administer. Looking back in retirement, he said of the arguments for progressive income tax that they were “merely a good try at an intellectual post-factum defence of what in practice is pure political expediency.” A fervent Millsian/Gladstonian Liberal, he also proclaimed, exasperated, that “Canada, God help us, is a federation!” Eaton’s wry, passionate voice is unmistakable and makes the emotions of taxation come alive, along with the despairing voices of mothers, in letters to the Minister of Finance, writing of the “cruel income tax” directed at the poor man, asking how the minister expects they will be able to feed their children. By paying attention to the ideas, emotions, and identities in tax talk, I hope to have shown in a fresh way what was at stake in debates about tax, and in that way something of the nature of Canadian citizenship.

To really understand what was going on, it is useful to foreground people with personality such as Eaton, but also housewives and wage earners who complain about the rate of taxation and threaten to stop working if policies aren’t modified. Paying attention to personal voices is a good way of avoiding the two problems that beleaguer tax policy scholars: on the one hand, the subject’s forbidding technical aspects, and on the other, the impoverished intellectual environment of tax debate, with cartoonish and sometimes erroneous argumentation on both sides of the political spectrum getting the bulk of attention, from A Nation of Serfs on the right by Fraser Institute author Mark Milke to The Great Revenue Robbery on the left by Richard Swift, a former editor of the New Internationalist magazine. To really understand, one must move beyond the “free rider” obsession of both of these currents: for the left it is global tax havens; for the right it is those insatiable “tax eaters” who never pay anything themselves. However, this is not easy to do, not least because the Canada Revenue Agency doesn’t publish data on tax compliance! Discoveries such as the Panama Papers are useful in providing documentation on the “rich free rider,” but what lies behind the “poor free rider,” insofar as it isn’t just a bogey man created to argue for cutting taxes for the rich, is an age-old practice: avoiding the tax collector and the census taker. Not declaring some of one’s income has long been a working-class survival strategy.

The history of tax compliance is key to understanding how people consider themselves to be part of a collective project, of “society.” This sense of participation is not automatic, and events such as world wars can increase such sentiment, whereas the current “wedge” politics certainly have the opposite effect. Not to mention social media, which contribute to fracturing society by mirroring back to us our own opinions!

CV: Can you tell us a bit more about your sources?

ST: I have cast a wide net: I want to discover who had what to say about tax in Canadian history. Tax is where the relationship between the individual and the state is made material. To explore that relationship, I have tried to go beyond the high-level, quantitative approaches or elite policy-bargaining, and instead, I have looked for ways of discovering popular voices. These can be gotten at through letters that one can find in the Ministry of Finance papers and the papers of politicians at all levels of government, as I have already mentioned, but also through the records of various groups organized around particular social identities and interests such as labour unions, farm organisations, women’s groups, even chambers of commerce. News reports and related letters to the editor also provide a wealth of information, as do election campaigns. One challenging feature that I have already alluded to is the problem of data, since the tax resister’s first line of defense is to argue against the state’s inquisitorial methods on the grounds of a right to privacy. Tax evasion and avoidance leave no traces, if they’re successful. Economists have worked hard to try to estimate how much income goes unreported, but their methods always involve extrapolation. In a study for the Bank of Canada, Dunbar and Fu estimated in 2015 that between 35% and 50% of households in Canada under-reported their income in 2004, and that of all household income, somewhere between 14% and 19% is undeclared. Their findings are always rightly qualified with terms such as “appear to be,” though. For economists, tax collectors, and historians, finding out who hides income (or sales or property, depending on the tax base), how, and why (aside from the obvious) is a research problem of real interest and difficulty. For anyone interested in how social regulation works, and the justice questions of contribution and distribution, the history of tax compliance offers a lot of great opportunities, well beyond what I’ve begun to explore.

CV: What would you recommend reading for further research?

ST: Internationally, Nicolas Delalande’s Batailles de l’impôt is a must-read overview of the politics of taxation in France, especially from 1870 onward, and Martin Daunton has written two excellent volumes on British tax history from 1799 to 1979. Closer to home, the work of tax law scholars such as Lisa Phillips, Colin Campbell, David Duff, and Michael A. Livingston often has an historical dimension. Historians need to remember to search further afield than usual: this excellent literature is mostly found in legal journals and is not included in history periodical indexes. In the American case, texts in historical sociology such as Isaac Martin’s Rich People’s Movements are also very useful, as is the work of Ajay Mehrotra, a lawyer-historian in the “law and society” tradition. Romain Huret’s American Tax Resisters is an excellent survey. There aren’t many Canadians working on these issues, but one should certainly have read Irwin Gillespie, J. Harvey Perry, and Neil Brooks. Brooks in particular represents the 1960s reform current which undertook, with formidable energy, a vast project of public education about tax policy. There will be a host of new Canadian tax history books in 2017, because of the 100th anniversary of the federal income tax, including mine, Elsbeth Heaman’s, and one by David Tough.

CV: What would you say historians and other scholars can contribute in thinking about citizenship through the lens of the social question?

ST: Well, my own work has focused on voluntary community participation: what motivates it, what facilitates it, what impairs it. I first looked at volunteer work in community organization for recreation, and then I explored charitable fundraising – a kind of voluntary tax. Recently I have been directly examining legislatively-imposed contributions. Everywhere one turns, there is more volunteerism than one would imagine, and this says a lot about citizenship and its social foundations. Because there are “tax planning” methods, income tax has a larger voluntary dimension than we generally acknowledge, especially for the self-employed, even if it is no longer the “gentleman’s agreement” it once was. By contrast, taxes such as user fees and tolls, where there are few opportunities to dodge, use more directly coercive forms of collection. We all fear the element in taxation in which we are treated as a debt-dodger rather than a citizen. There are class dimensions to the ideas about what kinds of taxes are suited to what kinds of people and purposes. For example, a percentage of homeowners’ property tax bills always languishes unpaid in cities across the country, whereas payroll deductions are remitted on a monthly basis with few possibilities of cheating or delaying.

Much can be learned about citizenship by exploring tax culture, and it is not innocent that where the on-the-ground tax vocabulary is extraordinarily diverse, calling up different metaphors for different functions – e.g. “dues,” “premiums,” “insurance,” “contributions” – the political right wants to streamline all of this into the one big metaphor of “extortion,” thus evacuating tax’s collective meaning. No liberal democratic state collects tax simply at gunpoint; to be efficiently collected, taxes must have legitimacy, and there must be some kind of broadly shared notion of “fair return” and “fair share” – both of which end up being at the centre of many debates: what is “fair”? Governments that judge wrongly what matters to their citizens face not only electoral punishment, but resistance to the raising of the revenue. As much as I cherish tax compliance as part of the practice of good citizenship, and as much as I deplore narrow self-interest as a motivation for tax resistance, we can learn a lot about social justice by looking at the reasons that the vulnerable, and not just the powerful, resist taxation.

Exploring community participation and resistance, be it through the lens of tax, bureaucrats, “deviant” youth, or any of the other creative ways in which the conference presenters have approached the question, is true “social work” in its nineteenth-century sense. It’s about teasing out the interconnecting tissues of our lives and creating a common project, and it’s what teachers, members of the clergy, and politicians are all doing. The conference participants explore varying historical mechanisms of social control, along with the challenges facing those who wanted to impose it and the resistance of those subjected to it. What is fascinating about the debates during the trente glorieuses is that policy-makers at that time truly seemed to make deep and genuine attempts to extend democracy as a living social phenomenon. But being nostalgic is not the solution – we need to make myths that are more “adult.” A senior Canada Revenue Agency employee recently told me that, before reading a chapter from my book manuscript, he had been convinced that in some time gone by, people paid their taxes from a sense of honour, but that he had been saddened to discover that such a time never actually existed! If he had read the rest of the book, he might not have been quite so sad. But he was right to recognize that I have tried to challenge a romantic past. We have to understand the ever-changing nature of community participation and the need to constantly recreate its foundations. That is what scholarly work on citizenship and the social question can contribute to, and there’s lots of it to be done.

Martin Petitclerc

Publié le 16 août 2016*

Martin Petitclerc est professeur au Département d’histoire de l’Université du Québec à Montréal et directeur du Centre d’histoire des régulations sociales (CHRS). Il est également chercheur au Centre de recherche sur les innovations sociales (CRISES) et au Centre interuniversitaire d’études québécoises (CIEQ). Depuis une quinzaine d’années, il mène avec ses collègues du CHRS des recherches sur l’histoire de la « question sociale », des mouvements sociaux et de la formation de l’État au Québec. Au-delà des objets de recherche spécifiques à chaque chercheur, l’équipe du CHRS aborde l’étude des problèmes sociaux comme un révélateur des fondements politiques de l’ordre social, en se concentrant principalement sur la société québécoise depuis le XIXe siècle. C’est ce lien entre les problèmes sociaux et une société donnée que révèle le concept de régulations sociales. En effet, ce qu’une société considère comme un problème social (ou pas) est étroitement lié à la façon dont, historiquement, les rapports sociaux (de classe, de sexe, de race, etc.) qui la constituent se sont institutionnalisés dans la société civile et au sein de l’État. Ses enseignements et son travail d’encadrement à la maîtrise et au doctorat portent sur ces thématiques, de même que sur la théorie de l’histoire, sur l’historiographie et sur l’épistémologie.


Entrevue par Benoit Marsan.


Benoit Marsan : D’où vient l’idée d’organiser un colloque portant sur la question sociale et la citoyenneté ?

Martin Petitclerc : Il y a un double constat qui frappe, je crois, tout historien ou historienne intéressé par la question sociale. D’abord, celui d’avoir vu une thématique fondatrice des sciences humaines, et cela dès la transition au capitalisme et au libéralisme au XIXe siècle, être progressivement délaissée par l’historiographie des vingt-cinq dernières années. Cela est évidemment lié aux bouleversements politiques associés à l’effondrement du marxisme et à la montée du néolibéralisme. Parallèlement, un grand nombre d’historiens se sont détournés de l’analyse du pouvoir et des conflits sociaux, de l’économie et de l’État. En témoigne la « crise de l’histoire sociale » qui a fait l’objet de nombreux diagnostics dans la plupart des pays occidentaux. Il est symptomatique, me semble-t-il, de voir le succès planétaire du livre de l’économiste Thomas Piketty sur les inégalités sociales qui a fait ce que les historiens et les historiennes ont de plus en plus refusé de faire. Le succès de ce livre illustre peut-être, à mon avis, l’échec de la discipline historique à analyser sérieusement les inégalités sociales au cours des deux ou trois dernières décennies. Notre colloque est une façon de réunir des chercheurs et des chercheuses qui ressentent cette nécessité de recentrer l’analyse historique sur ces problèmes, en ayant recours bien sûr à une variété de méthodes et de perspectives.

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Dan Horner

Published on August 11, 2016

Dan Horner is assistant professor at Ryerson University, Department of Criminology. He holds a PhD in History from York University. His research focuses on the notion of public order and crowd events in nineteenth-century urban contexts.


An interview by Martin Robert, in preparation of the communication to be given on August 31 at 10:30 a.m. entitled « Policing the Disorderly Migrant on Montreal’s Urban Fringe, 1840-1850. »


What was your original interrogation when you started to study crowd events in nineteenth-century Montreal for your doctoral dissertation?

When I first embarked on my doctoral project my plan was to write about protest and political violence on the streets of nineteenth-century Montreal. When I began combing through the newspapers in search of reports on this, however, I realized how collective violence was unfolding against the backdrop of a much wider array of crowd events—parades, religious processions, public celebrations and funeral processions—to give just a few examples. The riots that had originally pulled me towards this topic were, in other words, just one example of many of people using the streets of a tumultuous urban environment like mid-nineteenth-century Montreal to advance their political agenda; policing riots was just one way that civic elites were wrapping their heads around the project of making an orderly city—organizing parades and other crowd events were also an important tool at their disposal.

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François Deschamps

Publié le 28 juillet 2016*

François Deschamps est candidat au doctorat en histoire à l’UQAM sous la direction de Martin Petitclerc et Donald Fyson. Il a complété un mémoire de maîtrise en histoire en 2011, sous la supervision de Jean-Marie Fecteau, dans lequel il a analysé le discours radical tory au Bas-Canada, de 1835 à 1840, sa source documentaire largement inédite étant le journal Montreal Herald. Son mémoire lui a valu le 3e prix de la Fondation Jean-Charles Bonenfant. Une version adaptée de ses recherches a été publiée en 2015 aux Presses de l’Université Laval, sous le titre La « rébellion de 1837 » à travers le prisme du Montreal Herald, la refondation par les armes des institutions politiques canadiennes.


Entrevue par Benoit Marsan, en vue de la communication qui aura lieu le 31 août à 10 h 30 intitulée « Citoyenneté, État, sécurité publique : les limites de la liberté d’association au Bas-Canada, 1835-1838 ».


Benoit Marsan : Comment s’articule la question sociale dans le Bas-Canada des années 1830 et plus particulièrement comment se pose-t-elle à la lumière des rébellions de 1837 et 1838 ?

François Deschamps : Bonne question, un peu embêtante même. La considération du contexte global des années 1830 est fondamentale. Dans l’historiographie des dernières années, le concept de « révolution atlantique » joue un rôle englobant. La période s’ouvre avec la guerre civile britanno-américaine (1774-1783), relayée par les phases de radicalisation et d’extension de la Révolution française à l’Europe puis aux Amériques avec l’effondrement du système colonial espagnol et portugais. Le ferment secret de toute cette période de turbulence a trait peut-être au scandale de la traite des Noirs et à l’esclavagisme. Le haut risque de révolte effraie les élites coloniales. Après 1815, en dépit de la Pax britannica, les poussées démocratiques continuent à perturber l’ordre social en Angleterre jusqu’au Reform Bill de 1832 où les bases de la démocratie parlementaire moderne sont jetées. L’aspiration républicaine des Patriotes se situe à la queue de cette nébuleuse. On ne peut lui rendre justice sans la recadrer dans le contexte de tutelle coloniale britannique et le mouvement migratoire de masse en partance des îles britanniques vers l’Amérique du Nord. À la fin du premier tome de la Démocratie en Amérique, Tocqueville prend en bloc d’ailleurs le monde anglo-américain et évalue le sort des perdants : les esclaves noirs, les Amérindiens et, quand on lit bien, en filigrane, les Canadiens.

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Claude Castonguay, champion du social malgré lui : Réflexions sur le ‘Welfare State moment’ québécois

Cory Verbauwhede
Jeudi le 1er septembre 2016 à 15 h

La contribution de Cory Verbauwhede, juriste de formation et doctorant en histoire à l’UQAM (boursier CRSH), porte sur le projet providentialiste québécois dans les années 1960, et en particulier sur les travaux de la Commission Castonguay-Nepveu qui a institué l’assurance-maladie au Québec. À un récit historique classique selon lequel les fondateurs de l’État providence auraient voulu proposer une alternative radicale au libéralisme économique, C. Verbauwhede indique au contraire que les principaux acteurs des réformes sociales au milieu du XXe siècle ont tenté de conjuguer doctrine libérale et providentialisme, loin de l’universalisme des droits affiché comme un principe. Sa contribution invite donc à repenser la genèse, mais aussi les « crises » subséquentes du welfarisme, notamment au Québec.

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De désirables à indésirables. Le choix des colons dans le mouvement de colonisation des années trente : le cas de l’Abitibi et du Bas-Saint-Laurent

Jean-Philippe Bernard
Mercredi le 31 août 2016 à 13 h 30

La contribution de Jean-Philippe Bernard, doctorant en histoire à l’UQAM (Boursier CRSH), propose de considérer l’histoire de la colonisation des régions périphériques du Québec dans les années 1930 comme un exemple de régulation sociale mettant en jeu la notion de citoyenneté. En effet, les autorités, pour réduire le problème du chômage de masse des grandes cités laurentiennes, mettent sur pieds un dispositif de sélection des candidats à la colonisation selon des critères qui répondent à la définition du « bon citoyen ». C’est à travers une analyse de la fabrique des inégalités sociales et civiques dans les années 1930 que se prête cette étude innovante, qui confronte les normes publiques avec les stratégies individuelles autour de la figure, hautement investie politiquement au Québec, du colon.

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Un festin de Tantale : La faim, la famine et la formation de la classe ouvrière britannique entre 1830 et 1914

Sébastien Rioux
Mercredi le 31 août 2016 à 13 h 30

Sébastien Rioux, professeur adjoint de géographie à l’Université de Montréal, finalise actuellement une monographie, tirée de sa thèse de doctorat, intitulée Spaces of Distribution: The Political Economy of Food in Britain 1830-1914. Dans cette communication, il propose d’analyser comment la faim a pu constituer, au XIXe siècle britannique, une expérience de classe, constitutive de son identité sociale. À travers cette communication, S. Rioux proposera de s’interroger sur la façon dont le capitalisme régule par la faim le corps ouvrier et le corps social, et comment la lutte pour la survie et l’accès à la nourriture devient, au sein du peuple, une condition première d’exercice de la citoyenneté. L’intérêt de cette approche originale sera également d’apporter les outils de l’analyse géographique d’une part, à savoir les dimensions spatiales des phénomènes de famine, mais aussi de mobiliser les concepts des sciences politiques, cruciaux pour aborder la question de la citoyenneté.

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Réparer le citoyen : l’expertise et l’adaptation des enfants handicapés, 1965-2015

Julien Prudhomme
Vendredi le 2 septembre 2016 à 9 h

Julien Prudhomme, chercheur associé au Centre interuniversitaire de recherche sur la science et la technologie (CIRST) et professeur associé à l’Université du Québec à Montréal, est l’un des chercheurs actuellement les plus dynamiques dans le domaine de l’histoire sociale de la santé. Son livre récent sur l’histoire des professionnelles de la santé (2012) a été récompensé par un prix de l’Institut d’histoire de l’Amérique française. Il propose de mettre en lumière les enjeux propres au champ du handicap infantile au Québec au regard de l’objectif, fixé par les politiques de santé publiques depuis 1965, à savoir l’insertion des jeunes handicapés en tant que citoyens. À travers l’analyse des secteurs de la déficience intellectuelle, des troubles d’apprentissage et de l’autisme, J. Prudhomme étudiera comment les professionnels ont intégré cette perspective des droits dans leur pratique de soin et d’accompagnement social.

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Les problèmes sociaux et les règles de l’individualité contemporaine

Marcelo Otero
Jeudi 1er septembre 2016 à 15 h

Marcelo Otero, qui vient de publier Les fous dans la cité (2015) est auteur de plusieurs publications importantes sur la santé mentale, l’itinérance et, plus généralement, les problèmes sociaux. Il proposera dans cette communication une vue globale sur l’évolution des sociétés postmodernes depuis une quarantaine d’années, au regard d’une problématique centrée sur la question sociale dans son rapport à l’individualisme contemporain. Il posera de manière synthétique les jalons d’une analyse qui identifie les injonctions contradictoires qui interpellent les individus dans nos sociétés, où « le social » réinventé dans le creuset de l’individualité contemporaine, apparaît tantôt comme une forme d’émancipation, tantôt comme une aliénation.

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Sciences du psychisme et citoyenneté dans les institutions de rééducation pour jeunes délinquantes en France et en Belgique (1945-1970)

David Niget
Jeudi le 1er septembre 2016 à 11 h

Réputé pour ses travaux sur la rééducation des mineurs au Québec, en France et en Belgique, David Niget (U. d’Angers, France) est un collaborateur très assidu du Centre d’histoire des régulations sociales. Sa réflexion sur l’observation médico-pédagogique, qui se développe en France entre 1945 et 1970, permettra de mettre en lumière l’ascension des experts dans la définition et le traitement de la délinquance juvénile. Ses réflexions révèleront le double mouvement instauré par ces nouvelles approches : incitation à l’autonomisation des jeunes, d’une part (en tant que citoyens en devenir), et subjectivation croissante de ces mêmes jeunes, ciblés par des thérapies nouvelles invasives de leur intimité psychique, d’autre part. Il ne s’agira pas de dévoiler uniquement les processus de prise en charge, mais d’examiner la réaction des jeunes à l’endroit de ceux-ci. L’agentivité historique de la jeunesse sera donc au coeur de la réflexion.

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