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Methodological approach and intervention practices

In this context of deviance, marginality and disadvantage, education becomes a powerful message and hope: no one is crushed by a subjective and social determinism, everyone can access an ever more humane and humanizing live. The centrality of the person and his dignity agree with the conviction of his educability, especially in the approach suggested by Lemert. We should know how to occupy that space between primary deviance and secondary deviance, before losing the ability to be able to offer a space for a better future. Trust, listening, suspension of judgment, authority of the proposal, construction of alternative and positive contexts, involvement… are the terms of growing together and win the educational challenge.
Mauro Busin


If you want to deepen

Methodological approach and intervention practices

(Mauro Busin)

Attention to young people, and the poorest young people, is not only a legacy of Murialdo, but also a clear consciousness-raising and an identity orientation dictated by several Chapters and documents and reaffirmed by the General Chapter XXII.

Charism and marginality… how do we live this relationship today?
The first temptation we have to avoid is to solve the issue by distinguishing between significantly charismatic activities and institutions and those that are not so. This is certainly a test path needing to be done, but I think it is more urgent–and in prospect more meaningful–to share analysis and evaluation criteria. The more we are able to meet together (religious and laity) on these premises, the more we will be able to identify ways forward.
Two methodological notes before we start: the first is the proposal to share a path which, integrating historical and sociological perspectives, sees in the pedagogical event the closest synthesis to our “ne perdantur;” the second is to address the category “poor youth” through the notions of deviance and marginality, notions that seem to me mark the different forms of youth poverty more than others.

To understand the meaning and dimensions of a pedagogical approach to deviance and marginality a prior clarification of terminology is required: what is deviance? What meanings (and experiences) do we associate with this term?

Also recognized as a result of conditionings and/or specific social, cultural, economic and educational situations, the most common meaning of deviance, however, is: a choice of the subject, which is evident in moving away from social norms or in transgression with respect to values or life styles socially widespread. The result in any case tends to be always the same: social exclusion of deviant individuals.

There is no room for an adequate historical overview, but it certainly would help us to understand how in time scholars tried to identify effects and sides of deviance to go back, through these, to its first causes.

We can say that various attempts at understanding must first deal with a matter of fact: the concept of deviance is “relative:” that is, relative to a given socio-cultural context against which stands in conflict or as an alternative. The presence of control instruments and measures for limitation or exclusion in this sense become a symptom of the difficulties with which the social context lives this relationship. The dimension and the ways in which these instruments are used are also the sign of the different power relations that operate within the social fabric and also of the particular lines of thought and systems of government that are involved.

Beyond any consideration on the right ways with which we deal with these situations, the true discriminating factor appears to be about the ultimate fate of the “marginal” or “deviant” youth: or they belong to a category whose fate is already sealed, or we have the courage to read this situation as temporary and, also by virtue of an adequate educational investment, eventually liable to positive developments.

The educational perspective is constituted as an option rejecting any determinism and recourse to “special institutions,” rejecting the idea of “deviance by nature” and opting for taking a pedagogical point of view: a perspective able to read the deviance within the category of “difference.” In this choice it sees the most effective guarantee for reading “not a deviant nature, but a human nature individually declined, as many times as members of the human species are” and, just for this character, permanently open to be educated.

This vision, which sees recognized the centrality of the person and his dignity, which rescues the pedagogical perspective from its subordination to the various disciplines that over time were presented as keys to understanding the human, helps to identify critically the options that over time had limited their approach precisely because of the objectification of people and partiality of visions.

We see then all the limitations of partial approaches that over time have been taken as interpretative paradigms; approaches that deterministically attempted to identify deviance as a pathology of which it was thought possible to recognize the effects, or that tended to identify in mental illness or abnormalities of brain structures the first reason of tendencies to do criminal acts, or that based their analysis on the importance of psychic dynamics and on the resulting attributions of meanings, or in the roles of the different relational and social factors that are specified in different family and education backgrounds, or in the influence exerted by environmental conditions.

Without wishing to belittle the contributions by Bolwby and Spitz regarding the importance of primary relationships, and those by Mailloux in the processes of early negative identification, Dollard on the influence of the father figure, Erickson on negative identity, Piaget on the lack of moral development, Bronfenbrenner on the ecological perspective, I propose a short approach to the studies of Lemert. He focused his attention on the motivations and the systems of meaning attribution, but especially on the distinction he proposes between primary deviance (a situation in which abnormal or irregular behaviours happen that are tolerated or normalized) and secondary deviance, in which instead “a person structures an identity, a role and a way of life recognized and unequivocally wanted as deviant.”


It is just in the space between primary and secondary deviance that it opens up a whole range of possibilities for educational and rehabilitative paths which can even be partly experimental, but that can lead to goals of personal autonomy, liability and shared construction of meanings.

It is this path; ultimately, that legitimizes the relativity of the concept of tolerance: both cultural and historical relativity, both with respect to contemporary, but different, contexts and with respect to the same context, but in another time.

In this relativity it opens up all the space for educational and rehabilitative paths, the space for a correct understanding of the role of the educational relationship itself, because if the focus remains the “corrigibility” of the person and deviance is viewed as a social or individual pathology, then pedagogy becomes… “the art of prevention and correction of behaviours, attitudes and lifestyles that differ from the values and moral and socially recognized norms: an array of techniques for prevention and correction that in any case is applied on the body of children and young people.”


Recognizing the permanent educability of the human person means that we do not relegate the dignity and function of pedagogical relationship to the structured and limited contexts of school and teaching ambits. Instead, just for that “need for formation of the person perhaps never entirely satisfied” and that “educational responsibility not always fully exercised” an additional contribution is required from it to help the person to re-read himself and his future in the sense of his integral and integrated formation. The latter can only be the result of a relationship where the person is recognized as such in all his rights, never understood with partial readings and always recognized in his own right and potential to renew himself and integrate, to re-read himself and re-establish relationships and connections with people and situations that are not always free from liability with respect to his history of going away or marginalization. Such potential may be an irreplaceable resource for each education or re-education program.

From this double recognition–of the dignity of the person and of the possibility of pedagogic action, some pedagogical coordinates result with which one must reckon in any approach to persons having a deviant behaviour: recognition of the value of the person as a subject of rights, but also of responsibilities; consideration of the human being as an end and never as a means; recognition that every person has the chance to be what he can and should be.

But it also forces us to recognize, beyond any determinism, the permanent human educability as well as the limitations that this entails. It asks to deny the right to partial looks on men and human realities and make instead options of equality and integrity, and calls for an adequate attention to social policies, prevention and precocity of help interventions, valuing the different contributions, inter-professionalism and network actions that respect and involve the local area and local realities.

The educational action unfolds with special effectiveness in that space which we can recognize as a “zone of authentic self-experimentation”, in which the methods of educational relationship can be reviewed and rethought consistently in favour of an educational action aiding a conscious assumption of risk. “The ideal setting would be a radical shift from strategies aimed to ‘protect’ adolescents from exposure to possible hazards to strategies tending instead to allow them to move freely in dealing with risk, considering that encounter with risk is one of the founding moments of evolution from adolescence to adulthood.”


This way of understanding the educational process requires the assumption of additional coordinates of pedagogic action; first of all concession of trust as an essential basis for construction of one’s own identity and autonomy and self-esteem. Then disposition to listen, since it is constitutive of true interpersonal relationship; suspension of judgment since it helps to see the truth of the other beyond your own prejudices and preconceptions or limitations; authority, since it is real help and keeps people in the relationship; creation of contexts alternative to disadvantage, so that alternative possibilities be real; offering contexts of real experimentation, since only then the whole person is involved; involvement in the educational project: because you really educate only with the other.

Mauro Busin

[1] D. RESICO, Fenomenologie della devianza e paradigmi pedagogici, in G. RICCI, D. RESICO, Pedagogia della devianza, F. Angeli, Milan, 2010.

[2] P. BARONE, Pedagogia della marginalità e della devianza. Modelli teorici e specificità minorile, Guerini, Milan 2012.

[3] S. CIACCI, S. GIANNINI, Accompagnare gli adolescenti. Genitori, educatori e consulenti di fronte alle difficoltà, Erickson, Trento, 2006. Citato dal testo di Ricci – Resico a p. 40.

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