often do not regulate important areas of social life, or do so inadequately: laws and rules are not respected, there is a parallel economy, urban chaos, inadequate policing, etc. Everyday experience can be summed up as follows: you work, but half your pay is not declared. Social security may be provided for by the Constitution but it is never actually delivered. Children go to school but they learn no skills that can be regarded as useful. In many cases the problem is not so much that modern institutions do not exist but that in practice they leave gaps that are filled by other kinds of social welfare providers like those found in run-down neighbourhoods. In other cases, it is clear that institutions have broken down or simply do not exist. To compensate for the fragility of institutions, local support networks step in to do the State’s job and community-based regulation replaces social regulation.
This institutional fragility is closely linked to the attitudes and behaviour of neighbourhood organizations and of members of local support networks. Economic and institutional fragility helps to sustain a “hunting culture” which is typically found in run- down neighbourhoods and exemplifies a type of relationship between individuals and society which functions in cities.
People living in insecure circumstances leave each day the refuge of their neighbourhoods to make a foray into the city, which they regard as a forest harbouring all kinds of opportunities. In this situation, individual lives and collective action can be described in terms of “a search for a niche, for space left free by institutions which are unable to guarantee social integration. In a world dominated by instability and risk, there is no place for the culture of the farmer who has to organize his life around natural cycles. So groups and individuals behave like hunters, combing the city and its institutions on the lookout for opportunities” (Merklen [b], 2000)13. Perhaps today they will make a good catch: a menial job, assistance for the association from the town hall, a loan from an NGO, a handout from the Church or from a marabout, something to sell on the market, a windfall from a tourist. They perceive the city as a world where every opportunity must be snapped up. Since planning is non-existent and social regulation is inadequate, people living in poor neighbourhoods learn to try their luck whenever they see an opportunity offered by gaps in institutions whose fields of activity are ill-defined.
Policies to fight poverty must contribute to the establishment of social regulation mechanisms capable of combatting insecurity. First, because insecurity and a fatalistic approach to the vicissitudes of existence often lead to terrible suffering, akin to that caused by poverty and need. Second, because situations in which the poor are at the mercy of events and take refuge in hunting-type strategies are inimical to participation and the creation of political bonds. The hunter has a pejorative image of the politician, whom he regards as a corrupt administrator of the State, which is itself perceived as a machine concentrating and arbitrarily distributing resources. Both in neighbourhood organizations and in individuals we can see the development of a culture of contingency,
13 The hunter is on the lookout for opportunities, he lives in a Bergsonian perpetual present. His behaviour can be defined as being opposite to that of the farmer who organizes his life in tune with the seasons.