What does it mean to be a citizen in today’s Western societies? There is often talk of a certain discomfort with the responsibilities that come with citizenship. Why? We will look here at three areas where we spend our daily lives as citizens. They shape and establish in us some “habits of the heart,” to use the well-known expression of Alexis de Tocqueville, who referred to customs, to what the ancients called mores. The study of these habits “enlightens us on the state of society, on its continuity and on its long-term vitality.” The three areas that seem to us to be of particular importance for the problem that we intend to address are the public space, work and the family.
Besides home and work, there are other places in the city where we spend a lot of time. We have become familiar with some of them in recent years: shopping malls, roads, buses, subways, train stations, terminals and airports.
The common characteristic of these places is that they are non-anthropological spaces, “non-places”: places of “anonymity,” without human relations and without shared history. They do not encourage relationships or common purposes, and we can walk through them absorbed in our own thoughts, lost in another image of ourselves. They are transit spaces where most of the activities of those who move within them “consist in concealing or barely mentioning who they are, where they come from and where they are going, what they devote themselves to, their business, their origins or their objectives…. Urban life can therefore be compared to a great masquerade ball,” in which who you really are remains hidden.