Published last January, a book by the Ministry of Culture examines mediation processes for cultural property in the youth sector.

How does culture come to children? This question is answered by the book published last January, co-published by the Ministry of Culture via the Department of Studies, Foresight, Statistics and Documentation and the Presses de Sciences-Po, which also invites us to “rethink mediations”.

This work, a result of collective research, is interested in the many mediation processes that take place throughout the chain from cultural producers to children. Through various examples that range from the successful television series to youth publishing, museums, theatres for young audiences, children’s orchestras and the actions of art-house cinemas, the survey highlights that mediation processes exist within cultural industries but also within families and peer groups.

Florence Eloy, Lecturer at the University of Paris 8 directed this research carried out by a team of eight researchers on cultural transmission.

Is childhood a crucial period for artistic maturation? 

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Childhood is an important period from the point of view of socialization to art and culture and the construction of arrangements in the cultural and artistic fields. These provisions can of course evolve later, at the time of the studies, from the entry into the professional world or to the contact of the spouse. But primary socialization, which takes place in childhood and especially in the family, plays a “filter” role on this secondary socialization.

The special feature of the youth sector is the large gap between producers – adults – and the receiver – children. With what consequences?

There are many intermediaries in the case of cultural property for adults, but for children the question of access is particularly important: professionals must also address the parents, The accession of these countries often conditions children’s access to such cultural goods or activities. Parents, in a way, are therefore one more intermediary to be convinced in the mediation chain, as the term "multi-addressing" suggests (French).the public to whom a work is addressed), and this even before being able to reach the final target, namely the child himself.

Is age targeting, which is very common in youth productions, always a priority?

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Age is a much more explicit dimension in children’s productions and devices than the social milieu, which is often “euphemistically” or at least expressed in other terms. For example, one of the orchestras of children with a social vocation that we studied circumvents, in a way, the question of the social milieu when it defines its audiences by speaking of children from urban areas or rural areas with insufficient cultural institutions ».

Gender addresses are very visible in the cultural production towards children, as for example in the field of children’s books. This also constitutes a rather structuring split between the most legitimate pole of youth publishing and the most commercial pole because this gendered addressing functions as a real pushback for publishers and authors most at the heart of cultural legitimacy.

Finally, isn’t the best mediator the peers, that is to say the other children of the same age?

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This is especially the case at the time of adolescence, when peers have a particularly central importance and therefore a very strong power in terms of cultural prescription. However, it is not easy to rely on this prescriptive force in the context of cultural mediation. This is particularly the case in one of the devices studied in our survey, renamed «Cinémas Indépendants Médiations» whose principle is precisely to bring adolescents to independent cinemas through a dedicated mediation operated by other adolescents, called «ambassadors».

Evidence shows that these ambassadors often struggle to adopt this role as prescribers compared to their peers: they are very often cinephiles and quite different from many of their peers in terms of their tastes and their audiovisual consumption. They are therefore not necessarily perceived as credible prescribers by other high school students. 

Adolescence is a time when peers have
a very strong power
in terms of cultural prescription

What is the role of digital in prescription?

In the various areas explored, we were able to identify a very strong belief in the existence of a priori power of the digital in mediation (we speak of «magical effects» attributed to the digital). In contrast to these beliefs, it has been observed that when digital is decontextualized from the peer groups of young people to whom the device is addressed, prescription loses its symbolic force.

To take the example of the young ambassadors of the art and essay rooms, we see that their Facebook page, of which they are invited to use in their communication work, is not considered credible among the majority of high school students who are not part of their peer group. If the ambassador is not a credible prescriber in the eyes of his peers, then his Facebook page will have no more weight than his other communication actions: it is not because we go through digital and social networks that we ensure the success of the mediation.

How culture comes to children: rethinking mediations, Presses de Sciences Po, Ministère de la Culture – Département des études, de la prospective et des statistiques, 284 pages, €23.