Collective Terms: Race, Culture, and Community in a State-Planned City in France 9780857450852

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Table of contents :
List of Illustrations
Introduction. Collective Terms
Chapter 1 Urban Plans
Chapter 2 Community Ties
Chapter 3 To Be Exclu
Chapter 4 Race-Conscious and Race-Blind: A Housing Crisis
Chapter 5 The Common Good: Parents, Teachers, and the Public Schools
Chapter 6 Having Culture
Conclusion. In Other Words
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Collective Terms

BERGHAHN MONOGRAPHS IN FRENCH STUDIES Editor: Michael Scott Christofferson, Adelphi University France has played a central role in the emergence of the modern world. The Great French Revolution of 1789 contributed decisively to political modernity, and the Paris of Baudelaire did the same for culture. Because of its rich intellectual and cultural traditions, republican democracy, imperial past and post-colonial present, twentiethcentury experience of decline and renewal, and unique role in world affairs, France and its history remain important today. This series publishes monographs that offer significant methodological and empirical contributions to our understanding of the French experience and its broader role in the making of the modern world. Volume 1 The Populist Challenge: Political Protest and Ethno-nationalist Mobilization in France Jens Rydgren Volume 2 French Intellectuals against the Left: The Antitotalitarian Moment of the 1970s Michael Scott Christofferson Volume 3 Sartre against Stalinism Ian H. Birchall Volume 4 Sartre, Self-Formation and Masculinities Jean-Pierre Boulé Volume 5 The Bourgeois Revolution in France 1789–1815 Henry Heller Volume 6 God’s Eugenicist: Alexis Carrel and the Sociobiology of Decline Andrés Horacio Reggiani Volume 7 France and the Construction of Europe 1944–2006: The Geopolitical Imperative Michael Sutton

Volume 8 Shades of Indignation: Political Scandals in France, Past and Present Paul Jankowski Volume 9 Mitterrand, the End of the Cold War and German Unification Frédéric Bozo Volume 10 Collective Terms: Race, Culture, and Community in a French New Town Beth S. Epstein Volume 11 France in the Age of Organization: Technicians, Culture and Politics from the 1920s to Vichy Jackie Clarke Volume 12 Building a European Identity: France, the United States, and the Oil Shock, 1973–1974 Aurélie Élisa Gfeller Volume 13 General de Gaulle’s Cold War: Challenging American Hegemony, 1963–1968 Garret Joseph Martin

Collective Terms Race, Culture, and Community in a State-Planned City in France

S Beth S. Epstein

berghahn NEW YORK • OXFORD

Published in 2011 by

Berghahn Books © 2011, 2014 Beth S. Epstein All rights reserved. Except for the quotation of short passages for the purposes of criticism and review, no part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without written permission of the publisher. Library of congress cataloging-in-publication data Epstein, Beth.  Collective terms : race, culture, and community in a state-planned city in France / Beth Epstein.   p. cm. — (Berghahn monographs in French studies ; v. 10)  Includes bibliographical references and index.  ISBN 978-0-85745-084-5 (hardback: alk. paper) -- ISBN 978-0-85745-085-2 (ebook)  1. Community development—France—Cergy. 2. Minorities—France— Cergy. 3. Acculturation—France—Cergy. 4. Cergy (France). I. Title.  HN49.C6E77 2011  307.1’41408900944367—dc22 2010029871 British Library cataloguing in publication data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. Printed on acid-free paper ISBN: 978-0-85745-084-5 hardback ISBN: 978-0-85745-085-2 ebook

For my parents, in memory


 List of Illustrations







Collective Terms


Chapter 1

Urban Plans


Chapter 2

Community Ties


Chapter 3

To Be Exclu


Chapter 4

Race-Conscious and Race-Blind: A Housing Crisis


Chapter 5

The Common Good: Parents, Teachers, and the Public Schools


Chapter 6

Having Culture



In Other Words











 Figures 1.1 and 1.2. Two views of Sarcelles, one of the first grands ensembles in the Paris region

34, 35

Figure 1.3. The five New Towns of the Paris region


Figure 1.4. Construction of the central administrative building in Cergy-Préfecture


Figure 1.5. Selling the city at Cergy-le-Haut


Figure 1.6. The church in Cergy Village


Figure 2.1. Map of Cergy


Figure 2.2. The central thoroughfare of Cergy–St. Christophe


Figures 2.3 and 2.4. Two views of the market in Cergy–St. Christophe Figures 2.5 and 2.6. Two views of the Axe Majeur Figures 4.1 and 4.2. Opération Ne oyage

61, 62 63 100, 101

Figure 6.1. Children’s games at the fêtes de quartier


Figure 6.2. Performances for children at the fêtes de quartier


Figure 6.3. Moroccan musicians perform at the annual fêtes de quartier


Figure 6.4. Malian dancers at the annual fêtes de quartier


Figure 6.5. Organ grinder at the fêtes de quartier


Figure 6.6. Fashion show of African dress



 This book has its origins in my interest in the problems and complexities of racial categorization. As an American, my concerns have been formed within the particular and contentious context of US race relations. It was not until beginning my work in France, however, first inspired by my collaboration with filmmaker Carlyn Saltman on the production of the film Kofi chez les Français, that I realized quite how particular those American relations are. The French case struck me then as an impossible and compelling counterpoint to the American situation: impossible because the subject we were documenting in this film—the national celebration of a “model immigré” from Africa who had been elected mayor of a small French town—seemed to belie the French contention that they do not “see” race, compelling because of the very suggestion that not seeing race was something they could try. My aim in this book has been to bring some illumination to the complex set of questions that cultural pluralism raises in France; it has also been wri en in a comparativist spirit. My experience as a resident of France over the past decade has given me grounds to rethink many of the presuppositions about US life that I had previously never thought to question. In this, it has been my very good fortune to work at New York University in France, where I have been able to continue puzzling over the forever-rich vein of French society and history and seek to translate it for our American students. My sincere thanks to my colleagues who have helpfully looked the other way when work on this book spilled over onto my other responsibilities there, and with whom I have so much enjoyed building an exceptional educational institution. In particular, thanks to Chris Bouchard for his kindness, technical skills, and good humor, and to Caroline MontelGlénisson, for her unbending support and inspiration. This project would of course never have been possible without the generosity and enthusiasm of the many people in Cergy who have shared their lives with me. Having gone from fieldworker to permanent resident, I now occupy the somewhat ambiguous position of one who has “gone



native.” To the friends, neighbors, and associates who have helped me explore the many sides of the questions I raise here, I extend my warmest thanks, and especially for continuing to find the multicultural possibilities of this town so enriching. This book got its start under the superb guidance of Fred Myers and Susan Carol Rogers at New York University. I extend my thanks also to Herrick Chapman, Faye Ginsburg, Stephen Gregory, Henrie e Goldwyn, Owen Lynch, and Judith Miller. My sincere thanks also to members of the “parallax group”—David Beriss, Christian Ghasarian, Sara Le Menestral, William Poulin-Deltour, Anne Raulin, Deborah Reed-Danahay, and Susan Carol Rogers—with whom I have most enjoyed discussing our transatlantic views, and whose stimulating reflections have been extremely helpful in moving this book along. Research for this project was funded with the generous support of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, the French-American Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, a Mellon Summer Research Grant, and the American Association of University Women. I owe a great deal to the good people at Berghahn Books for their confidence in this project and their assistance in seeing it through to publication. In particular I would like to thank Ann Przyzycki, Melissa Spinelli, Jaime Taber, series editor Irwin Wall, and especially Marion Berghahn for her warm and enthusiastic reception of this book. My thanks to John Bowen and Andrea Smith for their helpful comments and insightful reviews, and to the Communauté d’Agglomération de Cergy-Pontoise for the use of a photograph of the construction of Cergy, and in particular to Aurélie Harousseau, and Dominique Lefebvre, President. Friends and family, on both sides of the Atlantic, have provided steadfast and challenging sounding boards during the many years I have puzzled over these problems. In particular, I would like to thank Ilana Abramovitch, Alice Apley, Valérie Berty, Sylvie Burguière, Ron Burian, Cécile Co é, Eve Epstein, Be y David-Gnahoui, Mariam Habibi, Eglantine, Sylvie, and Raymond Hounza, David Koistinen, Carolyn and Paul Koistinen, Gisèle and Gilbert Laclé, Mado Le Gall, Barbara Lipski, Marie Parmentier, Amy Pra , Caroline de Saint Pierre, Carlyn Saltman, and Chris Walley. My husband, Max Hounza, shouldered more than his fair share of childcare as I labored to get this book done. Most of all, he has shared this adventure as we build a family that spans three continents. My thanks to him for his love, patience, and insight, and to our three wonderful children to whom, in so many ways, this book belongs. Finally, my love and gratitude to my parents, Anne and David Epstein, two remarkably engaged and creative people who passed away far too soon. I have dedicated this book to them. They would so have loved to have seen it in print.



Association Départementale des Femmes Africaines


Association Départementale des Femmes Musulmanes


Association indépendante des parents d’élèves


Association pour l’emploi dans l’industrie et le commerce


Brevet d’aptitude aux fonctions d’animateur


Brevet d’aptitude aux fonctions de directeur en accueils collectifs de mineurs


Brevet d’aptitude à l’animation socio-éducative


Brevet d’état d’animateur technicien de l’éducation populaire et de la jeunesse


Caisse d’allocations familiales


Certificat d’aptitude aux fonctions d’aide à domicile


Cellule d’animation et promotion vie associative


Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés


Conseil représentatif des associations noires

DOM-TOM Départements Outre-Mer–Territoires Outre-Mer EPA

Etablissement public d’administration


Front de libération nationale


Haute autorité de lu e contre les discriminations et pour l’égalité


Habitat à loyer modéré


Locale collectif résidentiel




Office nationale d’immigration


Réseau express régionale


Revenu minimum d’insertion


Zone d’aménagement différé


Zone d’éducation prioritaire


Zone de redynamisation urbaine


Zone urbaine sensible



 On 27 October 2005, violence broke out in a poor, working-class suburb of Paris, France. Two young teenagers—both of them immigrants, one from Mali and the other from Tunisia—had died tragically seeking refuge in an electric power station as they ran from the police. As word got out, their friends and peers took to the streets. Within days the violence spread around the country, engulfing over 250 cities and towns in riots that continued, night a er night, for a period of three weeks. It was the most serious uprising to shake French society since the student and labor strikes that had paralyzed the country in May and June of 1968. On 8 November, President of the Republic Jacques Chirac declared a state of emergency— the first time a head of state had taken such measures in metropolitan France since the Algerian War. One person was killed during the November riots (although it is not clear that his death was directly related to the events), while numerous police were injured and thousands of cars, businesses, and local institutions were torched during the nightly skirmishes between teenagers—most of them male, and most of them young—and the police. “Paris Burns” screamed the headlines on CNN. But in fact it was not Paris that burned during the weeks of upheaval, but its suburbs. This is a crucial distinction: viewed from the centers of influence in Paris, the suburbs are a world apart, cities in which the foundations of the social contract have somehow been le to crumble. La banlieue: in France, the word alone summons images of the drab box-like housing projects constructed quickly a er World War II that rise up at the edge of Paris and other cities both large and small around the country. The suburbs have come to stand


Collective Terms

for virtually everything that is wrong with contemporary France, from sustained unemployment to youth violence and urban decay, and perhaps most notably the millions of people of immigrant origin who have not been able to find their place, or so the popular perception goes, in French society. The riots in late 2005 confirmed for many what they have known for upwards of two decades: that les banlieues are dangerous places, beset by a multitude of social problems. In the mid 1990s I conducted anthropological research in a city located 35 kilometers outside of Paris that many characterize as a dangerous and difficult suburb. A state-planned ville nouvelle, or New Town, first conceived in the 1960s as part of a vast regional planning project, the city of Cergy was meant to be an improvement on the unwieldy, and o en desolate, mid-rise developments that typify the banlieue of people’s fears. But the social and economic problems that beset the city, and the way its residents rally to them, reflect many of the same tendencies found in other poor and working-class cities that circle Paris. In Cergy–St. Christophe, the neighborhood at the center of my study, residents worry that they are living in a difficult ghe o, even as their neighborhood was intended to be the central showcase of the New Town. There, the problems of unemployment, youth disaffection, and what the French call “social exclusion” figure significantly, and in late 2005, Cergy too suffered its share of car burnings, vandalism, and riot police. I have since se led in France and continue to live in Cergy, not far from Cergy–St. Christophe. As the riots made headlines in late 2005, and as the helicopters whirred overhead on a nightly basis, I received calls and e-mails from concerned friends and family in the United States wanting to know if my family and I were all right (we were), and what I thought about the current crisis. Based on my research and ongoing involvement with the city of Cergy, this book is an effort to provide a response. In the immediate wake of the riots, a ention turned almost unanimously to the long-simmering issue of the multiethnic makeup of the French banlieue, many of which are disproportionately populated by firstand second-generation immigrants, frequently of North and West African origin. Debates in the French and, to a more limited degree, international media have continued almost unabated about the extent to which these incidents reveal lacunae in French society and specifically in its capacity to make room for its immigrant populations. “Difference,” many contend—differences of culture and habits of mind—has long been anathema to the French republican tradition; the trouble in the suburbs, they argue, simply provides more evidence that this is so.1 These are questions that have compelled me since I first began to work in France in the early 1990s. As an anthropologist, and as one-half of a mixed marriage—my husband



is from Benin, in West Africa—I have long been intrigued by what inquiry into French social organization might hold for an understanding of these issues, in particular the significance of race and culture as they play out within culturally plural contexts. In this book, I take the French management of these questions as my starting point, both to gain a more critical view of the trouble in the suburbs, and to reflect more broadly on the opportunities and challenges posed by the complex cultural configurations of life in modern cities. The perception of the Paris suburbs as anarchic and hazardous places dates back over 100 years. Starting in the late nineteenth century, as the capital thrived, the suburbs developed apace at a rate too rapid to be sustained. The lower- and working-class towns that are located largely to the north and east of the city are a direct, and some would say negative, consequence of the city’s success, that from the outset provoked unease: the untenable living conditions of the industrial working classes who lived there were perceived as dangerous, especially in light of the close proximity of the prosperous city that lay just beyond their view. Initiatives to correct the imbalances of the suburbs began as early as the 1920s and reached their apogee with the launching, in the 1960s, of the New Towns—a massive planning project that was to bring order to the Paris region, said at the time to be spreading like an “oil stain” during the prosperous decades following World War II. Rational expressions of an era of rapid social and economic change, the New Towns were imagined as brave new worlds where people from all walks of life would come together to build viable new communities on a “human” scale, in direct contrast to the purportedly “inhuman” suburban projects that had preceded them. The city of Cergy is considered the most successful of the five New Towns that lie at the outer edges of the region of Ile de France. There, the city’s planners sought deliberately to build a socially diverse city that would engender what they considered to be a healthy community life. They envisioned neighborhoods made up of people from different social classes, where children would grow up alongside the elderly, and college students would lend a hand in community affairs. But now, some forty years a er its inception, whole districts of the city, and most notably the neighborhood of Cergy–St. Christophe, have been deemed failures, having fallen short of the objectives laid out at the city’s foundation. In Cergy–St. Christophe, many contend, there are too many immigrants and troubled youth, too many unemployed, too many children performing poorly in school, too much vandalism and pe y crime. The neighborhood is said to be “in difficulty,” an assessment that induces some to leave, while motivating others to take on with energy the work that they see as necessary to save it from further demise.


Collective Terms

Most notably, the city is comprised of people of a multitude of backgrounds—from North, West, and Central Africa, from Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent, from the Caribbean, from Southern and Central Europe, and from France—who live together in “mixed” neighborhoods and apartment buildings that are meant to sustain a balance of people of different ethnic and class backgrounds. In this, their residential arrangements reflect French social policy, which has actively sought to avoid the formation of ethnic “ghe os” for at least the past forty years. Now, however, the deliberate “mixing” championed by the city’s planners has brought the city’s residents face to face with the kno y questions of cultural pluralism. Differences of culture, race, and nation that, ideally, were meant to constitute various pieces of a diverse, “balanced,” and harmonious urban whole, have emerged instead as significant sites of social and political struggle. As they seek to resolve and regulate the problems that arise in their housing projects and public parks, at their shopping centers and in their children’s schools, the city’s residents must also contend with their differences in education, social class, history, language, skin color, religious belief, and cultural orientation. More significantly, they must contend with the differential access to economic and political resources that these distinctions portend. This is a book, then, about the way in which the residents of this multiethnic city come together to build, define, and put into practice their commonly held collective life. It is about the struggles that occur at the level of the everyday as people seek to make sense of the city’s diversity—or rather, as they seek to understand the extent to which that diversity matters in the working-out of local concerns. The book presents an alternate view of the fractious French suburbs, breaking with popular perceptions of the cultural or ethnic clashes presumed to be happening there. The issues that this book addresses are common to people everywhere who are seeking to sort through the complex mixing of race, class, nation, and culture that has increasingly come to define the modern urban experience. Indeed, questions about how to “live with diversity,” about multiculturalism and its effects, and about the significance of cultural identities in urban life hold a prominent place in debate about life in modern complex societies. These concerns reflect substantive transformations in the constitution of modern cities as a result of changes wrought by new technologies, the globalization of capital, and shi ing relations of public and private space as formerly disenfranchised groups make claims on the public sphere. At the same time—and this is one of the primary concerns of this book—contemporary concerns about identity suggest transformations in the ways that we think about diversity and its significance in modern life.



As an American, I have found the French case to be of interest precisely because the social processes that I examine here urge a reconceptualization of the terms commonly used to describe people and the groups to which they allegedly belong. In order to make sense of the ways in which residents of Cergy negotiate their experience and the multiple exigencies of city life, I have sought to break with the categories—ethnocultural, racial, national—commonly used in popular and social science writing on multiculturalism. What I aim to do here, rather, is see how such categories are constituted as a result of the push and pull of everyday life. At its most basic level, I ask in this study how people make something—the local community—out of the many things that they are, and at a more ideological level, how contested and symbolically charged notions of community, belonging, and exclusion shape the ways people come to their understandings of themselves and others. These questions lie at the center of the debate on immigration and the place of “difference” in France at the current time. And perhaps more prosaically, they cut also to the heart of the history of Cergy as a New Town, where the problem of how to build a vibrant city where not long ago there were only farmers’ fields, is of paramount concern. Recent decades have witnessed what many contend is a rising tide of xenophobic and nationalist sentiment in France, as in much of Europe. An outpouring of concern in the popular media and scholarly literature has been matched by an abundance of policy initiatives designed to define and control the region’s “immigrant problem” in order to regulate the flow of migrants to and within the receiving countries of Europe, as well as to administer the institutions intended to receive them. Since the 1970s, the issue has risen repeatedly to the top of the French domestic agenda, defining political campaigns and serving as a highly visible social problem in the popular press. Many charge that French civil society does not make room for the cultural differences of those whose origins are rooted in another place, with some claiming that their race and their culture make them subject to nefarious forms of discrimination. Others argue that, to the contrary, France has always been a nation of considerable diversity, with democratic institutions broad enough, and generous enough, to allow successive waves of immigrants to come its shores. Finally, at another extreme, are those who contend that the country has no room le for foreigners, and who seek to limit therefore the terms by which individuals can legitimately call themselves “French.” Questions about the capacity of French society to tolerate diversity, about the nature and meaning of “Frenchness” and difference, origins and assimilation, and the opportunities available to young people from the suburbs with brown or black skin and names like Abdel, continue unabated.


Collective Terms

I maintain that it is necessary to move beyond these debates in order to gain perspective on these questions, which all too o en cast notions of self and other in unbending terms. I aim to see rather how people’s understandings of themselves and others are derived through their ongoing interactions, both in relation to the histories—and their understandings of those histories—that they carry with them, and as a piece of their regular engagement with the public sphere. The extent to which people in Cergy, or elsewhere in France, contend that the differences between them matter is, I argue, a function of the ways in which they define themselves in relation to the larger whole. These dynamics are especially charged in the current period because of a more general anxiety about forms of social breakdown that many see as a consequence of the loosening and transformation of certain kinds of community ties, and that are especially associated with the country’s fractious suburbs. As cities with relatively short histories, the suburbs, or more precisely the housing projects that are at the center of current polemics, are feared to be lacking a strong collective core. In these districts, many contend, the center does not hold, giving way to social instability. As a New Town, Cergy was meant to ward off such eventualities. The New Towns were designed in a deliberate a empt to push against the forces of social disintegration thought to be at work in the rapidly growing suburbs of the Parisian periphery. They were to control anticipated urban growth and to improve upon the postwar housing construction that had turned the Paris region into an unwieldy mass of anonymous suburbs and hazardous shantytowns. As cities in their own right, the New Towns were to break with the monotony and lack of services that characterized the unplanned growth of the commuter suburbs that preceded them. They would, their planners proclaimed, recapture the sense of community that had, by some accounts, been given up as lost with the great postwar leap into the consumer age, even as they created radically new urban silhoue es on the formerly rural landscape. With roots firmly planted in the French republican tradition, the normative model of social organization built into the cities’ plans was to fashion cohesive social wholes, to encourage residents to work for a sense of common good that would outweigh their allegiances to more particularist concerns. According to this schema, the particular is to be overlooked in the interest of the universal, an imperative that places working for the larger collectivity at its core. In Cergy, the conflicts that arise in the working-out of daily life—disputes over li er, vandalism, and teenagers who pass their time idling in the streets, concern for the mediocre education that parents worry is being passed on to their children in the classroom, and disputes over noise, smells, and general upkeep between neighbors sharing common residen-



tial spaces—provide occasion for the city’s neighbors, with their range of cultural backgrounds, to come together to resolve local problems or locate their causes, and to give expression to their varying experiences of city life. O en, residents discuss such problems in relation to the abstract principles of responsibility, fairness, and local participation that for them constitute the essential pillars of community life. Others turn to the classifications of culture, race, or nation to explain feelings of commonality or discomfort that they do not otherwise know how to name. It is within these sites of everyday exchange that differences of race, culture, and nation are a ributed meaning, as they are used by groups and individuals both to challenge and to make a claim to the normative processes of community-building and maintenance that hold dominion within the city as a whole. As I examine the ways in which Cergy’s residents and administrators join in collective action to realize their sometimes disparate visions of collective life, I aim to show how and in what sense their differences have come to ma er.

Identity as a Social Process In an editorial that appeared in the New York Times a few years back, Salman Rushdie asks what we are to do with the problem of culture. In response to those who would act in defense, as he puts it, of “the world’s precious localness: the Indianness of India, the Frenchness of France,” he asks if cultures “actually exist as separate, pure, defensible entities … Is not mélange, adulteration, impurity, pick’n’mix at the heart of the idea of the modern, and hasn’t it been that way for most of this all-shook-up century?” (New York Times, 5 March 1999). Of course Rushdie—both the literature and the man—is emblematic of much of what is “all-shook-up” about the times we live in. Against the perils of cultural and religious essentialisms, he argues that we need to be more a uned to the generative and dynamic mixes of the contemporary world. James Clifford raises similar problems in his book The Predicament of Culture. There he examines the ambiguities of the concepts of culture and cultural identity within the context of a world in which “people and things are increasingly out of place.” “Straining,” he says, “for a concept that can preserve culture’s differentiating functions while conceiving of collective identity as a hybrid, o en discontinuous inventive process,” he writes that “culture is a deeply compromised idea I cannot yet do without” (Clifford 1988: 6, 10). The predicament that culture poses—for Clifford, for Rushdie, for other anthropologists and critics, and, I suggest, for people living in cities like Cergy—is how to contend with the different histories and


Collective Terms

ways of being in the world that “culture” is meant to signify, without then presuming those cultural differences to be totalizing and fixed. How, in Rushdie’s words, do we grasp the dynamic “pick’n’mix” of modern cities, their polyglot communities, their profusion of consumer goods and pop culture products from the world over, the creative possibilities of such juxtapositions and the strong emotions that they provoke, without recourse to concepts—culture, nation, race, ethnicity—that seem impervious to such dynamic and power-inflected flows? And how, in turn, do we take into consideration the different practices, belief systems, and historical and life trajectories that such concepts seek to express without then enclosing people into categories to which they only partially belong? It has become almost commonplace to note the extent to which the current moment has given rise to an especially acute sense of things being “out of place.” The de-localizing of the local through capital’s global reach, and the shrinking of the global via such technologies as the internet and satellite communications, have heightened and transformed the disjunctions that constitute the very idea of the modern experience (Berman 1982; Harvey 1989b). Congruities between peoples and cultures, the spaces they live in, and the nations they call home have increasingly become fractured, not least because the certainties with which such distinctions were once described are themselves being questioned and revised (Appadurai 1991; Benhabib 2002; Clifford 1994; Fraser 1993; Gilroy 1993; Gupta 1992; Gupta and Ferguson 1992; Hannerz 1989). Increasingly, it is difficult to know what people living in shared national spaces mean when they speak of their “cultural differences.” When the French-born teenage children of foreign-born residents of France demand, for instance, that they be granted the “right to be different” in reaction to what they see as an oppressive drive toward cultural homogeneity in France, what exactly is the different culture they are claiming as their own? What is particularly significant, however, about such forms of oppositional politics is that they are being posed in cultural terms, thereby reproducing commonsense notions about people’s identities and the groups to which they purportedly belong. Concern about the ambiguities and hybridities of cultural identities in contemporary contexts aside, much popular and scholarly writing about cultural pluralism and its effects continues to presuppose the existence of such groups in ways that confirm their validity as social facts. In France—and, I suspect, in other countries of Europe (e.g., Baumann 1996: 1)—reference is made frequently to the “troubled youths” of the so-called second generation, who are said to be perilously suspended “between cultures,” a vivid image that confirms again the existence of separate and enclosed cultural spheres. Similarly, when I first began scouting around for a field site in France I was repeat-



edly told I should narrow my search to focus on a particular immigrant group, advice that, had I followed it, would have prevented me from seeing the broader context within which such commonsense notions are made and given meaning. A preliminary glance at many of the ethnographic studies of immigration in Europe reflects this tendency to denote a particular immigrant community as object of study—Algerians, Antilleans, Turks and Portuguese in France (Beriss 2004; Bre ell 1982; Kastoryano 1986; Keaton 2006; MacMaster 1996; Silverstein 2004), Senegalese in Italy (Carter 1997), and Turks in Germany (Mandel 1990), to name a few. Taking as their point of departure the languages, traditions, religious orientations, economic activities, and historical trajectories that members of these groups share, these studies examine how the immigrant experience fits into, and calls into question, prevailing notions of “self” and “other” in the European context. To the extent that they define an immigrant group as maintaining a shared sense of orientation and purpose, however, they neglect to examine the processes by which such orientations are made, and thereby maintain the “self/other” distinction largely along immigrant/European lines. If we are to take seriously, therefore, the theorizing that has gone on in anthropology and other social sciences regarding the dynamism and mutability of culture, then surely we must work against the tendency to accept such distinctions as ready-made. In this study, I seek to turn these questions around: what do members of any given collectivity make of the differences between them? Why do these identities ma er, and how do they ma er? More specifically, to what extent are the definition and articulation of these differences tied to other sets of concerns? Indeed, it is my contention in this book that concern over the meaning and place of cultural difference in France at the current time has far more to do with anxiety about shi ing social and economic relations than it does over the people and practices that embody those differences. This is not a study, then, of how people of different cultural backgrounds manage their lives in France, but rather how, through their everyday negotiations over forms of behavior considered appropriate to community life, people of both French and immigrant origins derive their definitions of what is “difference” and what is “French.” To do otherwise—to take the ethnic community as my starting point— would be to run counter to the French republican tradition of social and political life, which posits, at least in its ideal form, the inexistence, or rather the superfluousness, of ethnic communities. It would be to impose categories and ways of seeing on the functioning of everyday life that many people in France would find erroneous. “We don’t have [ethnic] communities here,” one of my interlocutors told me when I explained to


Collective Terms

him the object of my research. “Communities are divisive, each one living in his li le group. We don’t have a lot of that here.” At the same time, such a theoretical positioning places me in a bit of a bind, but that is nonetheless generative of many of the questions I hope to raise in this book. As an American I have found quite compelling the idea that the kinds of ethnic or racial distinctions I explore here, which provide a commonsense basis for the organization of a considerable amount of social and political life in the US, might simply not hold such sway within the French context. “Yes, but…” I can hear my students say—there is discrimination in France, and certainly we must take into account France’s racist colonial history, and one need only look at the disproportionate numbers of people of North and Sub-Saharan African origin who live in poor social and economic conditions in France to recognize that there, too, these issues constitute a serious social problem. And yet as an observer of French life I have had to take into consideration what many French people maintain is a particularly American tendency to insist on the relevance of race and ethnicity in contexts where, they say, they simply do not apply. While the “race-blind” ideal of French republican social and political organization does not match up easily with the reality, and complexity, of French life “on the ground,” it does have consequences—consequences that are far more multifaceted, and interesting, I find, than the counterclaim that France is simply blind to its own racist and racializing tendencies. Rather than argue that the French simply refuse to face up to these realities, I have sought to take seriously the French contention that these forms of difference are largely irrelevant to the working-out of everyday community concerns, and that what ma ers is people’s willingness to abide by and participate in a shared collective sphere. In this study, then, I aim to understand how this ideal is put into practice, to locate its tensions and contradictions, to see what it means for people in their everyday surroundings, and to reflect more broadly on what such a model reveals about how cultural pluralism is being lived in contemporary times.

The One and the Many: Imagining the French Nation That France has a recurring “immigrant problem” can be confirmed without a doubt. For many observers this problem is evidence that France cannot or does not manage its multiculturalism well; the riots in the suburbs in late 2005 served for many to substantiate this view. I nonetheless contend that France allows for a particularly compelling examination of these issues precisely because the problem in question, as it is so o en formulated, makes such an uneasy fit with the stated ideals of the French



republican social pact. Conceivably that pact is not being met, or conceivably there is more going on here than meets the eye. As officially stated, the dominant French model of social and national integration does not assume, first, primordial ethnic a achments. Being French is not, in principle, a condition predicated on ancestry, skin color, tradition, or custom. Rather, national belonging is held to be contingent upon participation in public life, through engagement in and with the public sphere. “Do not let us abandon this fundamental principle,” Ernest Renan stated in his celebrated speech What Is a Nation? in 1882, “that man is a reasonable and moral being before being allo ed to such and such a language, before being a member of such and such a race, an adherent of such and such a culture. Before French culture, German culture, Italian culture,” he declared, “there is human culture” (1896: 77). These lo y egalitarian principles, based on an understanding of human beings as united through the fundamental a ributes they share, constitute Frenchness as a non-essential category, secondary to the more basic human capacity for reason and abstract moral thought. Its universal pretensions notwithstanding, French republicanism has repeatedly been dogged by critiques that it does not live up to its own ideals. In a recent book, Gary Wilder addresses this problem through a study of French colonial practice in the early twentieth century. Asking how it is that commi ed republicans were able to make remarkable democratic strides in metropolitan France while rushing to empire through the forced submission of subject peoples in the colonies,2 he states that it would be erroneous to see this as a case of a “limited universalism that has not been sufficiently extended to all social groups.” Rather, he argues that particularizing practices are integral to the means by which French republicanism achieves its purportedly universalist ends. He calls for “a more integrated treatment of universality and particularity as interrelated dimensions of republican, national, and colonial politics [in order to] address the way universalizing practices have had particularizing effects and particularizing practices have served republican objectives over the long-term history of modern France” (2005: 15). While Wilder focuses his analysis on colonial policy between the wars, the interconnections he lays out between universality and particularity, holism and differentialism, “race-blindness” and “race-consciousness” (E. Fassin 2006), provide a cogent frame for thinking about the consequences of integration policies in the present day. The contemporary integration model is infused with specific convictions about how society should function and how people should behave that regularly mediate, frame, and define the kinds of particularist claims people can make on the ostensibly universalist common core. Indeed, it should come as no surprise that in


Collective Terms

the shi ing, culturally plural context of contemporary France, everyday efforts to cra a functional social order are run through with interested judgments about other people and other ways of doing things. But what distinguishes the French model is that ethno-cultural categories are not always and already considered salient frames for sociological understanding. This allows, I maintain, a discursive opening for a reconsideration of these terms. More than a mere abstraction, the republican ideal is hotly debated as a part of everyday politics in France; in order to understand how it functions, it is also necessary to grasp the passions, in current-day France, that these debates can enflame. French republicanism is staunchly defended in numerous circles as standing on the side of a more just and equal social order. For its adherents there is much at stake, from the rise of the extreme right—whose partisans maintain that Frenchness is an identity available only to the privileged few whose roots lie deep in French soil—to flirtations with a more “American-style” form of identity politics that many fear would “balkanize” the ideal of a commonly held collective life. The surprise success of far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen in the first round of the 2002 presidential elections served to heighten awareness of these dangers, and affirmed for those opposed to his views the importance of safeguarding the French republican tradition. Recalling memories of previous periods of engagement with a nationalist politics (most pointedly in the twentieth century during the Vichy period), Le Pen’s success constitutes one piece of a multifaceted and ongoing national discussion that also includes the appeal (or repugnance) of a more American-style form of multiculturalism, the postcolonial call for a reinterpretation of the colonial past, and fears of republicanism gone amok in the fractious banlieue. The (currently) dominant republican orientation in France thus has a charged and contested history, sustained by its defenders as a legacy of the French Enlightenment, a piece of French patrimoine, a means to a more just social order. The republican model is upheld as assurance that all of the territory’s diverse constituents benefit equally from the protections of the state, the framework that, in the late nineteenth century, helped cra the nation out of the territory’s multiple parts. It was then that the country’s leaders sought to build a sense of national belonging among peoples whose languages and traditions varied widely (Azéma and Winock 1969; Grillo 1989; Nord 1995; Weber 1976), and then that Renan sought to articulate what should constitute the national bond. French national belonging, he stated, was not a ma er of race, language, or religion, but of a commitment to the common interest, “the clearly expressed desire to live a common life” (1896: 81). Being French, in this view, is a ma er of consent (versus rank or privilege), and French culture the product of that com-



mon life. French culture thus does not precede inclusion in the polity, but is rather absorbed and created through it, via the acts of association that constitute the whole. Two distinct but related engines drive this conception of the nation: one is the idea of the social contract, the other that of social diversity. To engage in the common life of the greater collectivity is to benefit from the interests it protects and the range of services it provides. It is to see one’s interests represented in the rights and responsibilities of collective engagement and to have those interests complemented by others who are similarly engaged. As a result of the social contract, Rousseau wrote, “the whole strength of the community will be enlisted for the protection of the person and property of each constituent member, in such a way that each, when united to his fellows, renders obedience to his own will, and remains as free as he was before” (1964: 180). The notion of individual freedom is critical here, as it suggests that individuals agree to join the polity and participate in the construction of its common life not only because of the range of social protections they can expect to enjoy in return, but because in so doing they act also in defense of their private concerns. An individual who participates in the social contract is expected to transcend his or her purely private interests—including, for my purposes here, the practice of particular customs or beliefs—not in order to abandon them, but precisely so that they may be be er sustained.3 Critics of this model argue that in its efforts to build a common good that applies protections equally, it drives the peoples and regions of the territory toward sameness, creating thereby a nation intolerant of diversity. In a recent book, Joan Sco writes that “French universalism insists that sameness is the basis for equality. To be sure, sameness is an abstraction, a philosophical notion meant to achieve the formal equality of individuals before the law. But historically it has been applied literally: assimilation means the eradication of difference” (2007: 12). A li le further she notes that “sameness is measured in terms of concrete ways of being (Frenchness)” (2007: 13).4 This argument presupposes an antagonistic relationship between Frenchness (frequently elided with universality)5 and difference that merits reconsideration. Indeed, the image of a straitjacket society where diversity is squashed does not correspond with the France I know, including—and perhaps especially—in the fractious banlieue. To the contrary, the “mixing” that is a product of French integration policy has produced neighborhoods where people of multiple different backgrounds—French people included—live side by side as they try to figure out how to make their admi edly sometimes drab environments and frustrating life circumstances work. In these neighborhoods, whatever is “French” and whatever is “difference” act on and in relation to one an-


Collective Terms

other, and on and in relation to the political, social, economic, and historic opportunities and exigencies that have produced them. Positing a marked differentiation between “Frenchness” and “difference” raises, moreover, the problem of authenticity: does “assimilation” necessarily make one any less Algerian or West Indian or Senegalese (categories that are in themselves problematic), and if so, then according to whom? Who decides? What marks “Frenchness” and what marks “difference”? Where is the dividing line between the two? Keaton, for instance, navigates rocky shores as she correctly warns her readers not to “overgeneralize and a ribute” the abuse of women and girls that she records among Muslim girls in France “to all Muslims” (2006: 166). She goes on to “acknowledge the abundant counterexamples … [of] extremely supportive male figures … fathers and brothers who have positive, nurturing relationships with their daughters and sisters” (2006: 170). But what if the distinction between Muslim and French were not so tightly drawn in Keaton’s analysis? Might that not be er serve to mitigate the dangers of overgeneralization that she perceives? As Brubaker and Cooper warn, when “identity talk” enters into analysis, it runs the risk of “unintentionally reproducing or reinforcing … reification by uncritically adopting categories of practice as categories of analysis” (2000: 5, emphasis in the original). As others have noted, “identity” is an inherently slippery subject, best viewed perhaps out of the corner of our eye, lest it harden into something fixed, or elusively disappear.6 There are, moreover, clearly marked forms of social distinction in France that constitute the terms through which notions of sameness and difference, French and “other” are discussed and made meaningful. Categories of exclusion/inclusion, occupation, education, and social class are more relevant to this debate not only because they set limits on acceptable practices and contribute to the shaping and reproduction of the nation in general, but because the problems in the banlieue in particular are considered to stem precisely from an absence of these forms of social mixing. Indeed, the banlieue is seen to suffer not because there is too much difference, but not enough. There, many hold that the robust “mix” of people of different ages, occupations, and class backgrounds that is considered vital to an ideal form of collective engagement, has been le to dissipate. These forms of social distinction are held to be necessary to the making of a “healthy” or “balanced” collective life because, as complementary and mutually enhancing forms of difference, they engender a Durkheimian form of “organic solidarity” (Durkheim 1984) wherein individuals come together to build a community that can reproduce itself over time. It is, moreover, through the forging of these mutually enhancing social ties that members of the community build and contribute to a shared sense of



common culture. French culture, therefore, according to this view, is that which is produced through these acts of collective engagement. Nowhere in this construction of the nation do cultural differences necessarily pose an obstacle to national belonging; to the contrary, they are o en appropriated to shore up the idea of a unified nation made up of interlocking parts (as I show in chapter 6), if they are not otherwise seen as private ma ers that are best protected when transcended in the public sphere. As I show in this book, these ideas infuse huge swaths of contemporary social and political life in France. They set the terms by which questions of integration and difference, inclusion and exclusion, French and immigrant can be discussed and defined. They also set the terms for vigorous and o en rancorous debate among those who argue in favor of a more overtly differentialist frame. Most directly challenged by those on the far right who argue that people of different origins have no place in France, these discourses are also contested by people of immigrant origin who seek a renewed and strengthened republican contract that recognizes the complicity of the French project in shaping the way their place in French life has been expressed and defined. Perspectives and policies conceived in the name of protecting the collective interest have been built, they argue, on platforms that identify their particular practices or habits of mind as social problems needing to be fixed.7 They thus challenge the universalizing pretensions of the integration model as they signal how it has been complicit in particularizing practices. It is important to note, however, that many of those active on these fronts, including many of the young people in the banlieue who have been clamoring for change, are not seeking to be released from the conditions set for integration. They are asking for more integration, not less. Therefore this is not, as many would have it, a confrontation between incompatible cultural practices or an outright refusal of the purportedly homogenizing effects of the French republican model, but a call for recognition of the extent to which that model also works on and through representations of particularity and difference in order to achieve its ostensibly universalist ends. As they play out in the public domain, these questions take a more Manichean turn. Media reports of the struggles of the last decades read all too familiarly as French versus immigrant, (French) laïcité versus (Muslim) fundamentalism, the lawful state versus disorderly hooligans in the banlieue. Starting in the 1980s, socialist reforms that allowed recognition of the “right to be different”—intended to apply both to immigrant groups and to members of regionally based ethnic revival movements that had begun to gain ground during the 1970s (McDonald 1989: Vichniac 1991)—were taken up most vocally by the French-born teenage children of foreign-born residents of France, for whom “difference” and “culture”


Collective Terms

became political issues as they sought paths to greater opportunity. The controversial “foulard affairs,” which have generated heated debate about the right of Muslim girls to wear headscarves to school, have further reinforced these dichotomies by pi ing defenders of the secular principles of the state school system against those who argue that to bar the girls from wearing headscarves is to deny them their cultural rights.8 At the more extreme end of the political spectrum, Jean-Marie Le Pen and his adherents in the National Front have appropriated the “difference” discourse by arguing that those who want to practice their “right to be different” do not belong in France. Le Pen’s electoral successes from the 1990s forward have made fighting for “difference” a risky prospect, positioning the fight for France’s future across this ambiguous cultural terrain (see Holmes 2000; Stolcke 1995; Taguieff 1988). I argue that it is necessary to li these questions out of the fraught arena of identity politics in order to break with notions of cultural difference as congruent with nations and peoples that in this age of diasporas and “culture flows,” are becoming increasingly difficult to sustain. My aim here is to see, rather, how these debates are being posed within a broader context of concern about social breakdown and appropriated to an already existing hierarchy of social distinction. The capacity of the French state and nation to maintain the social contract—for the national community, in other words, to keep on reproducing itself through the forging of cohesive social ties across a terrain of significant class distinctions—has come under scrutiny in the face of rising anxiety about urban violence, long-term unemployment, and various forms of what the French call “social exclusion.” It is against this background that questions about how to integrate immigrants into French society and the place their “cultural differences” should hold have become particularly charged. In Cergy, government officials and urban planners have sought, with varying degrees of success, to construct an urban environment that will be generative of a certain kind of social cohesion. Whereas certain forms of diversity are considered beneficial to this goal—the social differences that, through their complementarity, make a “balanced” whole—others are defined as disruptive to that process and at odds with the collective interest. In order to come to terms with the upheavals signaled by questions of immigration and integration in France at the current time, it is thus necessary to understand first how the limits and ideals of the collective interest are being defined.

Methods and Organization Cergy is a city with a highly visible public life. Considered the most successful of the region’s New Towns, it has spawned groups of dedicated



civic activists and administrators intent on realizing their visions of an engaged and “animated” community life. Organized social activity in the city is abundant, having a racted a dedicated core of people who turn out regularly to participate in various citywide events and who, through their civic associations, organize events of their own. Local residents’ commitment to these activities is threefold: wary of the purported breakdown in community sensibility indexed by the monotony of neighboring suburbs, Cergy’s local activists have seized upon the opportunity of living in a New Town to create their community from the ground up with dedication. It is, moreover, by participating in local events and services, and working hard to encourage others to do the same, that activist residents and local administrators strive to keep at bay the forces of urban violence, teenage unrest, and interethnic conflict that they see as tearing at the social fabric of other cities. Finally, an involved public allows the municipal government the means to maintain a certain level of social control, a necessary correlate if local officials are to keep a racting the corporate investment in jobs and office space that has in large measure financed the building of the city and helped it earn its reputation as the most successful of the region’s New Towns. It is by negotiating their interests in relation to this frame that Cergy’s inhabitants contribute to the construction of the local public sphere. And it is within this frame, which places a premium on community, participation, and social control, that the city’s diverse residents define, and make judgments about, one another’s social and cultural differences. This book is based on an extended period of in-depth fieldwork, conducted over sixteen months in 1994–1995 in Cergy and nourished by my subsequent residence in France since 1997. The neighborhood that became the focus of my study, Cergy–St. Christophe, is the second major commercial and residential district of the city, and the location of city hall. Home to what many consider to be a disproportionate number of immigrants, black Africans and Haitians in particular, Cergy–St. Christophe is thought by some to be “too black.” To be sure, this assessment signals forms of racial tension, a question I take up in chapter 4. But mostly it points to the city’s lack of “balance,” and the way the neighborhood has failed to live up to the ideals promised by the construction of the New Town. During my sixteen-month stint of fieldwork, I rented a room in an apartment that turned out to be at the center of a serious housing dispute (cf. chapter 4) and, through my activities, sought to become as involved as possible in the life of the city. I followed closely the activities of the municipal council, observed the exchanges among parents and teachers at one of the local nursery and elementary schools, became involved with two African women’s organizations (one a spin-off of the other), followed the activities of local branches of national charities, volunteered for a er-


Collective Terms

school study help at the Maison de Quartier, a ended meetings and activities sponsored by various neighborhood groups, and a ended the numerous fêtes and events that regularly “animate” city life. I gravitated toward a certain number of local civic associations that engaged in actions that would help me see how residents were organizing themselves and mapping out their collective social life. In addition, I selected groups whose members were recognized, even outside of their own associations, as active and prominent members of the collectivity, and whose associationrelated activities were recognized by members of other groups and city officials as worthy of a ention and inclusion in other social and political networks. In this way I hoped to gather views that would at least in some way be representative of larger perspectives. My focus invariably led me to people who chose to be active in public life. This was a self-selected group of considerable size that varied in educational, class, and ethnic background. I present these organizations—the nature of their objectives, the types of members they a ract, and the range of their activities—in the following chapters as they appear. I was not the first social scientist to cross the path of many of the people I got to know in Cergy. “We can start now, the sociologists are here,” they o en teased as I and a colleague from Paris, a sociologist who had worked with Cergy’s teenagers since the late 1980s, took our seats at numerous meetings. But it was my impression, at least at the beginning, that my ubiquitous presence and assiduous notetaking were not exactly what people had in mind. Other sociologists had come to study the problem of “les jeunes”—the city’s troubled youth—and occasionally to interview members of some of the city’s more prominent immigrant associations. My objective was perhaps less precise, and less obvious. Wanting to cast a wide net that would help me understand the city more broadly, as well as follow closely a few themes through time, I tended for a while to show up everywhere, my pen, notebook, and camera in hand. Known as “the American,” I was almost always welcomed and sometimes teased, as my French and educated “natives,” some of them well-read in sociology and anthropology themselves, mocked themselves and their “exotic” ways. My interests, moreover, frequently led me to people who enjoyed puzzling over the quandaries presented by the city’s multicultural makeup. The issue I was there to study—in sum, “interethnic relations”—was also put forward as a problem by many of the city’s residents. They seemed o en fascinated and perplexed—as was I—by the complexities of trying to figure out who they were, who their neighbors and associates were, and how their spectrum of cultures and skin colors, nationalities and ethnicities interwove and did or did not connect. The terms my informants used to explain their experience and the conceptual frames they adopted to mo-



tivate their actions were, moreover, permeated by a tradition of French political culture that itself has been shaped by and seminal to significant lineages in the social sciences. The works of Rousseau, Renan, Durkheim, and others do more than provide an analytic frame for these phenomena: they are also constitutive of the phenomena themselves. As I have sought to analyze and write about these processes, therefore, I have had to confront what Marcus (1997) calls a sense of “doubleness”: this is a book not only about culture and community in France, but also about ideas about “culture” and “community” in France. Arroseur arrosé 9—the terms of study here are the same as those being studied, a problem of language and analysis that I try, as much as possible, to elucidate throughout this book.10 Marcus describes this problem as one of a shared pursuit of knowledge between fieldworker and informant, an “affinity aris[ing] from their mutual curiosity and anxiety about their relationship to a ‘third’” (1997: 100)—to a shared sense of concern regarding a problem in the world. Between the interests that I and my informants share, however, lies an essential difference. For many residents of Cergy, figuring out how they relate to their neighbors is part of a larger project to put things into place—to make their city cohere and, in turn, keep at bay the kinds of urban problems that they fear will tear at the city’s social fabric. Their interest in fixing their own and their neighbors’ identities in a complex social order is a product of this sense of unease.11 In the following chapters I examine how the residents of Cergy interpret the differences in culture, class, and historical background among them in relation to their shared project of building the local collectivity. The reputation of the neighborhood of Cergy–St. Christophe as “too black” led me to look most specifically, but not uniquely, at the activities of its West African residents, to see how they, along with their French and other immigrant neighbors, create and interact with the public sphere. The book is a cultural analysis of the politics of integration, of the ways in which the social identities of the residents of France’s culturally diverse suburbs—in this case Cergy, with a particular focus, again, on its French and West African inhabitants—are articulated in relation to the politically directed integrative processes that shape the larger whole. In the chapter that follows I look at the history of the Paris suburbs and the state-initiated efforts to fix them from the early twentieth century forward. Repeatedly, the suburbs, especially those to the north and east of Paris, have been identified as a menace and a problem. The New Towns project, launched in the 1960s, was the latest, and the most ambitious, of several projects intended to bring order to the suburbs’ ostensibly anarchic development and in the process fashion model communities. Going back to the definitive source of modern French urban planning, I examine


Collective Terms

how Haussmann’s redesign of Paris in the mid nineteenth century set the capital’s suburban growth in motion, providing a brilliant precedent for future a empts to regulate that growth and, most significantly, effect social and moral reform. By the mid twentieth century, as the Paris suburbs expanded, they gave way also to hundreds of shantytowns, inhabited for the most part by foreign workers recruited to labor in the country’s postwar economic boom. In this chapter I thus look also at developments in the state’s integration policy, which aimed to ease immigrants into mainstream and transitional housing in efforts to avoid the formation of ethnic and lower-class “ghe os.” My examination of the Paris region in the postwar period, including the rise of the New Towns, shows therefore how urban planning in this period was also tied to efforts to manage and “make French” the new immigrant workforce that was becoming a part of the national tableau. In chapter 2 I discuss the “problem” of the banlieue, introducing the city of Cergy, and in particular the neighborhood at the heart of my study, Cergy–St. Christophe. Like hundreds of other neighborhoods and towns around the country judged to be “in difficulty,” Cergy–St. Christophe suffers from a range of social and economic problems, and has earned the reputation as a dangerous and undesirable place to live. Against this negative image, local authorities and many of the neighborhood’s residents respond with energy to push back the forces of anomie and make their city thrive. Participation in local civic life is seen as the necessary antidote to the kinds of troubles that plague the banlieue, and is subsequently taken up with determination by those anxious to keep such troubles at bay. Acts of participation are considered necessary for “animating” city life, for warding off the dangers of social dissolution, and for confirming one’s commitment to civic values. In consequence, those involved in civic affairs are judged to be “responsible” members of the collectivity, versus an undetermined number of others whose lack of involvement is looked on with active disappointment. In Cergy, as across the country, the civic association is the privileged site of social activity. Associations provide an officially recognized structure for residents of the city to meet and organize and, more significantly, serve as connecting links between individuals and the central administration. They bring the otherwise potentially isolated and/ or far-flung residents of Cergy within reach of local government, where they can be subject to its efforts to exercise control. And most importantly, they mark the breach between those who participate and those who do not—in the end, one of the most significant ways that residents of the city distinguish who they are. Chapters 3 through 6 delve into the city’s ethnographic terrain. In these chapters I present how the different people with whom I have worked,



by way of their involvement in local associations, the municipal government, and institutions like the public schools, define and put into place the contours of the local public sphere. As their engagement in Cergy’s community life necessarily brings them in touch with the city’s diversity, these people are regularly confronted with the ambiguities of what they themselves call “culture” and “race.” These case studies serve as opportunities to explore important institutional poles within the city—work (or the lack thereof), housing, education, and civics—and in the process to consider more abstract social principles such as the limits of community, “race” and historical memory, social class, and cultural identity as they are articulated within the realms of the everyday. Chapter 3 takes up the problem of unemployment and its consequences locally, looking in particular at the social programs designed to lessen its effects through what the French call the “fight against exclusion.” A popular motif in political campaigns, the “fight against exclusion” and the related fights for “solidarity,” “insertion,” and “inclusion,” inform the social practice of many local activists and constitute the terrain across which many of the city’s residents—administrators, volunteer service providers, and recipients of aid—have a chance to meet. I argue that the intense amount of activity in this “fight” is motivated, on the part of its providers, by efforts to counter the alienation that they associate with the exigencies of modern urban life, as well as to control the “social explosion” that they fear will occur if the city’s social problems are le unchecked. I further argue that the “fight against exclusion,” which is built on convictions about the necessity of forging strong social ties through engagement with the public sphere, is heavily implicated in the definition of that sphere, as it stipulates appropriate modes of social behavior. At the center of this “fight” are “les exclus,” people who for a variety of reasons do not have access to normative social networks. As their exclusion is judged to be a function of their social disadvantage, “les exclus” are urged to gain access to social resources, the be er to participate in the mainstream. “Fighting exclusion” thus includes such acts as housing the homeless, providing job training to the unemployed, and teaching French to foreigners. This is, I argue, the preeminent framework shaping debate regarding the place of people of immigrant origin in France at the present time; it is a debate within which notions of racial and cultural difference are considered to have li le if any importance. These ma ers are seen, to the contrary, as largely tangential, aspects of private life and behavior that have li le to do with why a person may be exclu. Where racial discrimination occurs, the standard thinking goes, it is “discrete” and not systemic. It is, moreover, the very aversion to more overtly racialized ways of thinking that keeps the more pernicious, structural forms of racial oppression at


Collective Terms

bay. One need only listen to the racialized rhetoric of Le Pen and his associates, many argue, to appreciate the dangers of framing social problems in those terms. This manner of presenting the problem of exclusion has not, however, kept reference to race and cultural difference away. Indeed, the very reluctance to speak in these terms has more recently pushed many people in France, from political figures to scholars to activists, to focus on what they argue are corrosive forms of discrimination that the French republican model refuses to allow into view. These are questions that I take up in chapter 4, relating in particular how some black African residents of the city drew on the fact of their “cultural differences” in an effort to resolve a local housing dispute in which they were judged to be, if not the guilty parties, certainly the most “irresponsible.” While highlighting their blackness and their Africanness served, in their French neighbors’ eyes, only to worsen the impasse into which they all had fallen, I argue that these African residents of the city sought precisely to insert the question of race and culture into the normative integration ideal in order to shi moral attributions of “responsibility” away from the realm of the personal toward a political domain that configures history and culture as both relative and formative. Anticipating current and ongoing debates regarding the history and memory of the French colonial past, this counterdiscourse exposes the extent to which the republican model is also traversed by definitions of difference, in particular in the making and managing of “mixed” communities such as Cergy–St. Christophe. In chapter 5 I examine how the highly centralized and codified French schools function within the community and serve as institutional mediators in the designation of what is and is not “French.” As the imagined site of integration par excellence, the schools signal a marked distinction between home and school, family and state; as such, they provide a cogent location for examining one of the central tenets of republican practice— the clear separation of the private and public spheres. The public sphere in France is intended to be a place where all can deliberate equally, free of their private a achments, to locate the common good. It is imagined as an emancipatory space that allows people to leave their more particularistic concerns behind. As I show in this chapter, however, it is also run through with quotidian anxieties that are nothing but heightened in unstable economic times. Looking most closely at the activities of the mostly white, middle-class parents who, as activists on local school commi ees, focused their worries about their children’s success on the running of the public schools, I consider how agendas are set in the name of the collective interest that can have the effect of making others—in this case less active parents—feel they are not functioning up to par. Here again intercultural



tensions were invoked by African women who took these charges as an offense against their capacity to be good mothers. The case study reveals how regularly the line between “public” and “private” can be blurred, how the state and particular social groups can unwi ingly conspire to set the public agenda, and most significantly, how the moral principles put forward in the name of the greater good that I highlight throughout this book—participation, responsibility, fairness—can further inflame the daily indignities that for many people of immigrant origin underscore the lack of acceptance they feel in France. In chapter 6 I examine, finally, the formalized place that “culture” is accorded in Cergy. Considered a wellspring of local participation, the city’s diversity is displayed in numerous public events where cultural groups are given an opportunity to participate, in equal measure, as members of the larger collectivity. Demonstrations of their cultural “richness” are considered valued ways for people of foreign origin to contribute to civic life, and are looked on as positive manifestations of the city’s capacity for tolerance. I argue, however, that these reified displays of culture lie also at the heart of local power struggles. Serving as a highly visible way to make a positive contribution to local life, culture in this form has become a resource that different actors, from members of immigrant associations to officials of local government, use to achieve their strategic ends. “Cultural difference” thus constitutes a significant variable in local efforts to put things into place, and has consequently become a highly visible political resource in the shaping of the city’s social landscape. The riots that riveted the nation’s a ention at the close of 2005 proved to be the worst urban violence to shake the country in forty years. Playing out with distressing predictability, the images of reckless teenagers, burning cars, and riot police brought to the fore—and not for the first time—the kno y problems of race, class, immigration, urban decay, and youth disaffection that have been simmering under the surface in France since the mid 1970s. The sense of “crisis” that has permeated French society during an extended period of economic slowdown finally boiled over, it seems, into the “social explosion” that so many of my interlocutors in Cergy so o en feared. I do not, in this book, make claims as to where this will lead. But I do take up the questions that are ever present in discussion of the troubled French suburbs with, I hope, a critical difference. Through a careful analysis of the way these relations are lived “on the ground” I seek to move beyond transparent understandings of race and culture to see, rather, how these terms are invested with meaning as people of diverse origins vie over their construction of a sense of place. In this age of globalizing trends it is especially necessary that we not take these differences as giv-


Collective Terms

ens but seek rather to examine the ways in which they become social facts with meanings and currencies of their own, meanings that, in turn, weigh on the elaboration of social and political life. This is a perspective that demands close ethnographic description and analysis, for it is precisely there, at the level of everyday practice, that we can begin to understand how people living in situations of diversity are making something of their differences, and why. The current crisis notwithstanding, I also maintain that the view from France allows a constructive frame for thinking about these issues. The French republican ideal, which I encountered repeatedly and which holds that racial or ethnic origins have li le or no bearing on people’s capacity to join in and participate fully in French society, provides a discursive opening for a reconsideration of these terms. Clearly the ideal is not the reality, but it is precisely by entering this looking-glass world, so close to the American experience and yet, oddly, so far, that we can begin to enlarge our understandings of these categories and see them in a different light. What interests me about the French case is precisely that these differences are so o en dismissed as secondary in the working-out of social problems. I do not mean to argue that this dismissal is correct or without consequence. But the very fact, and tenacity, of this alternate social model urges a reconsideration of assumptions about identity that in so much multiculturalist discourse are becoming fixed, to the detriment, I fear, of a more fluid understanding of cultural difference, and a disregard for other sources of inequality and disenfranchisement.

Chapter 1


 In 1960, President of the Republic Charles de Gaulle and Paul Delouvrier, who would become de Gaulle’s director of regional planning, surveyed Paris and its environs by helicopter. “Delouvrier,” de Gaulle is reported to have said, “give me some order in this merde” (Le Monde, 18 January 1995). Below them lay an unwieldy mass of poorly served suburbs marked by long, monotonous housing blocks built quickly a er the war, congested roads and highways, and disorderly and hazardous shantytowns inhabited, for the most part, by foreign workers recruited to help fuel the country’s postwar modernizing boom. Acceding to de Gaulle’s request, Delouvrier took on one of the largest urban planning projects in France’s history. For the next decade and a half he razed and straightened, carved up space and organized its use, seeking to turn Paris and its outlying suburbs into a cohesive region, with Paris at the hub and five New Towns, interlinked by autoroutes and commuter rail connections, around its edges.1 The origins of the city of Cergy2 are most evidently found in this postwar period of urban growth and change. Built in the midst of the country’s celebrated years of economic development—“les trentes glorieuses”—the New Towns were part of a bold state-run initiative to control the ever-expanding Paris region. Since the close of the nineteenth century the Paris suburbs had been steadily pushing outward; as they grew, unregulated, so did the perception that they constituted an unwieldy problem needing to be fixed. The ambitious New Towns project that Delouvrier shepherded to completion was the most coherent, and audacious, of several stateinitiated efforts to regulate that growth and by extension solve social prob-


Collective Terms

lems and affect social reform. The New Towns were to be an extension of and a corrective to the problematic Paris suburbs; they were to put right what the suburbs had got wrong. Their history and that of the suburbs more generally reveal a faith in rational planning as a means to solve social problems, a determination to remedy social imbalances through correct urban form. Paul Delouvrier has o en been referred to as a la er-day Haussmann, the remarkable prefect of the Seine who in the mid nineteenth century undertook the extraordinary renewal of Paris that resulted in the transformation of the city into a fully modern metropolis (Ross 1995; Savitch 1988). A high-level functionary who used his connections to an authoritarian head of state to effect sweeping change, Delouvrier, like Haussmann, radically altered the existing landscape. He imposed order where he saw chaos, cut broad corridors through space to make it cohere, and cleaned up, in both literal and moral terms, slums that he viewed as both dangerous and unhealthy. More significant, perhaps, Delouvrier was able to build on the precedent that Haussmann set for future generations of urban reformers. Haussmann rationalized Paris, giving it order, structure, and form, and as he did so he provided stunning visual proof that social problems can find a rational response. Haussmannization also established, even as it was not entirely responsible for, the demarcation between Paris and its suburbs, in particular those to the north and northeast, that continues to this day. I thus begin this chapter with a nod toward Haussmann and his reforms as the establishing moment that set the suburbs in motion. The Paris suburbs grew at a rapid pace following Haussmannization as a consequence of the capital’s ever-expanding influence and the industry growing at its edges. The suburbs did not receive the same kind of rational approach that Haussmann brought to Paris, however, until well into the twentieth century. Most particularly, the housing projects that today stand for all that is wrong with the allegedly difficult and dangerous suburbs were built as a rational response to an acute housing crisis following World War II. The projects were intended to “absorb” the thousands of people living in substandard conditions a er the war, and also to effect moral reform by urging the new residents—who included, but were not limited to, immigrant laborers—to live correctly, as fully modern city dwellers. In the case of the New Towns, modern technical experts, functionaries of the state, undertook what they viewed as a utopian experiment in urban and social design. Considered together, the five New Towns that sit on the edges of the region of Ile de France were to make the region cohere by treating it systematically as a whole (Fourcaut 1990; Savitch 1988; Voldman 1990a). Considered separately, each new city was to be a cru-

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cible of renewed democracy, where people of different regional and class backgrounds would come together to live and work and, with a “pioneer spirit,” forge a reinvigorated sense of community life. The New Towns were not, as many people would later assume, built to house (or “warehouse”) the new immigrant populations that in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s were again swelling the region’s growth. Rather, like the suburban developments that preceded them, the New Towns were to help regulate this addition to the region’s mix and facilitate the new immigrants’ integration. A consideration of the region’s growth in the twentieth century thus reveals how integration has been articulated as a spatial concept, centrally bound up with efforts to locate the urban form that will generate improved social function.

The Capital A study of the history of the development of the Paris suburbs properly begins with Haussmann’s transformation of Paris not least because his achievements remain the standard institutional reference for modern urban planning in France (Voldman 1990b). If ever confirmation were needed that the sordid and disorderly could be made majestic through rational design, Haussmann’s Paris would provide evidence enough. His achievements, moreover, were remarkable, and made all the more apparent the distinction that would divide Paris from its suburbs, and in particular the industrializing suburbs to the north and east of the city, to this day. In the space of less than two decades, from 1853 when he was appointed prefect of the Seine by the Emperor Napoleon III, to Napoleon’s fall in 1870, Haussmann succeeded in transforming Paris from a medieval city into a modern metropolis—the very embodiment, many would argue, of modernity itself.3 Up until Haussmann’s reforms, Paris was in large measure a medieval city. Narrow, winding streets, many of them without issue, ran through the city’s crowded neighborhoods, the result of centuries of growth and transformation. The city’s outer walls, originally fixed around the central Ile de la Cité during the Roman era, were pushed out over successive centuries as the city expanded beyond its limits. Since at least the eighteenth century, critics decried the city’s mass of dark and dirty streets. Voltaire described Paris as barely civilized. The center of the city, he wrote, with the exception of a few classically beautiful monuments, was “dark, hideous, closed in as in the age of the most frightful barbarism” (in Jordan 1995: 15), its “public markets established in narrow streets, parading squalor, spreading infection, and causing continual disorder” (in Pinkney 1958:


Collective Terms

32). There were no accurate maps of the city, no census, nor even a clear picture of its shape and size (Jordan 1995: 14). It followed no rational plan and grew randomly as dictated by growing population pressures and shi ing need.4 It was this lack of order, above all, that Haussmann would change. Not only did he commission the first accurate map of the city (Jordan 1995), he also looked on the city as a map: as abstract space, to be conquered and given form.5 Haussmann undertook sweeping changes in the city, building eightyfive miles of new streets, razing entire neighborhoods, nearly doubling the city’s surface size, and making the city amenable to the new demands of commerce, transportation, and industry. Out of the dense, unwieldy tangle of the city’s streets, he created an ordered complex of multiple hubs, or places, which he connected with the construction of wide, straight boulevards. Monuments, churches, and railroad terminals—symbols of industry and commerce, and of the city’s nascent modernity—were featured organizing principles of Haussmann’s design, the punctuating structures of his orderly sight lines. Everywhere he built, he was in search of the view. This was, for Haussmann, more important than the life of the street, and it was something he took pains to achieve: consider, for example, the Henri IV bridge, which nips off the tip of the Ile St. Louis in order to give the illusion of a straight boulevard from the July Column in the Place Bastille to the Pantheon at the top of the Latin Quarter; or the off-center dome on the Tribunal du Commerce located on the Ile de la Cité, that provides the perspective he craved when looking down the Boulevard Sepastopol from the Gare du Nord.6 With the exception of the more sparsely inhabited areas of western Paris, which afforded Haussmann the room to build,7 Haussmann literally cut his boulevards through densely packed medieval streets. Bludgeoning through an already existing urban fabric apparently gave him li le pause; what ma ered was the overview, which made the city an abstraction and allowed him to provide an objective assessment of its needs. According to Haussmann’s own count, some 350,000 people were displaced by his reforms (Blake and Frascina 1993: 97). While his and Louis Napoleon’s sympathies certainly lay with the prospering bourgeoisie, the extent to which they purposefully sought to drive the poor and working classes out of the gentrifying city has perhaps been overstated. To the contrary, there is evidence that Haussmannization helped improve the quality of life for Parisians overall, while also making life more comfortable for those in the privileged classes, who saw their prospects soar as the city changed to accommodate their interests (Willms 1997: 277–287; see also Clarke 1984). Rather, as T. J. Clarke has argued, Haussmannization revealed more starkly the class divisions that an emergent capitalistic logic

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was bringing into view. This, according to Clarke, is what most disturbed opponents of Haussmann’s reforms: the moral and social changes made manifest by his plan. In the following “Report by the Chamber of Commerce and by the Prefect of Police on the question of workers’ wages and the increase in rents and the price of food,” for instance, wri en in 1855, the writers note with some alarm the change away from a form of “vertical” integration according to which the lower classes occupied a building’s small top-floor garrets while allowing the upper classes greater privilege in the larger apartments on the lower floors. Fearing the consequences for the working masses of the trend toward an increasing “horizontal” integration, they wrote, the circumstances which compel workers to move out of the center of Paris have generally … had deplorable effects on their behavior and morality. In the old days they used to live on the upper floors of buildings whose lower floors were occupied by the families of businessmen and other fairly well-to-do persons. A species of solidarity grew up among the tenants of a single building. Neighbors helped each other in small ways. When sick or unemployed, the workers might find a great deal of help, while, on the other hand, a sort of human respect imbued working-class habits with a certain regularity. Having moved north of the Saint-Martin canal or even beyond the barrières, the workers now live where there are no bourgeois families and are thus deprived of this assistance at the same time as they are emancipated from the curb on them previously exercised by neighbors of this kind. (In Chevalier 1973: 199)

The cozy class relations of the “old days” of this report are, of course, suspect, given the early nineteenth century’s history of repressive class conflicts. What is significant, however, are the ideals and conjectures that such visions of class integration betray. Harmonious class relations could be fostered, this report suggests, by good urban form, and most particularly by a form of social “mixing” that Haussmannization was in the process of pulling apart. More to the point, “mixing” was to have a positive effect on the lower classes, who stood to benefit from the moral curb on their behavior exercised by their wealthier neighbors in the comfortable apartments on the bo om floor. Confident in his zeal to build the imperial city, Haussmann was inured to such concerns.8 But the potential presented by such forms of “vertical” integration as a way of promoting social cohesion—and more, moral upli —was already being considered in the mid nineteenth century in response to Haussmann’s reforms. This is an idea that resurfaces in multiple ways as the banlieue develops during the course of the twentieth century, and it is explicitly stated as a policy goal of the New Towns launched by de Gaulle and Delouvrier in the 1960s. Haussmannization helped give form to the geographic and economic transformations that led to the growth of


Collective Terms

the suburbs; the social consequences of those reforms would continue to be felt in the decades that followed as urban planners sought to regulate the construction of the Paris banlieue.

The Suburbs The limits of the city that Haussmann redesigned have not changed since the outer arrondissements were incorporated into Paris in 1860. The tax wall that circled the city until 1920 (and that gave way to the multilane peripheral highway that circles the city today) marked the limits between the capital and its suburbs, and defined the zone, the no-man’s-land just outside the city limits that in the late nineteenth century absorbed the spillover of what the city could no longer contain. Central Paris sparkled, while the towns on its periphery became home to the city’s dispossessed. Nowhere was this more graphically displayed than in the case of the new underground sewer system, which solved the city’s waste problem and, as a novel tourist site, came to symbolize “the very essence of cleanliness, the triumph of reason over chaos, the progress of science … and of enlightenment over darkness” (Jordan 1995: 276). Much of that waste, however, simply spilled into the Seine further downstream, in the industrializing suburbs. There, according to contemporary reports, the river became “a cauldron of bacteria, infection and disease” (in Blake and Frascina 1993: 121), and gave rise to a terrible smell. As Paris continued to grow, districts outside of the city developed apace, absorbing vast numbers of people who could no longer afford the city as it gentrified, or who came from the provinces looking for opportunity. The growth of industry on the city’s outskirts, as well as improved public transportation to the capital, made the suburbs a ractive. There, on the undeveloped farmlands that sat at the edge of industry, small plots of land were put up for sale as developers pushed the dream of homeownership and the benefits of country living to workers and their families. This was a move made a ractive, too, by moral reformers who worried about the degeneracy of the working classes and urged their transformation into “respectable” owners of property, away from the seductions of the Parisian hub (Stovall 1990: 169). The realities of suburban growth, however, fell far short of these bucolic dreams. In the sixty years following the end of the second empire, the population of the Paris suburbs multiplied fivefold, reaching a total of 2 million people by 1930 (Stovall 1989: 438). This was a rate of growth that the villages giving way to suburban sprawl were in no way prepared to assume. New lots being put up for sale contained li le in the way of

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infrastructural support. Those who sought to realize their visions of the new suburbia arrived there only to discover that their plot of land—their lotissement, bought, subdivided, and resold, in many instances, by unscrupulous developers—had not been equipped with water or gas hookups. The new suburbanites, moreover, were o en expected to build their own homes, a challenge that few were able to meet with much in the way of means or skill. The towns that grew up around these allotments were similarly ill equipped to provide amenities. As Stovall recounts in his study of Bobigny, a suburb to the northeast of Paris, “of fi een major allotments … twelve had no paved streets or sidewalks, twelve had no sewers, and twelve had no water mains” (1989: 443). The result was disarray. Viewed from the centers of opinion in Paris, the suburbs were considered “haphazard” and a disgrace. Their growth was seen as erratic and uncontrolled, and predictably, as a danger to the capital. “From the threshold of their pitiful houses surrounded by cesspools, thousands of families can see on the horizon the silhoue e of one of the most sumptuous cities in the world,” a Paris-based senator stated in 1928. “There is here an antisocial contrast, some would say a peril” (quoted in Wakeman 2004: 119; see also Fourcaut 1990: 13). As Stovall shows, it was the political parties of the le that most successfully made something out of this debacle, giving rise to the Paris “Red Belt,” a ring of communist-led towns that “menacingly encircle[ed] the city that no longer had room for its working class inhabitants” (Stovall 1990: 169). Efforts to manage the problem of the suburbs shi ed back to Paris in the 1920s, when young planners and architects, schooled in the new disciplines of urban planning, designed a total of nine “garden cities” on the outskirts of the capital, following the model pioneered by Ebeneezer Howard in Britain in the early twentieth century. As some of the first experiments in public housing, the garden cities were to provide decent lodging for workers in districts free of the degenerative effects of the city, with public transportation to the capital and industrial sites. They were to provide a controlled response to the unregulated growth of the suburbs and, ideally, save Paris from the political and demographic dangers that threatened its periphery (Wakeman 2004). It was not until the period following World War II, however, that the landscape of the banlieue significantly changed. Confronting severe housing shortages a er the war, the state responded by constructing the modern housing projects that today stand as icons of the trouble in the suburbs. These too began as modern, rational responses to an egregious social problem, only to be officially declared, some twenty years a er their initial construction, an unmitigated failure. The close of World War II signaled a moment when, as de Gaulle put it, the French decided to “marry their century” (quoted in Wright 1987: 442).


Collective Terms

Starting in the late 1940s, the country experienced an extended economic boom that enabled it to reconstruct a er the losses suffered during the war. It was a period that also effected unprecedented transformation. In 1946, one-third of the working population still worked the land; by the 1980s, that number had dropped to 8 percent. The population overall grew by roughly 10 million people, and the tertiary service sector expanded to employ 57 percent of the active population. Consumption grew: by 1957, the total stock of household appliances increased by 400 percent. Foreign laborers, recruited to make up for a shortfall in the manual trades, numbered more than four million by the mid 1970s. Most of this new activity took place in and around the nation’s cities. By the end of the thirty-year boom, the French economy and social organization had decidedly shi ed, the country having become a largely urban nation (Forbes and Kelly 1995, Wright 1987: 444–454). In relation to the rest of France, the Paris region was disproportionately affected by these changes. During the 1950s, the region grew by roughly 180,000 people per year, half of the increase due to migration from the provinces or overseas. Housing, however, was in short supply. The region had been hit hard by the devastation of the war. Even as the region was spared the worst of the Allied bombings, li le to no new housing had been built during the economically depressed years of the 1930s and 1940s. Much of what existed was run-down, and indoor plumbing was far from the norm (Fourcaut 2004: 202–203). As Mehdi Lallaoui describes in his book Du bidonville aux HLM, At the end of the war, the living conditions in the large agglomerations of France were particularly dire. 500,000 housing units were destroyed, and that many again were in poor condition. The number of damaged buildings was estimated at three and a half million. One out of every two people lived in substandard conditions or without shelter. Overcrowding and discomfort was the condition of millions of French people. The refugees returning to the cities took over the rooming houses and the shelters. In Paris alone, 40 percent of the population lived in unhealthy conditions. (1993: 13)

This translated, in the Paris region, to an estimated four to five hundred thousand people living in substandard conditions by 1954 (Fourcaut 2004: 203). The state responded to the crisis with the construction of the “grands ensembles,” large blocks of housing that today typify the landscape of the banlieue.9 Launched in 1954 following an outcry over the crisis by labor unions, the Christian movement Emmaüs, and in particular the emblematic figure Abbé Pierre,10 the grands ensembles were to provide an answer to the housing shortages and the sca ered and incoherent construction—ran-

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dom single-family dwellings mixed in with factories and farmers’ fields— that had characterized the suburbs up to the war. The grands ensembles would change all that. Collective apartment complexes with flush toilets and modern amenities, they would provide new centers of a raction and “rejuvenate” the sca ered construction of the banlieue. In the words of one of the planners, they would reflect “the purest and most modern expression of French genius” (quoted in Fourcaut 2004: 212). Here was, much like Haussmann’s redesign of Paris some 100 years before, a massive state-initiated project that would solve the housing crisis, help limit further growth, and most important, bring order to the confused suburban landscape. Ideally, the grands ensembles would house a balance of the poor and the middle classes, workers and families, in new mid- to high-density districts that were also to include commercial and recreational activity (Fourcaut 2004).11 Some twenty years later, construction of the grands ensembles was officially brought to a close.12 Not only did financial constraints limit the lo y ambitions of the planners, but the very nature of the construction came under a ack. Everything about the grands ensembles—“[r]abbit hutches” in which residents were “warehoused”—was said to be wrong. The city of Sarcelles, one of the first and most important of the region’s grands ensembles, built to the north of Paris starting in 1955, has since become emblematic for everything that was wrong with postwar state-sponsored housing production (Figures 1.1 and 1.2). The city is said to have been built on an “inhuman” scale, and its residents are reputed to suffer from a disease, the “sarcellite.” In Sarcelles, its critics claim, there is too much housing, built in monolithic straight rows, and too li le of everything else: poor public transportation, too few schools, poor access to health care, not enough day care, and a population underserved by the shops, restaurants, and recreational facilities since determined necessary to make a city thrive (Le Monde, 12 April 1967; Association du corps préfectorale et des hauts fonctionnaires du ministère de l’intérieur 1988; Savitch 1988). In The City and the Grassroots, Manuel Castells argues that the residents of Sarcelles have managed to overcome these obstacles to create an urban environment that, in the early 1980s, he saw as both viable and dynamic. Similar arguments could be made for other suburban areas where grassroots initiatives have made a positive impact on local conditions, and where le -leaning municipal administrations have made a priority of ensuring basic needs. As the negative image of the grands ensembles has grown with time, however, such initiatives have come increasingly under government control as officials seek to curb and improve the image of life in these cities (see chapter 2). This, Castells argues, has limited the ability of local actors to construct something of interest within the confines of


Collective Terms

Figure 1.1. Sarcelles, one of the first grands ensembles to be built on the outskirts of Paris.

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Figure 1.2. Another view of Sarcelles, a grand ensemble on the outskirts of Paris.

the grands ensembles’ monolithic design, while reinforcing the notion that urban form ordained from above can produce good social function, if only the elements are go en right. Repeatedly, and again with the construction of the New Towns—which constitute, in effect, the next generation of suburban growth—planners have searched for the correct balance of pieces that will generate communities that work. As I show in the next section, this idea was further extended in the 1960s and 1970s to address the question of how to se le the growing numbers of immigrant workers who by then were also starting to figure into the region’s mix.

New Arrivals Implicit to efforts to manage and plan for the Paris region’s growth has been a project of moral reform. From the first suburban se lements following Haussmann’s revamping of the capital to the launching of the grands ensembles, the suburbs have developed alongside the hope that the manners and behaviors of the mostly working and lower-middle class residents who live there will benefit from their revitalization. In the postwar period, this notion was overtly stated in a parallel development that has


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contributed significantly to perceptions of the current crisis in the banlieue: the rese lement of immigrant workers out of hazardous shantytowns and into “mainstream” suburban housing. This was among the first steps taken toward the long-term integration of these immigrant laborers into French society, reflecting a policy shi that resonates strongly in the ongoing debate on immigration and the “crisis” of the banlieue. As the country prospered in the 1950s and 1960s and increasing numbers of people moved their way into the consuming middle classes, France put out a call for foreign laborers to take on the low-skilled jobs that the growing white-collar workforce was no longer willing to assume. The immigrants who arrived were, for the most part, single men; most came from southern Europe, mostly Portugal. Another 20–30 percent came from Algeria, at that point still a part of the French colonial empire, and a smaller number, not even 5 percent, arrived from Sub-Saharan Africa (Hargreaves 1995: 11). Most of these laborers worked in the building trades, contributing among other things to the rapid rise of the Paris banlieue, or in unskilled factory jobs. Women, those who emigrated, worked most o en as domestic help. Even as many of these workers were busy constructing vast new tracts of housing, they themselves were given substandard places in which to live. Private enterprise, charged by the National Immigration Office (ONI) to provide decent lodging for its employees, made only minimal arrangements—residence hotels, crowded basements, and abandoned barracks, at best. In the late 1950s, many workers moved into stateconstructed dormitories (Adams 1974), while vast numbers lived together in self-styled bidonvilles, or shantytowns, which housed anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand people at any one time. An estimate from 1966 counted as many as 89 shantytowns in the Paris region alone (Lallaoui 1993: 44). A report from 1972, which included “microshantytowns” as well as “shantytowns,” put that number at 526 (Robberini 1972: 54). Roughly 15 percent of shantytown residents were French—rural migrants whose fortunes in the big city had yet to be found (Bouchez and Dubau 1968: 54)—while the rest, a considerable majority, were immigrants. The shantytowns were hazardous places: there was fire, there were rats, there was disease. They had no electricity and no running water, and in the wintertime there was no heat. From a state perspective, the shantytowns posed a considerable security risk: during the tense and repressive years of the Algerian conflict (not officially recognized at the time as a war), the shantytowns were feared to be fertile recruiting grounds for the Front de libération nationale (FLN), fighting for Algerian independence.13 By the late 1960s, the plight of the shantytown residents started to draw some a ention. Workers waged strikes demanding be er housing, and fires in which shantytown residents were killed generated a public outcry

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(Freeman 1979: 79; Weil 1991: 69–72). The shantytowns became known as the “shame of our cities” (A. Fanton in Lallaoui 1993: 71) and the “shame of our civilization” (Le Monde, 11 January 1967), an image at odds with the expansive growth of the postwar decades. Progress, and fears about civil strife, led to demands that the shantytowns be taken down. Less obvious, however, was the question of what to do with the residents le homeless by their demise. This became a pressing question as it started to become clear by the late 1960s and especially into the early 1970s as the economy started to slow, that contrary to prior expectation an important number of foreign laborers were choosing to se le in France and encouraging their families to join them. Government policy subsequently experienced a shi . The slowing economy, increased foreign worker agitation against poor living and working conditions, and growing concern about the “unassimilability” of the approximately 3 million foreigners deciding to se le in France culminated in restrictive new immigration policies and a focus on how best to integrate, or “make French,” those immigrants who chose to stay. No longer defined purely in economic and demographic terms, foreigners moved from the status of temporary workers to that of social actors—or victims—with a stake in French society. From the late 1960s forward, immigration and its correlate, integration, became social issues of major concern (Freeman 1979; Silverman 1992; Weil 1991; Wihtol de Wenden 1988). By the early 1970s, the government accelerated a program designed to house the displaced shantytown residents. Most, however, were not moved directly into what many referred to as “normal” housing, but were placed, rather, in transitional homes—the cités de transit. Quickly erected, the cités de transit were to serve as waystations where people of “precarious” means would await more permanent housing; many, to be sure, were slated to move into the relatively new suburban tracts of the grands ensembles. Their passage through the cités de transit was to serve a moral function: there, former slum dwellers would learn the skills deemed necessary for residence in more modern abodes. The government circular dated 10 April 1972 establishing the protocols for the cités de transit states that they were intended to serve families “for whom access to definitive housing cannot be envisaged without socio-educational intervention destined to assist their social insertion and their promotion,” and who might otherwise “risk being rejected by the habitual populations of social housing” (in Laé and Murard 1985: 198).14 In the cités de transit, families could “get used to living in normal hygienic conditions with basic comforts” (Bulletin Municipal, St. Denis 1968, in Lallaoui 1993: 47).15 Residents would be divided into two types: those judged capable of “evolving” quickly enough to move into definitive housing within two years, and those whose “social


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characteristics” made any such calculation difficult to determine (Circulaire article 2.1.3 in Laé and Murard 1985: 199). The circular explicitly states that the cités de transit were to serve families of both French and immigrant origin (cf. n. 14). All former slum and shantytown residents were seen to be in need of help adjusting to the demands of standard apartment living, and all were considered to have potentially “anti-social” behaviors that “slum-dwellers” might put up with but that “normal” apartment dwellers would not abide. The problems identified among these populations were considered to be of a social, and not ethnic, nature, while in some instances particular immigrant groups were identified as posing particular problems: a report from 1972 identifies, for instance, “the monolithic nature of the African migration, the refusal of the Portuguese to accept normal relocation [out of the shantytowns, and] the abundance of children in North African families” as impediments to their eventual transition into more mainstream arrangements (Robberini 1972: 67). The prescription, however, for all the transitional residents was the same: “socio-educational” assistance as they were eased into more “modern” conditions in public housing. This is an important distinction, as it reflects what was at the time the state’s gestating concept of integration, which stipulates that regardless of their origins, all residents of France should be able to participate equally in normative social structures. Recalling the “vertical” integration that Haussmann had dismantled with his gentrification of the capital, this gradual insertion of shantytown residents into the mainstream was to protect against their concentration in lowerclass ghe os, and reflected the hope that with time they would be exposed to and absorbed into the currents of mainstream French life. The last of the shantytowns, located on the outskirts of Nice on the southern coast, came down in 1976. The cités de transit, despite their intended impermanence, remained standing in some cases for up to twenty years (Lallaoui 1993).16 Even as it might not have been the orginal intent, the cités functioned as a means to take poor people out of circulation; their eventual “re-insertion” into mainstream public housing was in this way controlled (Tricart 1977; Zitouni 1984). The cités de transit thus also served the interests of state officials who were interested in achieving greater “social mixing” in the new suburban developments, and coincided with one of the main tools in the apparatus of the state’s integration policy—the concept of the seuil de tolérance, or threshold of tolerance, that gained popular currency in the early 1970s. As it became evident that significant numbers of the migrant labor force intended to se le in France, worries were raised about their assimilability. If their concentration in the ad hoc conditions of the shantytowns had not

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provoked concern, it was at least in part because of the assumption that they would eventually be returning to their countries of origin. By the mid 1960s, however, there was talk that these populations would create “unassimilable islands” (MacMaster 1991) if steps were not taken to encourage their integration. Such islands would create intractable social problems, officials argued, because of the risk that ethnic “ghe os” could pose to the collective interest overall. The strength of the FLN in the bidonvilles during the Algeria crisis, moreover, had made the danger of ethnic enclaves all the more apparent, especially as, according to Neil MacMaster, the number of such enclaves increased during the war (1997: 194). The development of social housing in this period was thus, at least in part, built around a struggle for migrants’, and specifically Algerians’, hearts and minds. More broadly, the gradual insertion of immigrant populations into the basic institutions of French society was deemed a social and political necessity, the be er to protect against the risk of further social breakdown. Using the concept of the “threshold of tolerance” as their guide, policy makers made the case that an excessive concentration of foreigners in any one locale would impede the proper functioning of the whole. Immigrants, it was assumed, required special kinds of a ention as they learned to navigate their way through French society. The energy devoted to tending to their needs would detract from services regularly provided to members of the host population, who as a consequence would be hindered from their regular pursuits. Racial tensions would ensue. “The thresholds beyond which the host population closes itself to the foreign population and risks expressing more than simple indifference have been classified according to empirical measurements,” Michel Massenet, director of the Fonds d’Actions Sociales, an agency created in the late 1950s to oversee foreign workers’ welfare needs, stated in 1970. In a primary school class, the presence of more than 20 percent of foreign children slows down the progress of all the pupils. In a hospital, problems of coexistence arise when foreigners represent more than 30 percent of the number of patients. In a block of flats, it is not wise to go beyond the proportion of 10 to 15 percent of families of foreign origin when these families are not accustomed to life in a modern environment. (In Silverman 1992: 75)

Far from being pushed out and marginalized, immigrant groups were to be dispersed and gradually inserted into French life, on the assumption that if they were a relatively small presence, their needs could be a ended to and they would be er adapt to French social life and practices. This would, in principle, allow the regular functioning of society and its institutions to continue without interruption, all while providing the means


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for immigrants to jump the hurdles of integration and over time, “become French” (Barou 1984; Freeman 1979; Pétonnet 1979; Silverman 1992; Wihtol de Wenden 1988).

Les Villes Nouvelles Paul Delouvrier returned to France from his post in Algeria in 1960 to take on the problem of cleaning up the disorder of Ile de France.17 The task that lay before him was enormous. He needed to relieve the problem of the region’s overcrowding as well as plan for future growth. Most of all, he needed to install a plan that would not reproduce the mistakes of the banlieue of the past. The construction of the grands ensembles had not been ambitious enough; the suburbs were still considered “haphazard” and lacked a centralized plan. In 1965, Delouvrier and his team of engineers published a master plan outlining their intentions for the Paris region. Entitled the “Schéma directeur d’aménagement de la région parisienne,” it was released to the public in 1966. The original schéma included plans for eight New Towns in the Paris region. This number was subsequently reduced to five, and later plans were made for four additional New Towns to be built on the outskirts of Lille, Lyon, and Marseille. The plan called for the development of Ile de France along two major axes in order to break the circular congestion around Paris, the building of five New Towns along those axes to create new poles of business, commerce and industry, the creation of eight new administrative departments out of the existing three, and the linking of the new centers to Paris via commuter rail and highway connections (Figure 1.3). Most important, the plan resolved to manage the region’s growth. Paris and its environs were being described in popular terms as an “oil stain.” The construction of the New Towns was intended to halt the stain’s spread and in its stead implement “the rational conquering of space” that would allow the move from “anarchy” to order (Association du corps préfectorale et des hauts fonctionnaires du ministère de l’intérieur 1988; Bastié 1967). Delouvrier’s mandate to manage the entire region of Ile de France provided him an overview of the area’s problems and needs. His task entailed finding a solution that would provide some balance between the highly centralized function of Paris and the underutilized spaces of the hinterland. In order for his concept to work, the New Towns needed to be dynamic, self-sustaining poles of social and economic activity, linked to but not entirely dependent upon the Parisian metropolis. Determined not to construct a new suburban albatross, the New Town planners sought deliberately to build diversity into the New Town plans. They understood

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Figure 1.3. The five New Towns of the Paris region.

that they needed to a ract a range of economic activities and services to the New Towns, both to break the monocentrism of Paris and to ensure an adequately dense urban fabric. They aspired for the New Towns to be a ractive places to live and work, well served by a range of facilities that would cater to a variety of tastes and needs. Inciting businesses to set up operations in the New Towns was one part of the planners’ task. Beyond this, they needed to ensure that people would want to live there, that the cities’ shops, recreational facilities, and municipal services would meet future inhabitants’ expectations and demands. Of particular importance to the designers of the New Town was the notion of mixité sociale, an idea that had been in circulation—if not completely realized—as the grands ensembles were being built, and that refers back to the “vertical integration” of the Haussmann era. The problem with cities like Sarcelles was precisely that they were not mixed enough, in either demographics or use. The grands ensembles had proved unsuccessful because, lacking aesthetic variety and a range of services, they were home mostly to those who could afford nothing else. Una ractive on a number of fronts, they were vulnerable to the risks of “ghe oization” that would weigh them down with a concentration of the social problems thought to accompany economic hardship. The New Towns, by contrast, were to allow for “mixed” communities of people of different ages, occupations, and social class, in particular people from the middle classes. The ideal was to create small, face-to-face neighborhoods with good access to schools, hospitals, shops, and services. Efforts were made to keep


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out the encroaching anomie of the modern age: in Cergy, interlinking pedestrian walkways and bike paths are kept separated from streets and highways in hopes of reducing the modern dependency on the atomizing automobile. A majority of the residents of the New Towns, it was hoped, would be able to walk to work, ideally to return home to their families for the midday meal and avoid the enervating crush of regular commuting. Cited regularly as one of the greater disappointments of the New Towns, this particular goal has yet to be achieved. For the total agglomeration of Cergy-Pontoise, well over half of the employed population leaves the city to work elsewhere during the day, while 35 percent of the city’s workforce commutes in from Paris and other outlying cities and towns (Etablissement Public d’Aménagement 1994a). The planners conceived of community life in the future cities—a concept that was derived, also, with the input of social scientists (Hirsch 1990: 138–140)—as a totality of complementary and interlocking parts. Mindful that the city would need a diversified workforce, the planners sought to make accommodation for people occupied in a range of professions and with a range of financial means. The residents would be shopkeepers as well as business executives, bus drivers as well as doctors. The kinds of diversity the planners sought to build into the city were primarily related to differences in social class; ethnic diversity was in no way considered vital to the city’s mix.18 The planners’ efforts to diversify the urban social fabric are evident not only across the city as a whole, but within individual neighborhoods. Quiet suburban streets of single-family homes are built adjacent to blocks of four- or five-story apartment buildings. Rental and private properties are intermixed. Public housing for low-income families is interspersed within neighborhoods where families own their homes. With utopian zeal the planners dreamt of people of diverse backgrounds joining together, excited to be a part of this new adventure, to build up their neighborhoods in a spirit of cooperation and commitment to the city’s future. Bound to one another through their a achment to the community, a feeling of solidarity would grow up between them, overcoming their differences of education, occupation, or social class. The New Towns’ planners were, in their fashion, building a new sort of “vertical” integration into the New Towns’ plans. The overall development scheme of which the New Towns were the crowning achievement entailed a wholesale transformation of the region in order to assure its rational growth over the long term. Delouvrier was interested not simply in solving an acute housing problem but in ensuring that Paris, and by extension all of France, find its mark in the twenty-first century. For the first time, the needs of the region and its place within the country overall were being considered as a whole. Delouvrier described

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the project as no less than “revolutionary” (1989: 50). “I insist on the fact that the failure of Paris to pass into the modern world will be a failure for the whole of French society,” he wrote in 1965. “Far from favoring the modernization and harmonious growth of other cities, both large and small, around the country, the anarchic development of the Paris region would compromise the balanced management of the national territory” (in Bastié 1967, emphasis in original). This autocratic vision created tension between the centralized decisionmakers—government administrators, engineers, and urban planners— who both conceived and administered the plan, and local officials whose districts and towns were most affected by its actualization. The plan was denounced, in one instance, as “anti-democratic, anti-social, and antiParisian” (Conseil Générale of the Seine, in Brisacier 1990: 61). Many resented what they felt was its imposition from “on high” (Brisacier 1990: 61) and its ambitious scale. But for Delouvrier, who sought to assess the needs of the entire region, the project was a necessary, indeed inevitable, step for the future of French society. “The schéma directeur doesn’t cost anything,” he argued, except the few expenses necessary to get it started. The costs, rather, are the needs we have to satisfy. With or without the schéma directeur, we need housing, schools, hospitals, sports arenas; we need water, gas, electricity; we need public transportation, roads, highways.… Financing the project is thus a question of policy, and not a policy, as we say too o en and without conviction, of the art of the possible, but rather, following Richelieu, the art of making possible that which is necessary. (1989: 40–41)

Delouvrier was a high-level national administrator. He enjoyed the full support of de Gaulle and wielded considerable financial and political control (Savitch 1988: 104). Responsible for the development of a region, Delouvrier’s perspective was of a different magnitude from those invested in the singular development of their towns or departments. Delouvrier could argue that he had the greater interest, and the moral weight, of the needs of the nation on his side. Worried that the publication of the schéma directeur in 1965 would unleash a wave of unrestrained speculation, Delouvrier and his team negotiated protected status for 40,000 hectares of land in the Paris region through the application of a law from 1962 granting public utilities the right of eminent domain (Beghin, Guillaumin, and Debost 1989; Delouvrier 1990). These lands were classified part of a zone d’aménagement différé (ZAD). Land with ZAD status was protected for a period of up to fourteen years, during which its owners were prohibited from seeking prospective buyers. In cases where the property owners and the state could not agree


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on the terms of sale, the land was subject to expropriation (Roullier 1989: 352). Known as “les zadés,” the landowners protested against what they considered the strong-arm tactics of the state. “The ZADs created to avoid land speculation and to manage the Paris region, have in fact created two categories of property owners on the outskirts of Paris: those who are free and those who are ‘zadés,’” protested the president of a farmers’ association in a region west of Paris. “These last have to put up with all the inconveniences of a sclerotic situation. Farmers, for example, don’t dare invest in improvements on their lands for fear of losing all benefits at any moment. It’s the same annoying consequences for small business people, shopkeepers, and residents” (Le Monde, 10 January 1967). In Cergy, les zadés demonstrated their discontent in a series of protests that took place over a period of two years. The struggle became known, in local lore, as the Ba le of Cergy. In 1964, five new departments were cut out of and added to the existing three that constituted the region of Ile de France. Cergy, still a small village of some 2,000 people, was declared the site of the préfecture, or administrative center, of the new department of the Val d’Oise. One of the local farmers, currently retired but still a resident of the village of Cergy, told me he knew something was afoot when he read about the siting of the new préfecture in 1964. Official contact with local administrators and town councilors, however, was not made until 1966 (Hirsch 1990: 95). By that time, the selection of the site for the construction of the future city had already been made. Shortly therea er, the main governmental office building of the préfecture—the structural center of the future commercial and administrative hub of Cergy—was erected in the middle of a hayfield (Figure 1.4). Commensurate with Delouvrier’s audacious vision, the decision to construct this building before all others assured the future construction of the New Town: with the préfecture already in place, the rest—commerce, support services, and housing—would have to follow. The success with which the New Town’s first designers were able to a ract industries, businesses, universities, and developers to invest in what was then still only an imagined city has subsequently earned CergyPontoise the reputation as the most successful of the region’s New Towns. Bernard Hirsch, who in 1965 was selected to direct the team of developers responsible for the building of Cergy-Pontoise, likened the process to the strategies of a character in a play who, conning financiers, explorers, and adventurers to believe that El Dorado lay just ahead in the South American jungle, managed to amass the resources necessary to build a city that in the end was more practical, but far less resplendent, than the city of their dreams (Hirsch 1990: 124). Cergy-Pontoise’s image, then as now, needed to be sold (Figure 1.5). Businesses needed to be convinced that it would be

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Figure 1.4. The construction of the central administrative building in Cergy-Préfecture, built in the middle of a hayfield. Photograph courtesy of Communauté d’Agglomération de Cergy-Pontoise.

Figure 1.5. Selling the city at Cergy-le-Haut.


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worth their while to build offices at some distance from the Parisian hub, that the transportation connections to the capital would be forthcoming, and that the future city would be a pleasant place for their employees to work and live. Lots were sold at a relatively inexpensive price; investment in the New Town—assuming the long-term prospects for the city were good—would pay off well. With the help of low-interest loans from the state, the administrative body overseeing the construction of the New Town was able to purchase the land at prices ranging from 4 to 10 francs per square meter. It was resold—having been equipped with power, gas and phone lines, water, and plumbing hookups—to industries at 60 to 80 francs per square meter and to businesses at 150 to 200 francs per square meter—prices far below what they could expect to find in Paris and the inner suburbs (Etablissement Public d’Aménagement 1969; Sallez 1989). Initial taxes were also lower in the New Town (Sallez 1989: 162), making Cergy-Pontoise a good investment for an enterprise looking to move or expand. The prestigious business school ESSEC, the national gas and electric company (Electricité de France/Gaz de France), the Banque Nationale de Paris (BNP), and the US company 3M were among the early businesses that took the risk and opened offices or corporate headquarters in Cergy-Pontoise (Hirsch 1990). Their investment was essential: not only did it help capitalize the continued construction of the New Town, it helped sell the dream to others who objected that all the expense would amount to no more than another drab commuter suburb, towering blocks of public housing choking yet another piece of the Parisian periphery. Dissent over the project came from many corners, but most dramatically from the local grassroots. The building of Cergy-Pontoise was a project that had been conceived, planned, and put into motion by an elite team of engineers and politicians. The “public good” dictated that the roughly 55,000 residents of the eleven townships joined under the rubric of the New Town cede their concerns to the demands of the project. The developers’ most pressing needs, beyond the land on which to build, were for money and technical expertise, items that the local residents did not hold in any great supply. Local authority could, in a word, be overlooked, at least during the early stages of the project, before local officials were recruited to join as “partners”—both financial and conceptual—in the future development of the city. Minutes from a 1967 meeting of Cergy’s town council reveal how completely local elected officials had been kept ignorant of the magnitude of the project. Having just received notice that a public hearing would begin the next day, in the midst of the summer vacation period, on the state’s intended acquisition of 600 hectares of land, the council members responded that “this plan cannot be taken into consider-

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ation by the town council, which has never been consulted and which will only confer value on a development plan which has been elaborated and studied in collaboration with approved and competent authorities.” The proposal to create 40,000 jobs in the region, the council members reasoned, was “incompatible with the existing populations or those to come,” and “the massive expropriations compromise the structure of farms located on the territory of the towns affected by the study” (in Gloux 1987: 241). What the town councilors did not grasp was the wholesale transformation of the region the developers had in mind. Urbanization, in this instance, was not foreseeable in the menace of an encroaching city. It was, rather, being radically imposed from the central hub of the Parisian technocracy. Looking back with hindsight, Christian Bouvet,19 one of Cergy’s erstwhile farmers, told me that in the end the development of the New Town was probably for the best. Their rural way of life was on the wane in any case, he said; the growth of the New Town simply precipitated what would have been its eventual demise. Situated just at the edge of the large agricultural plains of the Vexin, the farmlands of Cergy-Pontoise were best suited to the labor-intensive cultivation of produce for sale at local markets and in Paris. By the 1960s, those markets had become more competitive: improved transportation was enabling Parisian vendors to buy their produce from larger producers in the south of France and other Common Market countries. The onerous commute to Paris, which at that point was still being made on secondary roads (the autoroutes that now serve Cergy having not yet been constructed), was proving less profitable for farmers who made the trip to hawk their wares at the city’s markets. Conversion, however, was not a realistic prospect. Cergy’s small plots, covering a range of different types of terrain and variously divided among the approximately fi y farmers who continued to make their living in agriculture at the time, did not lend themselves to consolidation for more large-scale production. “We were,” Christian Bouvet told me, “condemned to disappear.” The terms of their obsolescence, however, were something over which the farmers of Cergy-Pontoise were determined to fight. The Ba le of Cergy began in January 1967. Bulldozers that arrived at a site for which the expropriation proceedings had not yet been completed were met by approximately 150 angry farmers who cut the machines’ gas lines and disabled all work. In March of that year the farmers erected a tent on the site of the future préfecture. They occupied the site day and night for three months, halting construction. Negotiations turned on their anger at having to cede lands about which they had not been consulted, and on the ma er of indemnification for loss of property and livelihood. In his account of efforts to come to a solution with the farmers, Cergy-Pontoise’s chief overseer Bernard Hirsch suggested that what offended them most was their


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having been blocked from selling their lands at free market prices (Hirsch 1990: 109). But for Christian Bouvet, who kept a diary of the events, the confrontation was more over the passing of a cherished way of life. “We had to win at any price,” he wrote, “or it would be the end of agriculture not only in Cergy but around the country, given the massive expropriations raging everywhere on the outskirts of big cities. Our agricultural heritage was in danger. The sweat of our ancestors was being humiliated, forgo en, rejected even. This was unacceptable” (in Gloux 1987: 273). The final confrontation between the farmers and the state occurred in March 1969. Approximately 500 farmers, organized through the regional syndicat, demonstrated on the construction site, threatening to cut electricity, disable trucks, and create a riot if an agreement to reopen negotiations was not reached. Having already obtained concessions in the form of 140 hectares set aside for intensive agricultural production, the farmers continued to press for greater financial compensation. The national police, armed and in riot gear, met the protesters at the site. Hirsch, in his accounting of the events, recalled that he feared there would be violence (1990: 174). In the end, the moment passed without incident, but for Christian Bouvet it was a decisive episode. Relations in the village were becoming tense. Many local residents were by that time looking forward to the opportunities heralded by the construction of the New Town. For them, the farmers’ insistent protests were no more than evidence of their entrenched conservatism. More bi er still for the farmers was having to recognize their inability to halt the ineluctable forces of progress ordained from on high, and the diminution it signaled of their own life’s work. At the end of his memoir about the period, Bouvet sounds the hope that in the future, agriculture will rise again. “[Perhaps] younger men will be able to come and start farming again in Cergy … to prove to others that the land is there, that it waits. … Man is only a robot, subject to the whims of other men. His real liberty, his real abundance lies with the earth, from which he comes and to which he will return” (in Gloux 1987: 275). Christian Bouvet’s lament sounds a familiar note in the history of modern development. More than the actual arrival of the New Town, what he regre ed was the wholesale transformation of a way of life—already on the wane—that the construction of the New Town was making so graphically clear. Galling to the farmers was their lack of control over their own destiny. Highly trained elites, most of them with long experience of service to the state,20 were making dispassionate decisions about their lives. As with Haussmann’s Paris, the construction of the New Towns signaled, for those who lived through it, a moment of rupture. Their social relations were being recast in a new urban form. In the end, the farmers did well by the arrival of the New Town. As a result of their protests, they were able to negotiate higher financial com-

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pensation than originally decreed. The lands put aside for them, greatly reduced in size in comparison with what they were required to cede, produce a yield as high if not higher than their 1960s crops, thanks to the uses of irrigation, greenhouses, and other cultivation techniques. The rapidly increasing population even expanded the farmers’ markets for a time, until several franchise supermarkets opened for business in the mid 1980s. Some local producers continue to sell their produce at the open markets in Cergy and other nearby cities that continue to draw a devoted clientele. Most have since retired. In the old village, occasional horses, chickens, and sheep continue to graze on the expansive grounds of the few remaining estates, or in the courtyards of the remaining granges and barns. The village, well preserved, offers a pleasing antidote to the relentless newness of the enveloping New Town (Figure 1.6). It is an a ractive site for professionals who are able to afford the higher prices that housing in the village commands.

Figure 1.6. The church in Cergy Village.


Collective Terms

Diversity and the New Town The development of the New Towns in the 1960s coincided with the first efforts to move foreign workers out of substandard conditions and into public housing, as discussed above. It was never intended, however, that the New Towns be built deliberately to take these populations in. Rather, proposals to provide housing for the foreign workers employed in the actual building of the city came later and were, according to Bernard Hirsch, director of planning for the New Town, received as an “innovation”—an “interesting” and “original” idea—that gave credence to the reputation of the New Towns as able to provide viable solutions to difficult social problems (Hirsch 1990: 63; see also Bastié 1967). An article appearing in 1968 further stated that the New Towns, with their emphasis on providing housing and services on a “human” scale as an amelioration to the grands ensembles, would make a suitable environment for the integration of former shantytown residents. These populations would then make up part of the “mixing” the planners had in mind (Bouchez and Dubau 1968). Despite what many suppose, the New Town was thus at no time envisaged as a city built intentionally for foreigners. To the contrary, no one wanted to risk the formation of ethnic ghe os, or more specifically still, the lackluster impression that too much public housing could bring. The solution, as in everything concerning the building of the New Towns, lay in finding the correct “balance.” Lower-income neighborhoods could be made as viable as the rest by successfully exploiting the positive resources of those around them. Rather than be pushed to the margins, less affluent areas would be integrated into the flow of city life. The hope was that this strategy would offset and diffuse any problems such areas might pose, and provide disadvantaged populations with access to the activities, interests, and resources of their wealthier neighbors. Implicitly, the planners’ model of social integration promoted an agenda of social and moral reform. It was not until the mid 1970s, shortly a er the first inhabitants started se ling the first neighborhoods of the New Town, that Cergy was targeted as a city capable of receiving (“absorbing” is the word frequently used) larger groups of immigrants (La Croix, 26 February 1976). Following the logic of integration policies developed at the time, it was hoped that the well-planned city would facilitate immigrants’ integration by giving them access to its wealth of social institutions and services. The first group of immigrants to arrive in Cergy was housed in a project of 462 units located near the center of Cergy-Préfecture. This was the first block of social housing to be built in the city. In his account of the city’s construction, Hirsch writes that “it is there that the poorest people are housed, the survivors of the shantytowns of Argenteuil, for the most part Algerians with a lot

Urban Plans 51

of children. The Etablissement Public [EPA] was kind,” he adds, “to install them near the center, next to the shops and public transportation, rather than to push them to the periphery as is so o en the case” (1990: 218). Several of the city’s universities are also built in this area. In efforts to mitigate the emerging social problems of the neighborhood—“the blousons noirs [a youth gang], racial frictions, displaced women who don’t speak a word of French” (Hirsch 1990: 218)—university students were encouraged to move there in hopes that their presence would benefit their more disadvantaged neighbors. Students were encouraged to become involved in the life of the neighborhood, to volunteer their services through literacy classes with neighborhood women or sports activities with the neighborhood’s youth (Hirsch 1990: 218–219). The hope was that the students would act as role models, and that together the various groups of the neighborhood would build something constructive out of the differences between them. Since that time the ethnic makeup of the neighborhood has diversified. Black Africans, French Antilleans, and some French people now live there alongside the families from the Maghreb who se led there in the mid 1970s. The construction of several university dormitories along the neighborhood’s periphery has also increased the number of students present. But their presence has not had the positive effect that Hirsch, among others, originally hoped. The neighborhood is currently considered one of the most egregious trouble spots in Cergy. The buildings and sidewalks are in disrepair, the local teenagers are seen as troublemakers, and many people consider it a dangerous place to walk. Not least, the neighborhood’s travails are spurred by the fact that its young adults, frequently unemployed sons and daughters of the people who live there—many of them of North African origin—are witness to the opportunities experienced by their privileged, university-bound counterparts (IRESCO 1992). The politics of integration that were intended to offset urban social problems before they even began have, in this instance, generated new crises of their own. Double-digit unemployment grinds on, exacerbating the class distinctions so sharply etched onto the neighborhood’s surface. More, the neighborhood’s teenagers insist that the disparities they witness must also have something to do with their ethnic backgrounds. They cannot believe, they say, that their opportunities would be so limited if they did not have Arab names and dark skin. The visions of urban harmony that animated the planners’ designs have now materialized into a state of class and ethnic tension. When conceiving the plans for the New Towns, the cities’ developers sought to avoid the marginalization of “problem” populations effected by urban transformations such as those undertaken by Haussmann. Haussmann’s reforms assisted in the displacement of thousands who moved


Collective Terms

on to se le in the industrializing suburbs. There, in the “Red Belt,” they pursued a radical politics bent on toppling bourgeois privilege, building up suburban towns that in the century since have continued to provoke concern. The history of regional planning in and around these suburbs in the twentieth century has been one of trying to correct, through a succession of programs of urban, social, and moral reform, the imbalances wrought by these displacements. In the 1960s when the New Towns were launched, deliberate efforts were made to eschew the monolithic nature of the earlier banlieue through the application of a politics of “mixing” that had constituted a planning objective since at least the 1950s. The new cities were to be decidedly middle-class places, with room also to incorporate the lower classes into their design. This strategy was pursued in the interest of making viable the new communities that the planners needed so desperately to succeed. Occupational and class diversity, they reasoned, would be good for the cities’ long-term health. The immigrant populations that, coincidentally with the New Towns’ construction, were also being displaced out of shantytowns and into the cités de transit and/or “mainstream” housing have since that time been added to the New Towns’ mix. These measures were undertaken to help their integration into French life. The extent to which that integration has been achieved remains for many the defining issue of the Paris banlieue.

Chapter 2


 “Have you seen this?” the president of the newly formed civic association St. Christophe Ensemble asked the other members of his group as one of their meetings came to a close. Based in the central commercial and residential district of Cergy–St. Christophe, St. Christophe Ensemble was created by a group of concerned residents in the mid 1990s to establish a forum where neighborhood residents could meet, organize, and exchange ideas about such issues as housing, youth unemployment, and education. The association is one of literally hundreds of civic organizations around the city that run the gamut from dance clubs to immigrant aid societies to organizations for wayward youth, and that are considered vital partners in the effort to save the neighborhood—and the city beyond—from urban disrepair. “Come help make the community” a sign posted on the door of the Maison de Quartier, or neighborhood community center, announced as the group met for the first time, seeking recruits. As the association’s members gathered to plan their debut event in the neighborhood—a daylong forum on the challenges of parenting—the president handed out a section of prominent French sociologist Michel Wieviorka’s book La France Raciste—eight xeroxed pages that describe Cergy–St. Christophe. “Perhaps,” the president said, “we need also to work on improving the neighborhood’s reputation.” “[T]he observer, even the most superficial, cannot help but be struck by the gap between the urban quality of the neighborhood and the images it conveys,” Wieviorka wrote.


Collective Terms

The rumors, the fear, the acknowledged desire to leave … In Cergy-Pontoise, and especially in Saint-Christophe, the hopes for the city explode, at the same time that the urbanists’ dreams crumble. It is not the North Africans or the “beurs,” nor even Islam, that is at the center of the debate and the focus of the xenophobes, it is the Blacks; it is not the problems of a marginal housing project, but of a center of the New Town, of an area conceived as its showcase. It is the very identity of the New Town that is put in question, in black, Saint-Christophe. The general success of the New Town remains unquestioned. But it has been affected by this abscess, which is in fact very localized. The problems of a few îlots … have fashioned a negative image of the neighborhood and informed the negative representations that tarnish the whole city. (1992: 195, 201)

Launched amid hopes that it would realize the vision of a shared and vibrant local democracy that had been so central to the city’s genesis, Cergy–St. Christophe is the second major district of the city of Cergy. The neighborhood was constructed in the early 1980s as the “showcase” of the New Town. It was there that the city’s planners sought, through what they deemed “innovative” design, to create a dense and varied urban fabric that would eschew the monotony and social disorders that tear at the older, troubled suburbs. But today Cergy–St. Christophe, like 716 other urban districts around the country judged to be “in difficulty,” is classified as a ZUS, a zone urbaine sensible.1 Signifying the extent of the neighborhood’s social and economic problems, this provision allows the district extra government monies, and accounts for the regular intervention of public officials seeking to improve the neighborhood’s reputation and, most significantly, reduce the steady out-migration of what is le of the middle class. Wieviorka’s description of Cergy–St. Christophe as an “abscess … in black” reveals what many consider to be one of the neighborhood’s most prominent features. According to many who live there, the district is “too black,” an assessment that for all its racist overtones points more overtly to what many see as the underlying problem of this and other urban areas in distress: that they are “out of balance” and home to too large a concentration of social problems. One of the underlying tenets of the New Town at the time of its construction, the notion of “balance”—balance of residents to jobs, balance in the economy, balance of activities and services available to the public, and balance in its demographic profile—has since been deemed, in St. Christophe, to have come undone. The lack of balance that is said to characterize the neighborhood—too many immigrants, unemployed, and troubled youth, people say—provides cause for concern. Something had be er be done, many argue, before it all blows up in a “social explosion.” The riots of late October–November 2005 made real the sense of unease about the suburbs that many have expressed for years. In numerous

Community Ties


neighborhoods of Cergy (not only in St. Christophe) as well as in the other 274 French cities and towns touched by the “events,” angry youths burned cars, wrestled with the police, and torched their schools and community centers in the largest display of anger to rock the country in forty years. The riots served to confirm what people have known all along—that in the banlieue something has seriously gone astray. The nature and causes of these troubles are extensive and complex: the term banlieue should most accurately be considered a gloss for a spectrum of social and economic problems that are national in scope, running from high and prolonged rates of unemployment to racial discrimination, police harassment, youth disaffection, and a more general sense of malaise that old structures are breaking down. First signaled in the 1980s, the “problem” of the banlieue has developed to such a point that simply growing up in a difficult suburb is now considered a sign of disadvantage.2 Primary among the banlieue’s troubles are its economic concerns, the result of a sluggish economy that has been felt most profoundly in the country’s poor and marginal suburbs. There, unemployment rates can run as high as 40 percent among young people, and are typically more elevated in the banlieue overall in comparison to the average nationwide.3 Joblessness and economic instability are perhaps the most constant features to distinguish the banlieue, or more precisely the very localized housing projects in which these problems are found. For in most instances it is not an entire suburban town that is affected, but particular neighborhoods or cités, in many cases the legacy of the grands ensembles built during the postwar boom. It is there that most of what is typically thought of as the banlieue is located—rundown parks and apartment buildings, poor access to transportation and other city services, a disproportionate number of single-parent families, a higher-than-average number of people with few employable skills, and young people who hang out on the streets with li le, or nothing, to do. Insistent that “there is nothing here for us,” these youth and the images they inspire—violence, delinquency, and street crime—feed into the general sense that these neighborhoods are tinderboxes, ready at any moment to explode.4 “Will the suburbs become another Bronx? An urban jungle gripped by gang violence: ‘blacks’ against ‘skins,’ ‘beurs’ against ‘feujs?’”5 a journalist for the Nouvel Observateur asked in 1990, right at the moment when the problem of les jeunes—the suburbs’ troubled youth—first started to receive media a ention. Should we be afraid of these youths who have grown up in the shadow of the projects? Children of immigration and misery, they come from another France, that of the ghe os and the subway halls. With their fascination with America and their nostalgia for Africa. With their crazy looks, half Rambo and half bas-


Collective Terms

ketball player from Harlem. With their language, “verlan,” their music, rap. … Who are they, what do they want, what threat do they pose to this society of “bourges” [bourgeois] that they hate?6 (Le Nouvel Observateur, 9–15 August 1990)

The sense of novelty expressed here has since given way to a kind of ba le fatigue as the problems of exclusion, discrimination, and disenfranchisement associated with the banlieue continue unabated. These issues can surface in numerous guises, from the “foulard affairs” to urban violence to debates in the national media about education and insecurity and what it means to be French. Throughout, the trouble in the suburbs is associated with questions of diversity—“blacks” against whites, “beurs” against Jews—that feed into a deep and thorny debate about multiculturalism and its effects, and the best ways to address the manifold transformations to French society that the trouble in the suburbs have come to signify. Urban districts like Cergy–St. Christophe that have been designated as zones urbains sensibles can run from neighborhoods of Paris or other major cities to some of the more notorious cités of suburban towns. In some instances a ZUS might juxtapose a relatively prosperous part of town, or be marked off from a city center by a highway or railroad tracks. It is not uncommon, in many French towns, to see such an area—rundown 1960sstyle high-rises or public housing blocks—literally minutes from an old village center still dominated by a gothic church tower, a few local shops, cafés and boulangeries, and a weekly open-air market. In Saint Denis, a city just to the north of Paris that is o en taken as a prime example of a suburb “in difficulty,” there are still tracts of farmers’ fields—reminders of the pre-industrial village the city once was—mixed in with the urban bustle. The quality of life and the population makeup in these different city districts are o en quite distinct, from the established families whose roots go back for generations to the newcomers with few resources who live in the officially designated zones that sit menacingly on the edge of town. These are distinctions that shape, perhaps in equal measure to the unemployment and the disproportionate dropout rates, the nature and perception of the contemporary crisis (Gaspard 1995; Parizot et al. 2004). In Cergy, the area designated as a ZUS lies in the center of the city, in a neighborhood that also comprises city hall, the central marketplace, and the Axe Majeur, a modern monument that was supposed to serve as a centralizing symbol of the New Town and instill in its residents a sense of pride. Se lement of the neighborhood did not even begin until the early 1980s, nearly ten years a er the first residents of Cergy—the “pioneers”— began to inhabit the oldest districts of the New Town. Yet within a ma er of years the development of Cergy–St. Christophe provoked concern: the district’s demographic profile was not evolving as planned. The neighbor-

Community Ties


hood’s troubles, which include, for some, a heightened sense of insecurity, poor upkeep of buildings, parks, and city streets, and an erosion of the middle class,7 have since been met with aggressive efforts on the part of local activists and city administrators to knit together an engaged civic culture. This, they contend—the commi ed participation of ever greater numbers of residents in city life— is the first line of defense against further social and urban decay. Active engagement, whether it take the form of joining a local social club, helping out in the neighborhood schools, or simply showing up for a municipal event, is judged indispensable to the forging of good citizenship and the construction of a cohesive public sphere. There is much at stake for those who work to galvanize the broader grassroots. In a city like Cergy, where the social foundations have not had long to se le, the risk of anomie and the dangers it provokes is said to be particularly large.

City of Tomorrow Cergy’s first neighborhoods were se led in the early 1970s, when much of what was to become the New Town was still under construction, or farmers’ fields. Since then the city has grown rapidly, with each new district added in successive stages (Figure 2.1). In 1968 Cergy was no more than a village of 2,203 people. By 1982 the population had grown tenfold,

Figure 2.1. Map of Cergy, showing the various neighborhoods of the ville nouvelle.


Collective Terms

and by 1990 had more than doubled again. The current population stands at 55,600, while construction in the newest neighborhood, Cergy-le-Haut, officially inaugurated in 1994, continues to transform the landscape at a rapid pace as formerly open spaces fill up with residences, a church, the city’s first mosque,8 commerce, and infrastructure. The entire New Town of Cergy-Pontoise, now made up of twelve municipalities, has a population of 178,656 (Communauté d’agglomeration de Cergy-Pontoise 2005).9 Residents speak of Cergy as a “mushroom city.” New neighborhoods spring up so quickly, one woman told me, that “you get lost going to your own home.” A mass of low-rise apartment buildings, single-family homes, corporate offices, parks, shopping malls, monuments, highways, and walkways, the New Town bu s up against the expansive fields of the rural Vexin, marking the break between the suburban sprawl of the Parisian hub and the agricultural plains of Ile de France. As each new district of the New Town comes to life with the construction of schools, shops, residences, and municipal services, it transforms again the shi ing landscape, turning formerly rural vistas into city views of mortar and concrete. “A city is being built under your eyes,” the city planners wrote in a le er to Cergy’s first se lers in the 1970s, asking them to do their part to help bring to life this “thrilling adventure” (in Hirsch 1990: 212). “The city of tomorrow … un monde nouveau”: this is how Paris-Match described Cergy-Pontoise in an issue dedicated to the “Birth of a City” in 1971. More than a simple bedroom community, the New Town was imagined as a city in its own right, an a ractive place to live, work, and raise children only 35 km outside of the capital. Promotional literature designed to a ract residents and businesses highlights the New Town’s appeal as first laid out by the agglomeration’s planners: efficient commutes to Paris via public transportation or autoroute connections; varied and interesting architectural design, conceived on a “human” scale; universities, businesses, and shopping centers; cinemas, public libraries, and arts centers; public walkways that allow pedestrians never to have to cross a busy street; and parks, trees, and “green spaces” that remain, for the New Town’s promoters, a source of pride. “Paris discovers its rival,” one such promotional tract declares. “In Paris, there is a tree for every ten inhabitants; in Cergy-Pontoise there are ten trees for every one inhabitant,” states another (Etablissement Public d’Aménagement 1994a, 1994b). The Etablissement Public d’Aménagement (EPA), an administrative body created in 1969 to coordinate the agglomeration’s design and development,10 keeps careful track of the New Town’s growth, mindful that it is its capacity to maintain the city in a steady state of equilibrium that will account for its success. Today, this notion remains one of the central themes of the city’s administration. Cergy’s mayor and city council members defend

Community Ties


vigorously the idea that none of the city’s neighborhoods should be exclusively rich or exclusively poor, or excessively taxed by a concentration of social problems. In this, they seek to spare any one neighborhood the high cost of urban decay, while allowing disadvantaged residents the possibility to benefit from the social and cultural resources of their more advantaged neighbors. Located on what Bernard Hirsch, the director of planning for CergyPontoise until 1975, considered “the most privileged site of the whole New Town,” the district of Cergy–St. Christophe was meant to be the “keystone” of the new city (Hirsch 1990: 240, 244). It was there that the city planners first tried out some new and “innovative” ideas about building housing on a “human” scale. “[Our idea is to encourage] the construction of housing in small groups (from 50 to 100),” the planners wrote, “each one physically autonomous in such a way that they recreate the conditions of collective democracy” (in Hirsch 1990: 63). On average consisting of 600 housing units, each îlot, or block, is organized around an elementary/ nursery school and within walking distance to the shops, doctors’ offices, and municipal services that serve the city as a whole. In general, an îlot is comprised of both public and private housing, and might include either low-rise apartment complexes or individual or a ached homes. In addition, each îlot has an LCR, or “locale collectif résidentiel” at its disposal, a public space where residents can hold meetings, offer classes, or otherwise engage in the forms of local exchange that were meant to distinguish the New Towns from the impersonal grands ensembles that preceded them. In 1978, with St. Christophe still no more than a glimmer in its eye, the EPA put out a call for architects with the idea that the new neighborhood be designed by several complementary teams, each one responsible for one or a few ilôts but none imposing its own monumental style. The team of architects was to work in concert to create a stylistically diverse urban space that future residents, over the years, would be able to make their own. Today, certain parts of the neighborhood are already slated for demolition and repair. Apartment buildings are rundown, with broken mailboxes and neglected entryways that can take months to restore. Grassy areas are barren and dry. On the central thoroughfare, shops change hands with a certain regularity, and some storefronts stay empty for stretches at a time. Some speak of Cergy–St. Christophe as a “failure,” a model of what not to do when planning ahead for future growth. As the central neighborhood of the ville nouvelle, Cergy–St. Christophe nonetheless retains its distinction as a living laboratory in planning and design. It is noted in particular for two distinctive monuments: at one end of the neighborhood, an enormous clock, suspended over the entrance to


Collective Terms

the RER (Réseau Express Regional), the commuter rail to Paris—according to local lore, the largest clock in all of Europe (Figure 2.2)—and at the other end of the neighborhood, the Axe Majeur, the defining symbol of Cergy.

Figure 2.2. An aerial view of the central thoroughfare of Cergy–St. Christophe.

Community Ties


Past the clock in one direction lie the library, the church, a few bistros, and a long string of low-rise office parks that boast some of the biggest names in corporate Europe: BP, Siemens-Nixdorf, Alcatel, Thomson, Raychem, and others. It is here too that one of the branches of the University of Cergy is situated. Leading through the neighborhood in the other direction, away from the clock, is a pedestrian walkway, bordered on both sides by small shops, café-tabacs, banks, and pharmacies, that opens onto the Place du Marché. This is a large square defined by four- and five-story apartment buildings of sand-colored brick, where twice a week the neighborhood is transformed by the hawkers and vendors of the open-air market. Teeming with people, the market offers a panoply of fresh produce, meats, cheeses, fish, clothes, shoes, fabric, flowers, spices, hardware, sewing notions, tapes and videos, jewelry, lingerie, dishes, and pots and pans to those willing to pay prices at or even above what they might find at the nearby shopping mall, who come in search of the usual bargains and the bustling sociability that the market provides (Figures 2.3 and 2.4).11 The Place du Marché is also the location of city hall, as well the local community center, or Maison de Quartier. A li le further on is the Axe Majeur. Three kilometers in length, the Axe is defined on one end by a large alabaster white obelisk that dominates the center of a large plaza that is all but hidden from view until it opens at the end of the central pedestrian thoroughfare. Designed to recall the Circus

Figure 2.3. The market in Cergy–St. Christophe.


Collective Terms

Figure 2.4. The market in Cergy–St. Christophe.

and Royal Crescent in Bath, England, by auteur Catalan architect Ricardo Bofill, the plaza is enclosed by a semicircle of pearly white buildings of apartments and occasional office space. The Axe Majeur cuts through this semicircle, starting at the obelisk in the center of the plaza, to continue across a large plateau that commands an extensive view of the Oise River and the plains of the Paris basin (Figures 2.5 and 2.6). The Axe is meant to be the “symbol” that gives Cergy-Pontoise “its identity,” a defining space intended to “structure the image of the city” (Prest 1994: 18). It is a project that was long in coming: as early as 1974 the city’s planners started looking for the public artist who would capture their vision in a monument to the city and highlight the natural features of the landscape that from the beginning were touted as an ideal site for the building of the New Town. Situated at the edge of a steep decline that descends to the Oise River and the naturally occurring ponds that form in its bend, the plain on which the Axe Majeur is situated takes in a sweeping view. Cut across a broad, exposed plateau, the promenade is open to the sky and the wide, rolling plains of the Paris basin. In the spring and fall, when storms blow in quickly, the gray skies that gather over the stark white tower and columns of the promenade make a dramatic sight. Occasionally, busloads of British, German, and French tourists spill onto the plaza, their tour of the sights of western Ile de France including a stopover to see the modern showpiece of the New Town. It is a stop, too, for out-of-town guests, as

Community Ties


Figure 2.5. The Axe Majeur. The axis and apartments by Ricardo Bofill seen from the top of the obelisk.

Figure 2.6. The Axe Majeur. Looking toward the Bofill apartments. The obelisk is visible in the center of the photo.


Collective Terms

their Cergyssois hosts, their arms taking in the sweep of the view, explain the chronology of the city’s creation. There is the steeple of the old village church, there the neighborhoods of the “pioneers” of Cergy Sud and the Préfecture, and there the more recent neighborhood of Les Linandes. On a clear day the Eiffel Tower is visible and, sometimes, the sugar-white domes of Sacré-Coeur, perched high on a hill in the Montmartre district of Paris. It is, moreover, a seemingly straight shot from the Axe Majeur to the oversized Grande Arche de la Défense, the 1989 white square arch that stands as the gateway to the western edge of Paris, which itself extends the major axis that runs from the heart of Paris up the Champs-Elysées through Napoleon I’s monumental Arc de Triomphe. The connection of the Axe Majeur with this Parisian thoroughfare creates a resonant symbolic gesture, linking the modern-day New Towns to the glory of France’s imperial past. Israeli artist Dani Karavan was selected to design the Axe Majeur. Lauded in Beaux Arts Magazine as “the grand ideologue of peace” (Restany 1994: 13), Karavan was chosen to bring to Cergy the mix of simplicity and symbolic resonance that characterize his other works, among them Environment for Peace (1978) in Florence, the Path of the Rights of Man (1993) in Nuremberg, a memorial to Walter Benjamin in Port Bou, Spain (1994), and more recently, the Way of Peace on the Israeli-Egyptian border (2000). For most people, the Axe Majeur is simply a nice place to take walks on the weekends. A few people of my acquaintance, residents who had lived in Cergy for years, did not even know it was there. It is, however, full of symbolic meaning: the “orchard”—roughly half an acre of espaliered apple trees—which stands just on the other side of the Bofill semicircle, is meant to recall Cergy’s agricultural history, as well as the Impressionist painters who frequented the Oise Valley at the end of the nineteenth century; the long esplanade leading to the crest that commands the view is paved in part with stones from the Louvre; the twelve columns, ranged in three rows of four to stand guard at the edge where the Axe makes its steep descent to the river, symbolize the city’s partnership with the corporate businesses that have, in no uncertain terms, made the city possible. The steps that descend away from the columns are embellished, on one side, by the tree of the Rights of Man, planted by President Mi erand in 1990; in the ponds below an “astronomy island” and pyramid have been designed to play with the water’s light and sound; and when it is working, a laser beam cuts through the night sky in the direction of Paris, from the top of the obelisk to the end of the Axe some three kilometers away. Despite its auspicious beginnings, St. Christophe from early on provoked concern. Long before the media discovered the problem of les jeunes, the EPA was receiving word that St. Christophe was not develop-

Community Ties


ing as planned. A document dating from 1983, several years before the construction of the neighborhood was complete, reported the social workers of the neighborhood of St. Christophe directed the a ention of the EPA toward what seemed to them to be an excessive concentration of immigrant populations, out of proportion with what they knew in other neighborhoods, thus potentially generating phenomena of rejection, difficulties in the integration of the neighborhood, and problems in the functioning of local institutions, particularly the schools. (Hamet 1983: 1)

Since then, the perception that the neighborhood is home to too large a concentration of immigrants has continued. Some residents speculate that the city was built intentionally for foreigners: a Haitian man reasoned that that was why the builders paid such li le a ention to quality, while a woman from what was then Zaire told me she had been informed that the city was built as an experiment, intended to test the results of putting black people together in one neighborhood, and Asians together in another. This was a move she applauded, as she found her situation living with other Africans an improvement over her former residence in the nearby city of Poissy, where she said she and especially her children had felt stigmatized in a white French world. Others refer with some despair to their neighborhood as Harlem, or the Bronx, making reference, as many do, to the majority African-American inner cities that are all they know or see of American urban blight, and that haunt popular perceptions of the French banlieue. “Insecurity” remains an ongoing preoccupation of local residents and officials alike, and recent years have seen a spate of gated walkways and security cameras installed around the neighborhood. “It’s the zone here,” one woman told me as she sat, alone and afraid, in her office on one of St. Christophe’s central streets. But far from being a “ghe o” as some contend, St. Christophe is home to people of an array of different backgrounds. The Zairian woman cited above, for instance, has French, Asian, and Caribbean neighbors, and her children’s classmates hail from France, the French Antilles, Algeria, Mauritania, Congo, Vietnam, Poland, Haiti, Portugal, Lebanon, Iran, Angola, Benin, the Comores Islands, Mali, Senegal, Sri Lanka, England, Zaire, Madagascar, and Mauritius. According to a 2001 survey, roughly 15 percent of the neighborhood’s 9,900 inhabitants come from Sub-Saharan Africa. Another 12 percent come from the Maghreb (Parizot et al. 2004: 23). In addition there are people who have migrated from the French Overseas Departments of Martinique, Guadeloupe, or Reunion Island, but because they have French nationality do not figure in these numbers, just as people of immigrant origin who have taken on French citizenship, or who were born in France, and are officially counted as “French.” Cergy–St. Christophe


Collective Terms

is also home to people from Asia, from Central and Southern Europe, from India and from Haiti. While some two-thirds of the population is “French,” therefore (12 percent of whom are naturalized French citizens), a larger percentage in fact have origins outside of France.12 St. Christophe, and especially the central îlot of La Bastide—which includes the marketplace, city hall, and Maison de Quartier—are in particular reputed to be too heavily populated by people of non-French origin, Sub-Saharan Africans and Haitians in particular. “Yes, it’s true,” an English woman who lives in another part of the city told me, “you go to St. Christophe on market day and you’ve got the impression you’re in India or Africa somewhere. You’d hardly know you’re in France.” Young French government workers and cadres—middle-class people with white-collar jobs—on one occasion enjoyed a good laugh as they spoke about friends from other cities who hesitated to visit them in their St. Christophe homes. “‘Oh, St. Christophe,’ my friends say when I tell them where I live, ‘that’s where they play the tam-tams,’” a young cadre told me, laughing, adding that now he does not notice all the foreigners anymore. Indeed, for all the people who find St. Christophe’s population mix frightening or undesirable, there are also those for whom living in a multicultural city with a difficult reputation engenders a certain sense of pride. They recognize that living with difference in contemporary France, where the question of minorities’ “place” is a subject of continuing debate, means something. And they throw themselves with enthusiasm into the project allowed by the New Town’s new and utopian design—that of creating a social environment over which they can have some input and control. The alleged problems that afflict the neighborhood, and that stem, in the minds of many, from its lack of “balance,” can be corrected, the city’s activists contend, with the creation of a social life that is active and engaged.

La Vie Associative On an evening in October in 1994, the association St. Christophe Ensemble sponsored a debate, held at the Maison de Quartier, to discuss the nature of social life in modern cities. Thierry Pacquot, an urbanist and ethnologist at the University of Paris X-Nanterre, was the evening’s special guest. He had come to talk about the dramatic shi s societies experience as they urbanize, and the tensions these create: how to reconcile the liberating potential of the city with the feelings of estrangement it can produce? As people filed into the auditorium and took their seats, large color images of Cergy were projected on a screen suspended above the stage, accompanied by ballads by the rock star Sting. The slide show had been prepared

Community Ties


specially for the evening by one of the association’s members, and would be shown again at an event sponsored by the association to welcome new residents to the neighborhood later in the week. Against this idealized image of their city—the slide show highlighted the city’s modern monuments and architecture, and festive moments from special occasions—people complained about the small number of people who had shown up for the event. Those who a ended came largely from what I call the city’s activist core: the members of St. Christophe Ensemble, some members of the city council, members of another neighborhood association, and a few employees of city hall. The fact that more people had not bothered to a end confirmed for those present that the problems they had come together to discuss—social breakdown and their desire for more cohesive community ties—were indeed pressing issues in Cergy–St. Christophe. St. Christophe Ensemble had been created the previous spring to provide a forum for residents of Cergy–St. Christophe to meet and discuss local problems and concerns. A ended off and on by a range of the neighborhood’s residents, the association was made up mostly of professionals and intellectuals who figured among the local elite: the president was assistant secretary general at city hall, another member was a professor of economics, another sat on the editorial board of a respected social science journal, and another worked for a well-known humanitarian aid organization. One of the association’s more vocal and active members, Farida Benichou, who came to France from the Kabyl region of Algeria when she was eight years old, joined the mayor’s electoral slate, which represented a coalition of the le ,13 during the 1995 municipal elections campaign. She was subsequently elected to the city council and given the post of deputy mayor for family and childhood services. She had also been asked to serve on the electoral list of the rightist opposition—a situation she found humorous—an invitation that no doubt had to do in part with her affiliation with St. Christophe Ensemble. In short, like other resident associations of the neighborhood, St. Christophe Ensemble was well connected and well recognized. But unlike other resident groups, whose members drew from a wider base—one such association, for instance, specifically sought representation among les jeunes and immigrants, groups it felt were underrepresented in the municipal administration—St. Christophe Ensemble counted among its members primarily people of relatively high socioeconomic standing. As his presentation began, Pacquot reflected on the dynamic and sometimes alienating effects of modern urban life. He spoke of the modern period as one of “rupture,” and stated that people in modern contexts no longer experience the rootedness of peasant life. “We have become people without territorial roots,” he said. “We no longer have a sense of place of


Collective Terms

origin; we no longer know where we are.” At the same time, he stated, the shi toward an urban way of life frees people from the bonds of tradition and gives way to a “process of individualization” that, he said, he found encouraging. The city, he argued, is a site of change and creativity, as old pa erns are broken and new alliances forged. “But what about the shopping mall?” Jean-Paul Richard, who worked for the central municipal office devoted to community development, asked Pacquot as he finished his talk. “It’s the most important part of the city, but everyone is there with his or her private desires.” He referred to the shopping center in nearby Cergy-Préfecture, among the busiest of several area shopping centers and a popular spot for teenagers from Cergy and neighboring cities who go there to meet their friends and listen to music on the headsets made available in music stores. The mall also houses a branch of the supermarket chain Auchan, one of three “hypermarchés” in the area. Auchan sells everything from car parts to major household appliances to bicycles to clothes to books to computers to CDs. On the upper floor there are groceries. The young employees who stock the shelves move around the store on roller skates in order to cover its large distances more quickly. The checkout lines at Auchan are always very long. Pacquot had spoken of the modern shopping center as a site of democratic access, that brings people together from a mix of backgrounds, and allows both rich and poor to find a variety of goods to meet their needs. But Jean-Paul Richard said he found the situation “sad,” evidence of a relentless pursuit of consumer goods and the antithesis of social cohesion. He spoke in particular about the alienating effects of headsets and walkmans—people losing themselves in their own private worlds. “If this keeps up” he asked, “where are we going to be in twenty years?” Brigi e Saulin, a driving force behind the local branch of the Catholic charity Aide Catholique and the wife of St. Christophe Ensemble’s president, intercepted at this point. “We live in a society of individuals,” she said, “which also entails exclusion against the Other [l’Autre]. How should we live in the city, where the individual is lost, versus life in the country where we had each other?” Individuals, she stated, have become lost in their private habits of consumption. “Each one shut in … It’s go en more difficult to meet the Other, to be with the Other. We’ve lost the habit of asking who is the Other, do I need the Other. Instead it’s always me, me, me. We see this going on here tonight, a public debate has been organized and there are so few people present. This is what leads to exclusion, forge ing that we need the Other. How do we create community values?” Individuals “shut in,” and the loss of “community values”: for those commi ed to social action in Cergy, these are the issues that cut to the heart of their concerns. How to create the strong social networks that will

Community Ties


keep at bay the dissipating forces that they worry are tearing at the edges of their urban lives? For many engaged in local civic networks, there is a sense of urgency, and o en disappointment, to their activism—urgency because of fears about what will happen if more people do not become actively involved in city life, and disappointment because, as they see it, still so few people do. Concerned about the undisclosed numbers of city residents whom they imagine live isolated in their homes, emerging only to make the daily commute to work—or worse, unemployed and cut off from all social ties—these activists seek regularly to rally others to join them in “animating” civic life and are frequently disheartened when the turnout is not high. “We are les militants, activists,” a member of the city council stated at a meeting to plan the city’s annual Carnaval parade. “But the majority of people, that’s just not the case.” The majority of people, many among Cergy’s commi ed core of activists assume, need to be prodded and pushed before taking on their fair share of civic participation. They are “shut in” and seldom turn out to participate in the myriad activities that the determined few—a li le stressed by all the commi ees and obligations and meetings they have to a end—organize with such remarkable regularity. A premium is thus placed on civic participation, ranked high among the principles considered necessary to maintaining the collective ideal. Such participation is meant to take, however, a specific form. Virtually all activity passes through the structure of the civic association, which provides the most immediate way for people to participate in local events and have their voices heard. Civic associations provide a venue for individual residents of the city to put themselves on the social map and, more importantly, draw people into a structure conditioned by rules of engagement where their resources can be cra ed to conform to the priorities of city hall. Associations constitute a specific form of social organization decreed by a law of 1901 that grants citizens the liberty of association. The law allows individuals to come together under the umbrella of a shared objective to form an organization recognized by the state. An association’s members pay dues and agree to abide by the terms of the association’s bylaws, although in actual practice there is not always much in the way of oversight—at least for those associations that do not receive public funds or generate economic activity—to be sure that any given association’s members are in fact sticking to the le er of the law. Associations also have the right to charge for their services. These can range from music and dance classes, a er-school study help and emergency housing services, to sports clubs and summer camps. Associations can receive subsidies from government sources, assuming their objectives meet those of the granting


Collective Terms

municipal, departmental, or national state agency. In Cergy, there are currently over 300 associations city-wide. In the neighborhood of Cergy–St. Christophe alone there was, at the time of my research, one association per twenty-eight people. Residents of Cergy speculate that the reason there is such a superabundance of associations in the city is because, as a New Town, the city risks becoming something of a modern wasteland if care is not taken to make it thrive. These concerns, however, are not unique to Cergy’s population alone. Over one million associations are now listed in the Journal Officiel, the official publication of the state, up from 46,000 in 1984 (Palard 1991: 456). According to INSEE, the national statistics bureau, one out of every two people is involved, from the occasional participant to the very active, in associational activity (INSEE 2003). In part reflecting decentralization efforts since the early Mi erand years, when funds were funneled to departments, cities, and towns in efforts to encourage greater local management of social affairs, the growth in associations also reflects efforts to push back the threat of social breakdown that people see as emanating from the country’s fractious suburbs. To this end, state officials have encouraged the growth of associations. Associational activity is thought to help in the making of a commi ed citoyennité, and to be good for the building of a more cohesive social order. Associations provide individuals a forum for creating new social ties, for articulating their interests in relation to others in the collectivity, and for expressing their opposition to state and local power. At the same time, they provide a structure through which state and local officials can advance their own interests. Ever mindful of the necessity of maintaining a positive image for the city, local authorities in Cergy continually seek out grassroots initiatives, both to encourage participation and to shape those initiatives in line with their own centralized priorities. They regularly oversee, contribute to, or encourage activities that fall in line with their efforts to fashion a strong collective center, favoring in particular activities that fall under the larger rubric of “prevention”—oriented mostly toward ge ing teenagers off the streets—and community development. Through various sorts of in-kind support, the municipality privileges those organizations and activities that it considers worthwhile, and that reflect the image of Cergy as a dynamic city of multiple parts coming together to form a cohesive whole.14 Civic associations in Cergy thus constitute the endpoints of a network that reaches out into the city’s neighborhoods and back toward the hub of city hall. There, the city’s “vie associative” is managed by a few key institutions. Each neighborhood, or quartier, has a central community center—the Maison de Quartier—where members of associations conduct meetings, offer classes, hold rehearsals, or give performances. Significantly,

Community Ties


unaffiliated individuals do not have access to the center’s rooms or resources. In addition, in the winter of 1994, a new municipal office was created specifically to coordinate and provide technical assistance to the city’s proliferating associational life. This office now oversees the city’s annual Association Day, a day in September when a large central plaza is transformed into a bustling marketplace where members of associations hawk their wares and potential recruits browse the stands for information. Association Day has been a tradition in Cergy since 1990; similar events figure prominently on the calendars of events in cities and towns around the country, reaffirming the central place associations hold in the development of local community life. As an officially designated zone urbaine sensible, Cergy–St. Christophe has benefited since 1991 from additional local, departmental, and national funds to improve social conditions in the neighborhood.15 To this end, municipal administrators have worked closely with local associations, privileging in particular those that aim to organize neighborhood residents, and those that work in prevention—job training, a er-school study time, and social and educational activities for the young and disadvantaged. Local officials have actively encouraged the formation of such groups and, once they are formed, provided them with technical and in-kind support. In the mid 1990s, the city of Cergy signed a Convention de quartier, a formal contract agreement between the city, the department, and the central state, outlining specific objectives for the neighborhood. Of the various municipal offices designed to shape community development, it was the office of the convention de quartier that most explicitly extended official priorities into local neighborhood sites. Having defined different residential areas of St. Christophe according to particular deficiencies and needs, the office’s administrators then sought to address those needs by encouraging the formation of grassroots groups whose missions it helped to shape. These groups were then seen as “partners” in the triangular relationship linking the city’s residents, its social service institutions, and local government, which frequently sought to appropriate these groups’ interests and energy as its own. Prominent members of three out of the four resident associations of Cergy–St. Christophe, for example, at least one of which was started with the deliberate encouragement and in-kind support of the office of the convention, were elected to the city council in 1995, having been invited to join the mayor’s electoral slate during her bid for reelection. This move thus established a formal link between city government and those associations created to organize, manage, and represent the difficult districts of the neighborhood. The abundance of association-related activity in Cergy also lends a particular cast to the city’s social relations. Many people are active in more


Collective Terms

than one organization, their lives busy with commitments and a er-dinner meetings that o en do not break until a er eleven o’clock at night. The ritual of pulling out datebooks at the end of each meeting to arrange for the next is o en accompanied by sighs of regret that life has become overloaded with local responsibilities and complaints that more people do not take up their fair share of the work. Newly formed associations proceed with caution to be sure they are not duplicating or competing with the services offered by others, while competition for rooms in which to meet or rehearse can sometimes make tensions run high. For all this activity, however, many maintain the perception that not enough people are involved in the city’s busy social life. “It is always the same people,” many complain, who organize events, sponsor activities, help in their children’s schools, or work to improve the neighborhood’s facade. People regularly note the size of the turnout for any given event and are regularly disappointed when more of the city’s inhabitants do not show up at a neighborhood fête, a public lecture, or any of the various community meetings held at the Maison de Quartier or city hall. “There has been some difficulty mobilizing certain partners,” the director of the office of the convention de quartier stated at the outset of one of the convention’s biannual general meetings. “I won’t name names,” he said. “We all know who we are.” Embedded in these remarks is a mix of disappointment and criticism. Most frequently, the judgment rendered is that those who do not participate more actively in the life of the community are not “responsible.” Names are rarely named, and yet the lack of participation on the part of those judged to be benefiting from the city’s activities and social services— troubled teenagers, immigrants in need of assistance, the unemployed—is considered especially galling. Those active in improving the city’s welfare contend that others profit from their efforts and give li le back in return. Worse, their evident lack of commitment to the municipality’s centralizing priorities threatens to undo the very efforts of those who work so hard to create a cohesive core. Disarray, many fear, is what will follow if the community center does not hold. This is why local officials feel they have to wage such tight control: the specter of the dissolute suburbs is not far off. Life in a New Town differs from that in some of the older suburbs, and especially those closer to Paris, in essentially one aspect. As a city with only a shallow history, Cergy does not benefit from the embellishing touches of generations that give depth to older city streets. The city’s centers do not bustle as more densely se led cities do, and their historical dimension can feel conspicuously thin. If many of the city’s residents feel compelled to create an active social life, it is, among other things, to hold back the disintegrating forces of urban anomie. Some insist that the city is cold, sterile, and without a “soul,” while others respond with energy

Community Ties


and drive, determined to invent traditions that will give the city depth. Of all the distinctions that could potentially differentiate the inhabitants of Cergy–St. Christophe, it is the division made between those who participate and those who do not that is the most acute. People who are visibly active in community affairs are considered—and consider themselves— responsible members of the collectivity. Against their time pressures, commitments, and concerns, they imagine another group, an undisclosed number of residents who “take but do not give” and whose disinterest in civic affairs is considered evidence of an untenable lack of social conscience. More, it is seen as evidence of a failure to put in place the kind of social environment that will foster strong social ties and fend off the problems of urban distress. The intense amount of associational activity evident in Cergy is not, however, unique to the New Town. It can be seen across the country as people meet and engage in public life through the intermediary structure of the civic association, intended everywhere to help create a dense urban fabric. Within the frame of the civic association, residents ally their personal interests with others in the collectivity and become citoyens able to engage in the public sphere. There, too, they can be subject to the priorities and pressures of local and regional authorities. In Cergy, the municipal government has lobbied hard for the active construction of a strong collective center—for the making of traditions, institutions, and services that, it hopes, will serve as a corrective to the social disorder tearing at some of the city’s neighborhoods. The mayor has made a high priority of working, as she puts it, “in proximity” to the people and districts considered most at risk. Administrative bodies radiate from the central hub of city hall to encourage and oversee the grassroots initiatives of local residents. A high premium is placed, by city administrators and active residents alike, on the rewards of civic participation, the be er to keep the perils of disintegration at bay.

Chapter 3


 The sense of closed horizons that characterizes life for many in the banlieue defies the expansive expectation of social mobility and opportunity that accompanied the suburbs’ construction in the 1950s and 1960s, giving way to concern that the republican principle of equal opportunity has come undone by the intrusion, and hardening, of structural inequalities. Unemployment, economic hardship, a sense of disenfranchisement: how to account for the grinding and corrosive difficulties experienced by many living in the banlieue? Global economic transformations that have ended in the restructuring and growing precariousness of the workplace are being profoundly felt in places like the troubled French suburbs (Wacquant 2008). These are transformations that occur on a scale that reaches far beyond the local politics of places like Cergy–St. Christophe—yet it is there, at the church and in city hall, in meeting rooms and people’s homes, that decisions are made about the hard times that afflict the neighborhood and that efforts are made to find solutions.1 For the past two decades, these debates have taken place within the particular framework of what in France is called the problem of “social exclusion.” If civic participation, as I showed in the previous chapter, is one of the preeminent concerns of local activists intent on keeping social problems at bay, “exclusion” is its other face, the outcome of weakened social ties. Especially acute in the 1990s, concern about “exclusion” and its a endant social practices constitutes one of the primary discursive contexts framing social relations in neighborhoods like Cergy–St. Christophe. There, the “fight against exclusion”2 mobilizes vast numbers of the local population, from the numerous residents active in the city’s charitable or-

To Be Exclu


ganizations and social welfare agencies to others who make the rounds looking for assistance. Shaped by its own codes and sets of practice, the “fight against exclusion” is at once an abstraction, a means to grapple with the increasingly complex and anonymous forces shaping the circumstances of poor people in the banlieue, and a social program, intended to alleviate the problems of the poor and unemployed. Actors on both the “giving” and “receiving” ends of this struggle seek regularly to locate the factors that might render someone exclu. Is it a function of social class? Of individual circumstance? A ma er of race and discrimination? What, in a society where opportunity is in principle open to all, allows some to succeed while others remained hemmed in by a sense of dim horizons? For many on the front lines of this “fight,” exclusion signals above all the dissolution of social ties. More so even than an economic problem or a function of material want, exclusion is a moral problem, a sign of social breakdown in troubled economic times. The magnitude of the problems summed up by the notion of exclusion is matched by a relative paucity of means available to local activists to eradicate its hardships. Social welfare programs can go a long way toward alleviating the impact of the economic shortages suffered by those who are exclu, but in the current economic climate, more substantive kinds of opportunity are difficult to obtain. This can translate into a gulf between the various actors who engage in this exchange. Mediating between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” conceptualizations about who and what constitutes exclusion are built on a range of assumptions about French society and its “others” that are fraught with tensions of their own. In particular, debate about the extent to which “difference” can render someone exclu is especially charged; as I discuss toward the end of this chapter and in chapter 4, people who define themselves as belonging to an ethnic or racial minority are increasingly seeking to move this issue to center field. Typically, however, exclusion is thought of as a social problem, a function of the difficulties people have in forging enduring social ties; it is, therefore, a notion that includes the stratifying properties of both race and class within its conceptual frame. On the receiving side of the “fight against exclusion” stand les exclus, a shi ing category that includes everyone who fails to fit, for whatever reason, within the parameters of the larger social body. Efforts to define just who is exclu and why have given way to lists of the socially anomalous: “young people, immigrants, the long-term unemployed, elderly workers, ex–prison inmates, women, the handicapped, the illiterate … and people with li le income” (Ferrand-Bechmann 1993: 294), one such accounting reads; “immigrants, the new poor, prostitutes, etc.” reads another (La Croix l’Evénement, 29 June 1991; see also Paugam 1996; Messu 1997). The


Collective Terms

inclusion of immigrants on these lists, while not surprising, raises complex questions, to the extent that it is not always clear whether it is difficult economic circumstances or an immigrant’s foreignness that make him or her exclu. These questions bear a particular burden in France precisely because, according to the terms by which the republican contract is put into place, a person’s foreignness is supposed to be of li le or no consequence. That is, while it is largely acknowledged that a person of foreign origin may have particular hurdles to get past in order to be able to function well in French society—and services aimed at providing assistance of this kind are more o en than not largely forthcoming—other ways cultural or ethnic differences might play out in daily affairs are to go largely una ended. More, their mention is deliberately discouraged: such an insistence on difference only exacerbates, the thinking goes, the very conditions that might render someone exclu. Why insist on incompatible practices when the point of building a collective public sphere is precisely to overcome such differences and find a common ground? The problems that have come to characterize life in the difficult banlieue have brought to the fore, however, the extent to which cultural, behavioral, linguistic, or religious factors might also render a person exclu. In Cergy, many people of foreign origin insist that their cultural differences are not respected in the course of their daily social interactions. They have ways of doing things, they argue, that their French neighbors and associates neither tolerate nor understand. Those of a younger generation insist that they are discriminated against for the color of their skin. This is the problem, they contend, that renders them exclu. The tensions generated around these claims are further accentuated by the economic slowdown that has greatly limited the opportunities available to those who live among the excluded. The employment crisis that has dragged on since the 1980s has both heightened people’s anxieties about their own potentially precarious states and, more importantly, curtailed the range of opportunities that social activists can propose to those to whom they extend their aid. The sense of moral urgency to do something before things get out of hand, combined with the limits of action, creates tensions on all sides. On the receiving side, those who are counted or who count themselves among the excluded chafe under the lack of opportunity. On the side of those who provide assistance, the lack of viable alternatives leads people to find fault with les exclus themselves. People active in the city’s charitable and social service agencies express frustration with those to whom they proffer their aid for not doing more to help themselves, or worse, exacerbating their exclusion through their own stubborn antisocial tendencies. This, they argue, is what people of different racial or cultural origins do when they insist that their differences be given special due: they make themselves exclu, these activists argue, and in so doing

To Be Exclu


contradict the goals of greater social cohesion that the activists are trying to achieve. Exclusion, many acknowledge, is a function of an unequal and imperfect social world. It is the consequence of economic, political, and historic factors that deny some people access to the skills and tools they need to be able to engage with others and forge significant social ties. But it is also something, many argue, to which les exclus themselves must attend. Their failure to engage as expected with the larger social body is also what relegates them to the limited space of life among the excluded. The notion of “exclusion” as it is currently framed first started to gain currency in the 1970s to signify the dark underside of an otherwise prosperous period of modernization. In 1974, René Lenoir published his book Les Exclus: Un Français sur Dix, bringing the problem of exclusion to the public eye.3 In this text, Lenoir argued that exclusion—the creeping awareness that not everyone was reaping the benefits of the country’s leap into the consumer age—needed to be understood as a consequence of the very processes of modernization that had resulted in overall economic growth. The rural migration to the cities, changes in family structure, the breakdown in “traditional values,” and the new and relentless pursuit of consumer goods in the postwar decades was creating, he argued, an “other France”—populations who were no longer being properly looked a er, and who could no longer keep up. For Lenoir, exclusion was not simply another word for poverty, but a new condition created by forces of contemporary social and economic change. According to this frame, exclusion and social breakdown go hand in hand with the rapid shi s and economic boons of modern life. “Fighting exclusion,” however, is in most cases not intended to undo the gains made through aggressive modernization. Rather, those engaged in the fight against exclusion seek to accommodate les exclus to their social and economic circumstances. Whether it be providing housing for the homeless, French language classes for foreigners, or job skills for the unemployed, the services employed in the fight against exclusion are intended to help those on the margins reestablish their sense of connection with wider social networks, to become a part, again, of the greater social body. Les exclus are thus regularly exhorted to overcome the obstacles before them and take the steps necessary to adapt to an admi edly precarious social and economic landscape. They are told to “take responsibility,” and to seek the means to “get out of” their exclusion by themselves.

Being Responsible In October 1994, officials from Cergy’s city hall organized an event to observe the Journée de la Solidarité. An annual, national day of solidarity


Collective Terms

sponsored by the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Journée de la Solidarité4 provides an occasion for civic actors to focus their energies on the problems of exclusion. The event, held in the large auditorium of the Maison de Quartier in Cergy–St. Christophe, brought people together from both the giving and receiving sides of the city’s charitable organizations. Social workers from the city’s Office of Social Services; from the national Caisse d’Allocations Familiales (CAF); volunteers from the Restaurant du Coeur, the nation-wide soup kitchen first started by the comic star Coluche in the 1980s; from Aide Catholique and Aide Populaire, from the local Protestant charity, from associations like St. Christophe Ensemble and the Maison des Femmes, the local women’s shelter, and ADFA (Association Départementale des Femmes d’Afrique), one of the more prominent African women’s groups in the city: all came to promote their efforts to reach out to the city’s needy, while hoping that some of those in need would pass by to take note of the services on display. Planning for the event had been going on since the previous spring. Eager to coordinate their services and make sure they were reaching the city’s poor, marginalized, or unemployed, the event’s participants had met regularly with the deputy mayor for social affairs during the preceding months to discuss their work and see what strides they could make toward be er reaching the city’s exclus. At the end of the Journée in the a ernoon, a general discussion was held, moderated by a host from the local radio station, on the meanings and practices of solidarity. Children who had spent the a ernoon with the volunteers from Aide Populaire displayed drawings they had made on the theme. An activist from Aide Catholique showed video footage of discussions she had held with people requesting assistance. The mayor arrived to participate in the debate, and word went around that she would make a speech. “I agree with you that charity is not enough,” the mayor responded to a volunteer from the soup kitchen who, deploring the hardship he encountered, put out a call for radical change. “But solidarity is a lot of things. It’s not just work, but also exchange, warm relationships. … We don’t live by bread alone.” A volunteer from a local nonprofit that helps get people back to work countered that really, “solidarity is a question of employment,” while a member of the Protestant Centre de Rencontre objected to me in private that he was furious: a Haitian woman was there without immigration papers, “and what is anybody here doing to help her?” From the start, the planning for the Journée de la Solidarité had generated tensions, in particular around the suggestion that those on the receiving side of the organizers’ aid participate in the debate at the end of the day. To be sure, extending solidarity, the event’s organizers agreed, was contingent upon such forms of participation and inclusion. Allowing les

To Be Exclu


exclus to give some of what is theirs, they agreed, was an essential part of the exchange considered necessary to the creation and maintenance of enduring social ties. “It’s important for these people to know they have une richesse en eux, that they have something to give,” an employee at city hall and one of the planners of the Journée de la Solidarité remarked as the group met to discuss how the event should unfold. Perhaps they could bring a plate of couscous, or thé à la menthe, or some African pastries to the event, she suggested, to share in the spirit of solidarity. But the suggestion that les exclus participate more actively in the discussion at the end of the day was much more controversial. Brigi e Saulin, a member of Aide Catholique—the local branch of the national Catholic charity—and one of the more outspoken members of the planning commi ee, was particularly vehement on this score. “We also need to hear from these people,” she said at one of the early meetings for the event. “It could be that we’re all exerting huge amounts of energy to help these people for nothing; we should also hear about their needs, their concerns, what they have to say.” This would let people feel that the Journée was also for them, she argued, that their participation was wanted and considered worthwhile. “I’m not interested anymore in all the blah blah blah,” Saulin continued. “Solidarity is about giving voice to people who have no voice. Having people meet, come face to face, that’s the basis of solidarity. Confrontation with l’autre, the ‘other.’ Even if all the day amounts to is people like DiGoia at city hall having to confront someone who says ‘I’ve been living in a garage for seven years,’” she said, “I’d be satisfied.” Saulin’s fervor, however, was most o en met with a cautious reply. Giving “voice” to les exclus, her co-planners warned, could be dangerous. “They are not used to expressing themselves,” an employee at city hall proclaimed. They only know how to take the floor, to get up to speak, he said, “in a violent manner.” Not only was there too much potential for such a debate, between those who give and those who receive, to turn ugly, but allowing les exclus to speak could create false expectations. It would, most agreed, amount to so much “demagogy” by insinuating that, once aired, people’s grievances would be a ended to. This was a possibility that those planning the Journée did not want to raise and was, in essence, a tacit admission that they did not have the means to resolve the problems of exclusion: the hardships confronted by les exclus, the planners seemed to recognize, were greater than any of the solutions they had at hand. The reluctance exhibited by those planning the Journée de la Solidarité to allow more significant forms of participation among those whom, ostensibly, the Journée was for, reveals the diminished opportunities, and the tensions that ensue, with which those engaged in the “fight against exclusion” must struggle to come to terms. The propositions those on the


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front lines in this “fight” can offer—beyond, in most cases, a sincere desire to help those in need and a more generalized sense of anxiety over the social health of their communities—are o en all too limited. Genuine opportunities—employment, in a word—are few, and even those opportunities they might propose, such as opening space for debate, are viewed with distrust. This, they argue, is because they have seen enough to know that les exclus do not always conform to expectation. Many “cheat the system” by taking aid from multiple venues, or by proclaiming hardship while enjoying material comforts such as fancy cars or VCRs. They take and do not give, and thus are not invested enough in the process of their own inclusion. The driving force behind St. Christophe’s chapter of Aide Catholique, Brigi e Saulin was a passionate person. The association was her oyster, the venue through which she tested her ideas about “fighting exclusion” and pushing people to take responsibility for themselves. When a Bosnian refugee family came to Aide Catholique looking for aid, she gave them a room in her house to live in until they were able to find other arrangements of their own. She similarly housed, pushed, prodded, and encouraged a wayward girl of nineteen for a period of several months until she decided the girl was not ready to “help herself,” and so could not be helped. Discouraged, and anxious to learn from this disappointment, she became involved with two homeless men in town, inviting them to her house for Christmas, pushing them to give up alcohol, and finding temporary places for them to live. Based on these experiences she spearheaded an initiative through Aide Catholique to have city hall secure a locale in which to house people on an emergency basis. Ideally, she said, the municipality and local charities should establish a network of people with beds to spare who would be willing to take people in, the be er to bring the haves and the have-nots together to create a sense of mutual aid, community, and connection. But beyond providing for those in need, what really ma ered for Brigi e and many of her associates among the city’s charitable networks was that it render “responsible” those who received their aid. This concept holds a central place in debates about exclusion, and is, moreover, one of the central pillars of the community ideal. “Responsible” civic action is cited repeatedly as an indispensable correlate to the building of a healthy public sphere, and as such is considered equally to be something les exclus can do to “get out of” their exclusion. As Brigi e put it in an interview with me, We drink and drink and drink. We consume. But there is another way to be that dignifies a person … and that is to give, to work, to share. It’s like, as Kennedy said, What can you do for your country? I think that’s something we’ve lost with all this social welfare. Because there are people who, when they have the

To Be Exclu


li lest problem, say I’m exclu. … It’s people who exclude themselves, in a way. … It’s like I say, they receive, they receive, they receive, and I want to say, but you, you don’t produce anything, you don’t give anything … you don’t share your richesse.

The extent to which services should be offered to help les exclus versus the extent to which they should be asked to do for themselves constitutes one of the central dividing lines between different charities in the city. There are those who try, through various incentives, to motivate les exclus to become active participants in the process of their inclusion, as against others who give with few if any efforts at reform—an a itude that workers at the first type of charity consider “irresponsible.” Encouraging les exclus to take odd jobs, even volunteer work if necessary, is a logical extension of these groups’ philosophy, for whom the central consideration is not that their charity relieve economic hardship, but that it motivate les exclus to create the social bonds considered necessary to get themselves back on their feet. This approach lay very much at the core of the philosophy of Aide Catholique. The group worked hard to implement a rigorous policy of insertion, to see to it that les exclus take a participatory role in the work of making themselves inclu. Once a week, the charity’s volunteers held office hours when people in need could come discuss their situations of hardship and request aid. Those who passed by the office on the ground floor of the church where these meetings took place were judged accordingly, as those who were willing to try, who were “serious,” and those who were not. It was up to the recipients of the charity’s aid to fit themselves into this framework: the organized ones came with their documentation ready—le ers of reference, pay stubs showing what they received from the unemployment office ASSEDIC, in aid from the RMI (revenu minimum d’insertion) and the CAF—as proof that they had already made the rounds of other agencies and that their requests were justified. Others, upon realizing that their behaviors would be subject to the scrutiny of the charity volunteers, resorted to other strategies: they became defiant, or apologetic, revealing in the telling of their circumstances—about their overcrowded or unstable living conditions, their sick and elderly relatives, or their children and the fathers who abandoned them—the hope that the simple drama of their personal stories would be enough to move the volunteers to action. More o en than not people le the church office with a voucher for a few dozen francs’ worth of groceries in their pockets, but these exchanges tended only to confirm the volunteers’ convictions that really what les exclus lacked was a stronger sense of personal responsibility. In the contemporary context of diminishing economic opportunities, however, the question of responsibility is a difficult one to call. The current


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climate of steady unemployment has made finding alternatives to charity and public assistance especially difficult for people with few certifiable skills. The economic slowdown has been met by a steady rationalization of the workforce. Training programs proliferate, turning out ever greater numbers of people with specialized degrees and few opportunities for long-term work. Young people looking for employment can spend years moving between low-paying internships and precisely targeted training programs that “form” them (the word former in French meaning “to train”) for highly specific jobs. Within the field of animation, for instance—a word without equivalent in English that covers everything from camp counseling to organizing activities or mentoring in local community centers, and that is, moreover, considered a promising professional orientation for young adults with limited educational achievement—there are at least six distinct degree programs. These include the BASE (certificate of aptitude for socio-educational animation), the BAFA (certificate of aptitude for the functions of animateur), the BAFD (certificate of aptitude for the functions of director of vacation centers and day camps, for nonprofessionals), the BEATEP (certificate for animation of popular education and youth), and so on. Low-skilled women seeking positions as domestic workers are advised to pursue the CAFAD (certificate of aptitude for the function of domestic help), a formation that, as it is, is available only to those who already hold low-level vocational degrees in family or children’s services. Training for the CAFAD includes 280 hours of in-class time and 120 hours of internship. Experience counts for li le. Formations such as these are intended to provide job seekers an extra professional edge, but they serve largely to bu ress employers in their aversion to risk. Why take chances on unformed workers, when even the lowest-skilled jobs can be quantified and rigorously defined? In the end, it is the job seekers for whom the ante has been raised.5 Many of the workers and volunteers commi ed to pu ing les exclus back to work feel they must nonetheless engage with these trends if they are to mobilize the available skills of those who come seeking assistance. The volunteers at Aide Catholique, for instance, considered instituting a certificate program in babysi ing or housecleaning as a means of arming recipients of their aid with validation of their work skills. Once a month the Aide Catholique volunteers organized meetings with representatives of agencies in Cergy and neighboring cities that help people find temporary, low-skilled employment in hopes that such contacts would facilitate the la er’s insertion into the job market. In efforts to tie their charity to the making of more “responsible” aid-seekers, they tried to make a endance at these meetings a requisite to receiving assistance. In general, however, the meetings were poorly a ended, a reflection perhaps that the opportunities presented did not extend very far.

To Be Exclu


So it was that on a Wednesday a ernoon in the church office where the volunteers from Aide Catholique hold their weekly permenances, a representative from an intermediary employment agency presented an assortment of odd jobs for which he might, eventually, be needing to hire: taking care of the sick and elderly, cleaning house, ironing, bricolage, tending lawns. He warned that his organization received more requests for work than they had jobs, and added that as a result they were thinking of regularizing some types of work—babysi ing, for instance—that used to be off the books. Five people—four women and one man, all from Haiti and Sub-Saharan Africa—a ended his presentation. “Do you know how to iron?” the president of Aide Catholique asked a Haitian woman seated beside him who, unable to find be er housing, lived with her husband and children in a garage. She and the other women present started to laugh, the first sound they had u ered since the meeting began. “Of course I know how to iron,” she replied. The man from the employment agency responded, however, that the ironing jobs he had available would require special skill. He was looking for people who could do steam ironing, he explained, a technique that took some perfecting. Jobs working with the sick or elderly were also, he cautioned, subject to special constraints. The employee would be expected to pass by the kitchen in a neighboring city where the agency had its meals prepared under strict, sanitary controls. The employee would do no more than pick them up and deliver them, and the meals, he added, would be hermetically sealed. The intermediary employment agencies that aim to put les exclus back to work have to juggle competing sets of claims. In the interest of reassuring and expanding their client base, they seek to vaunt the efficient and professional standards they have developed in working with the difficult-toemploy. But for people with few marketable skills, the message received is hardly a spur to action: the skills they have are not good enough. They will have to iron be er and clean house be er if ever they hope to be employed. They will have to be “formed.” Even their ability to speak “responsibly” at a public forum such as the Journée de la Solidarité is put in doubt. Les exclus thus find themselves in a double bind. Asked to participate in order to “get out of” their exclusion, they are confined to a limited role. The richesse they are asked to share in the local give-and-take upon which their inclusion, in theory, depends, is restricted to something small.

Becoming French “If that’s what they want to do in their own country, ok,” the director of Aide Populaire, another of the charities represented at the Journée de la Solidarité, told me one day when I ran into him at an event at Cergy-


Collective Terms

Préfecture. “But in France, it just isn’t necessary.” He referred to what he considered the problematic practices of some of the people of foreign origin to whom he provided aid. They behaved in ways that drew a ention to themselves, he said, and that struck him as being hostile. Another of the volunteers from the charity who was also present, joined us in the discussion. He said that he found it troublesome the way immigrants bring their traditional habits with them when they come to France. I told him that I thought that was to be expected. “You think that’s normal?” he asked. “Listen, I’m an immigrant. Second generation Russian. My parents came here from Lithuania. But I’m completely French. You don’t find me holding on to those practices and all.” The director of the charity intervened. “Believe me, I’m not racist,” he said, “but that’s the other thing I don’t agree with here, in Cergy, the way they moved all those people here. There are so many of them. When my wife is standing waiting for the bus, there are all these African women around, spi ing and shoving. We’re suffocated, étouffés.” “It’s Harlem here,” his associate proclaimed. “We live in Harlem.” As I discussed in chapter 2, this refrain was not infrequent among residents of Cergy who felt their city was too quickly becoming prey to the violence and degradation regularly beamed in to their homes on American television cop shows, and reflected as well their concerns about “balance” and the best means to achieve social integration. In addition, as these men’s comments suggest, it indicates a sense of unease about contemporary transformations that, rightly or wrongly, are associated with postwar waves of immigration. New arrivals from earlier emigrations are imagined to have had a be er time of fi ing in.6 “What’s different now is that they come here with an anti-French a itude” the director of Aide Populaire continued. “That’s what’s different, all this anti-French feeling.” “You should have seen my parents,” his associate added. “They made themselves small, they didn’t make a fuss. But now, I go to the food distribution on Saturdays,” he said, referring to the charity’s weekly food donation service, “and they’re standing there and they complain. They say, Is that all you’re giving me?” He laughed. “Can you believe it? We’re there as volunteers, and they’re asking us for more.” The work of local charities provides an important arena for local activists to push against the marginalization that moves the excluded—or so it is assumed—to antisocial action. It is also within the context of the city’s charities and social service agencies that many of the city’s diverse residents have opportunities to meet. There, those on the giving end assert their expectations of les exclus, and those on the receiving end try (or not) to meet the former’s demands. Intent on strengthening a sense of social cohesion, those active in the city’s fight against exclusion see their work as

To Be Exclu


a means for pu ing a particular kind of social order into place. Precisely because they see the maintenance of that order as necessary to the overall health of the collectivity, they work vigorously to defend it. Les exclus, they hope, will participate in local community life in order to “get out of” their exclusion, and this participation, they stipulate, must also adhere to certain terms. This way of pu ing the “fight against exclusion” into practice renders the problems of les exclus all the more complex when it comes to people of immigrant origin. While it is rarely assumed that all immigrants are exclu, it is almost always assumed that among les exclus there are immigrants (see the lists of exclus cited above). This assumption, to be sure, reflects a certain reality. In Cergy, it is not uncommon for members of immigrant populations to meet with hardship, among other reasons for lack of employment or lack of decent housing, and so to figure among those seeking assistance. What is not so clear, however, is just why, or how, these people of immigrant origin find themselves in difficult straits. To what extent, many immigrants have begun to ask, is it their differences—in language, in cultural or religious practices, or in ways of interpreting the world—that render them exclu? How much is their exclusion a function of others’ assertions that in order to be inclu they must adhere to a certain social code? The fight against exclusion is intended to provide people access to the resources they need to be able to function as full members of society. The maintenance of certain practices, in certain contexts, is seen as an impediment to that membership—an example of an individual rendering him or herself exclu. So when people of immigrant origin give the impression that they are not making strides enough to move beyond the differences that make it difficult for them to live or work in France, some conclude that they are not trying very hard to “get out” of their exclusion. The embrace of certain basic rules of engagement that, these activists stress, are not the property of any particular group or race or culture or creed, would make it easier for these others to fit in. This is, among other things, what irked the men from Aide Populaire in the exchange noted above: the immigrant recipients of their aid were not playing by the rules. In contrast to the forms of exchange sanctioned by the “fight against exclusion,” the exclus alluded to here did not receive the assistance proffered in the spirit in which it was extended—i.e., with the intention of forging greater social ties. To the contrary, they behaved in ways that worked in opposition to these expectations. More importantly, these comments reflect significant assumptions about the predicament of immigrants who are judged to live among the excluded—namely, that “custom” and “habit” are not considered relevant to the circumstances that render them exclu. Cultural differences, in a word, are looked on as


Collective Terms

factors that should have li le or no bearing on people’s abilities to adhere to an accepted set of social practices. Thus while it is understood that immigrants may need time and assistance to adapt to their new lives in France, it is anticipated that this process will conform to the expectations sustained by the fight against exclusion and that with time, the differences or difficulties that once rendered them exclu will be reduced. This is precisely what the men from Aide Populaire complained was not happening among the immigrant recipients of their aid. Custom and habit, they argued—to which these immigrants were stubbornly “holding on”—were interfering with their ability to adopt expected forms of behavior. They characterized these practices as being “not necessary”—suggesting, therefore, that they were not essential forms of practice but could be altered as new circumstances demand—and “anti-French.” People of immigrant origin who behave in these ways are considered to be lax in their efforts to realize their inclusion. They are not trying hard enough, many say, to become French. The question of what constitutes “being French” is of course central to the debate about immigrants’ integration in France: to what extent does “Frenchness” denote a specific way of being? Or is it, as many would contend, an open category, subject to ongoing redefinition? Does it denote a particular cultural orientation, or are there myriad ways to “be French”? Repeatedly, those in Cergy who were active in efforts to improve the prospects of immigrants’ inclusion in French society insisted that “culture” had nothing to do with it. Being inclu, they argued, meant abiding by the basic tenets of civil society: respecting the social contract in its most elemental forms, maintaining order and civil discourse in the public sphere. Cultural practice, religious belief, “difference” in all its manifestations, are tolerated to the extent that they do not intrude on or do damage to others’ interests; it is precisely along this ambiguous line where interests and damage collide, however, that tensions can ensue. For those planning the Journée de la Solidarité, the primary objective, in the end, was to facilitate, and possibly coordinate, outreach among the charities that participated in the event. Their hopes for the long term were to target be er the needs of les exclus and to improve the delivery of services where they were needed most. The event’s coordinators also expressed hopes that, as a tangential benefit, their efforts would help improve the problem of race relations in the city. Curiously—or at least contrary to what this American observer might have expected—this objective was not presented as a case of a ending to minority needs. Just the opposite, the Journée’s planners argued that it was important to show that it was not only the city’s immigrant populations, Arabs and Africans in particular, who benefited from local sources of public and private assistance.7 The

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resources harnessed in the fight against exclusion are available to anyone in need, the event’s planners argued—and indeed, precisely because exclusion knows neither race nor culture nor country of origin, a day of solidarity would show just how much French people and immigrants share, in their problems and in their capacity to resolve them. This understanding of conflictual race relations—that they are a function of French people feeling passed over as immigrants receive, to their eyes, inordinate amounts of aid—reflects, to be sure, the prejudicial charge that immigrants come to France simply to benefit from the country’s generous social welfare system. But to reduce these comments simply to this charge would be to overlook some of the complexities at the center of thinking about exclusion. As a form of social practice meant to improve social cohesion, “fighting exclusion” is not meant to have a differentiating function. Catering to the circumstances that render people exclu would be to isolate them further in their specificity. The planners of the Journée de la Solidarité thus sought to push against the notion that immigrants receive special preferences, as it is precisely this idea that many find especially troubling about the comportment of immigrants in France: that they seem to demand exception, under the guise of “culture,” in their behavior and interactions. This stance runs counter to the terms by which collective forms of sociability are meant to proceed and contradicts the efforts made by those working to fight exclusion. These efforts are held to be especially important in the case of French-immigrant relations, on the assumption that once people are given access to resources, their commitment to abiding by and maintaining the norms of collective engagement will be strengthened, and sources of potential conflict will be reduced (Mauco 1984; Schnapper 1994). Behaviors that are perceived to run counter to these expectations are considered antisocial and unfair. This is what is said of immigrants whose practices give the impression of working against basic tenets of the public sphere. These behaviors are seen as deliberately provocative and to act in opposition to immigrants’ own interests. It is precisely by drawing a ention to their differences and insisting that their particularities be given special due, many contend, that people of foreign origin inflame a xenophobic response. This is not to say, however, that those who are engaged in the fight against exclusion do not recognize that immigrants face particular cultural and linguistic challenges upon their arrival in France. To the contrary, assistance in adapting to French practices is precisely what services targeted to fight exclusion are meant to provide. Because it is understood that linguistic difficulties and differences of custom might pose the barriers that could render immigrants exclu, services are offered to help them get past these obstacles and avail themselves of various resources. In Cergy,


Collective Terms

programs exist to assist immigrants in negotiating their way past bureaucratic hurdles in schools, hospitals, welfare offices, and other government agencies. A range of associations and municipal services provide literacy and language classes at li le or no cost. But catering in any other way to the particularities of the immigrant experience would be to endorse a stance that is considered contradictory to the logic of how to make people inclu, and counterproductive. To make room for the “traditional habits” that people bring with them from their countries of origin would only encourage them in the behaviors that render them exclu and impede their integration into French society. It would be to grant special exception to members of immigrant groups, and that, in addition to risking the provocation of a more egregious racism, would be patently unfair. “You mustn’t use cultural differences as a scapegoat,” the mayor told a group of parents—French, North and West African—who had met at the Maison de Quartier to discuss problems in childrearing at an event organized by St. Christophe Ensemble. Some of the parents in a endance had insisted that, as immigrants, they had particular obstacles to face. Their children—“caught between two cultures,” as they said—made their job as parents particularly hard. But this was a logic that the mayor would not concede. Such thinking moved discussion back to a focus on the particular, she argued, while travails in parenting were problems that everybody shared. “These are problems that are as old as the world, that you find with everybody,” the mayor continued. “I mean, I’m telling you this because I also have children, and we don’t have a problem of cultural differences, but I’ve also got problems with my kids.” The portrayal of cultural differences as a “scapegoat” appeared repeatedly in discussions of immigrants’ exclusion in Cergy. The claim that people with a different cultural orientation should be held to a different standard in the resolution of local problems because they experience life in the collectivity differently was looked on by many as a simple “excuse” that some members of the population used to shirk their civic duty. It was a line of reasoning that many in Cergy found intensely irritating. Rather than avail themselves of opportunities made available to facilitate their integration and become a part of French life, ethnic minorities who made claims to a particular status were, according to these others, holding themselves deliberately apart. This stance was all the more vexing to those who worked to fight exclusion, precisely because it threatened to undo the strides they took toward the making of a more cohesive social whole. The mayor’s comments about the difficulties of parenting were well appreciated. People in the assembly laughed and applauded, having found again the commonalities of an experience they all shared. Across the range of their histories and their backgrounds they had been restored to a sense

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of common purpose, able to focus again not on the question of their diversity, but on what they share, the be er to turn their a ention to what many consider to be the city’s real concern—that of working together to avert the pressures that could end in a “social explosion.”

To Be Exclu In the spring of 1995, campaigning got underway for the municipal elections. The mayor of Cergy traveled around the city to meet with groups of residents, present the accomplishments of her administration, and elaborate her priorities for a second term. At one such meeting, she addressed residents in the LCR—a multiple-use common room available for public use—of a neighborhood widely believed to be one of the toughest in town. Normally kept closed due to vandalism, the LCR where the meeting took place provided a symbolically potent site for the mayor to address the local residents’ concerns. To the dismay of many of the local officials present, however, the meeting bore out their fears about the ability of les exclus to participate constructively in public events, and served largely to confirm their convictions that the neighborhood is seriously marred by social strife. A ended mostly by black and Arab teenagers, the meeting quickly erupted into confrontation. The teenagers present seized the floor to have their say, hurling a stream of accusations at the panel of elected officials seated at the front of the room that presaged the kinds of invective that would explode in the suburbs some ten years later. You do not do anything for us here, they exclaimed; you come to see us only when there is an election coming around; you encourage us to volunteer to improve our quality of life while you pay others from outside the neighborhood to perform the same tasks; you do not care about us. We are exclu, they proclaimed; you have made us exclu. It was the member of the city council who opened the meeting, some speculated later, who got the proceedings off to a bad start. “We want to dedicate our energies,” he said, “to areas we see as being en difficulté.” Immediately a young man stood up to counter his use of that term. “First of all, I question the term jeunes en difficulté” he said, to the enthusiastic shouts and applause of his peers. “When I look around me I see lots of people who are well-educated, with qualifications to work.” Another teenager added that “[t]he problem is we don’t have a community center, we don’t have an LCR, there’s no place for us to go. That’s the problem, not necessarily that we’re in difficulty.” Throughout, what these youth put into question was not their desire to participate actively in the life of the


Collective Terms

collectivity, but the constraints they felt imposed on them by local authorities and, more broadly, the labels a ached to them—bad neighborhood, jeunes en difficulté—that they could not shake: indeed, who renders whom exclu? It is not surprising, perhaps, that when they push back with violence, these youth torch the local community centers and services installed there to help them. Exclusion may have its causes in transformations of global proportions, but it is at these local points of contact that it is felt the most. The teenagers’ behavior at the meeting that night confirmed many people’s assessments that les exclus cannot be trusted to participate responsibly in public affairs. As feared, the teenagers did, indeed, take the floor in a “violent” manner. But in so doing they refused the judgment that confined them to the limited opportunities of life among the excluded. Their exclusion, they argued, had li le to do with their social circumstances but was a function, rather, of the judgments rendered by those in positions of authority who define the terms of collective engagement. If they were exclu, these teenagers argued, it was a function of the very efforts of those who claimed to want to work for their insertion. It was the la er who had the power to provide les exclus with resources or to take them away; it was they who defined the contours of the social space into which others were invited to engage. They pressed for other opportunities, which were nevertheless slow in coming due to an economic slowdown largely out of local control, and they were angry—an anger that representatives from city hall received as a sign of their unwillingness to engage with the community ideal. The mayor and her entourage le the meeting having concluded it was a total failure. A er the meeting, several of the teenagers, curious to know why I was taking notes and eager to discuss what life is like in the US, told me what they thought the real reasons were for why they were not granted more opportunity. “I’ve seen it in America,” one young man told me. “It’s be er there … Even if you have a face like us—Negroes, Chicanos—if you work, you can make it, you can make money. Here, no. I try to work, they tell me they don’t want my face. Arab, no good. It’s apartheid here.” Another told me that the situation will never improve. “They take what they can from us and then leave us behind,” he said. “Our parents were workers, and we’ll be workers. Nothing will change.” Their exclusion, they insisted, was a function of their ethnic identity. Drawing a ention to the one aspect of their personhood that the French, at least those in the mainstream, maintain has no bearing on their ability to participate in French society, these teenagers used this argument to turn the logic of exclusion on its head. There can be no parity, they argued, when the possibilities for inclusion are limited from the start by the persistence of a racial order.

To Be Exclu


As I will discuss in the next chapter, race is a difficult thing to talk about in France. Consistently, allusions to race or other identity-based claims are turned away when they are raised in discussions of social problems, in favor of a discourse that brings discussion back to common ground. Many contend that this is simply a way of denying a painful reality, and indeed, like the teenagers cited above, it is not uncommon to hear talk turn to problems of racism and discrimination when questions of unemployment or other forms of exclusion are discussed. Yet even as it is becoming more widespread (and controversial), this kind of speech continues to prove intensely irritating to those on the ground who are working to keep such sources of conflict at bay. From their perspective, exclusion is neither an ethnic nor a cultural problem, but a social one. It is understood as the consequence of a breakdown of society’s capacity to maintain normative social ties. Those who fight against exclusion do so in efforts to render society more whole, to push back what they fear are the modern forces tearing at its seams. They seek to grant les exclus access to the resources that will enable them to create meaningful social bonds and so participate more fully as members of the collectivity. They refuse identity-based claims on the grounds that such particularist concerns can and must be overcome in the interest of creating a more cohesive, and less conflict-riven, whole. Racial discrimination, while it exists, is far from the activism they have in mind. Aggravating these conditions is the long-standing and ongoing employment crisis that, most obviously, has severely reduced the amount of opportunity to go around, and more significantly restricted inclusionary practices, in many instances, to the realm of the symbolic. Hovering behind the tense or angry exchanges between the excluded and the rest are the cruel realities of a sluggish economy, which have also reduced the ambitions of those who would fight to improve the unfortunate condition of les exclus. Fighting the good fight, working to ensure that les exclus are not banished to the margins, those who seek to ameliorate the problems of exclusion are all too o en constrained in their actions by the limits of the solutions they can propose. The burden of “ge ing out of” their exclusion is then placed on les exclus themselves, many of whom see li le before them beyond repeated formations and odd jobs. To the extent that these tensions have taken a racial or culturalist turn, the cause can be seen to lie in discourses of exclusion and limited expectation,that exhort people to action even as opportunities for mobility seem to be in short supply.

Chapter 4


 “The French are hypocrites,” Hélène Omansango told me over lunch between the morning and a ernoon sessions of a training program in which she and thirteen other African women were learning, under the auspices of ADFA, a prominent African women’s group in Cergy, to become “cultural mediators.” Hélène, from Cameroon, had lived in France since 1983. Her brother, she told me, lived in Chicago, and while she had heard that there was not much mixing of black and white there, she avowed that “everyone knows that the French are the most racist.” This was not the first time I had heard this charge. On other occasions, Africans living in France had told me that “it is be er in America for blacks”: at least there, they say, the discrimination is clear. The comparison between France and the United States on questions relating to race, multiculturalism, and the politics of “difference” is in many ways integral to the heated debate that whirls around these issues on both sides of the Atlantic. Each side serves as a foil for the other—a countermodel of what not to do when managing social life in culturally plural spaces. In France, “integration” is regularly juxtaposed with communautarisme, and communautarisme—the division of urban spaces into the Harlems, the Koreatowns, the Li le Italys—is what Americans do, and what many in France argue they must avoid.1 Such differentiation, or “ghe oization,” of minority groups and people from the lower classes is said to accentuate social and cultural differences, to exacerbate disparities of wealth and resources, and to lead, almost inevitably, to social con-

Race-Conscious and Race-Blind 93

flict. Whereas in the United States the “ethnic community” is considered a means for minorities to have a visible voice and presence, an example of the country’s vaunted diversity, in France it is seen as a dangerous indication of social fracture.2 From the perspective of many of its critics, however—numerous observers from the other side of the Atlantic included—the purported “race-blindness” of the French system simply conceals underlying racial hierarchies that are all the more devastating because they are hidden from view. “Everyone knows,” as Hélène put it, of someone’s sister or uncle or son who did not get a job or was refused an apartment or harassed by the police because, they suppose, of their ethnic origins or the color of their skin. These are, moreover, forms of discrimination that are difficult to track, precisely because of the French interdiction on collecting statistics based on racial or ethnic criteria.3 The French are “hypocrites,” their critics claim, because they refuse to recognize these facts and remain blind to what for their critics is clear—that in France, people of Arab and African descent suffer unduly from the fact of their visible “otherness” and are repeatedly subject to racially motivated forms of discrimination. French republicanism is, moreover, seen by its critics to suffer from a particularly insidious form of racism because, as an assimilationist model, it virtually requires that “others” give up their particular cultural, ethnic, or religious identities in order to adopt “French culture” as their own (de Laforcade 2006; Keaton 2006; Norindr 1996; Sco 2007). This argument presupposes, however, a conceptualization of “culture” as discretely defined, which in these days of “culture flows” reflected in the complex and dynamic mixes of modern cities, is increasingly difficult to sustain. I argue, rather, that the French republican model urges a reconsideration of these questions not because there is not discrimination in France, but because the organizational principles of the republic seek to avoid making racial or cultural differences an always and already salient or defining piece of a person’s character. Culture, race, ethnicity—those “perilous ideas,” as the anthropologist Eric Wolf called them (1994)—are not, at least at the institutional and organizational level, considered particularly relevant to a person’s ability to get along well in France. If “social mixing” is the ideal to which state integration policies aspire, then is not the “French culture” that results itself a reflection of this mix? Indeed, defenders of French republicanism state that is they who uphold the principles of égalité, as the republican ideal fashions a community of abstract citizens (citoyens) allied to the state as individuals, equal in the opportunities and protections they aspire to enjoy, and not as members of groups made to suffer undue forms of discrimination or profit from unfair advantage. At least at the level of official practice, its defenders claim, the system aims to steer clear of the


Collective Terms

dangers of racial or cultural determinism. It is an ideal to which many people in France passionately adhere. I contend that polemics about the ostensible differences between the French and US forms of managing these questions serve more as a heuristic device that conceals more than it reveals in terms of the complexity of lived experience in both countries. Both French republicanism and American multiculturalism, as they are conceived in ideal terms, fit uneasily with the realities on the ground. Yet if the debate has such staying power, it is no doubt because it points to dilemmas regarding conceptions of culture and personhood with which actors in both French and American contexts struggle to come to terms. In this chapter, I examine a particularly prickly housing conflict that occurred in Cergy in efforts to unpack the hydra-headed conundrum of what sociologist Eric Fassin (2006) has called the “race-conscious” and “race-blind” poles of this debate. In France, the rhetorics and practices of integration and communautarisme regularly coincide. The very notion of integration—and its realization as a form of spatial organization—entails the construction of a social hierarchy that distinguishes between those who need integrating and the others in whose neighborhoods they then reside. Integration is at once an agent of differentiation, of marking acceptable practices, and of transformation—a policy enacted with the objective of bringing people together and “making them French.” As it does so, the constitution of what we might think of as cultural or racial groups is substantially changed. In real terms, integration policies bring people of multiple different backgrounds together to live in situations of proximity where they are obliged to work through, on a regular basis, the meanings and consequences of their various trajectories and points of view. Here, too, notions of “mixing” and segregation, integration and difference, regularly collide. As people of both “French” and “non-French” origins assert their claims through either (and sometimes both) an intregrationist or communautariste model, as they work through disagreements over noise, li er, and the general upkeep of common spaces, over the teenagers who hang out in the streets, and over divergent readings of local affairs, they mobilize differing notions about responsibility, participation, and other key terms in the community model. More important, these perspectives highlight divergent narratives about immigration and its history, its relationship to the French national ideal, and underlying conceptions of personhood, individuality, and the social contract with which people living in multicultural societies increasingly have to come to terms. Michel-Rolph Trouillot (1995) has wri en eloquently about the production of history as a narrative process that highlights pieces of the past as it silences others. More than mere gaps in the historic record, absences

Race-Conscious and Race-Blind 95

point to pieces of a story that cannot or will not be told, that sit uncomfortably with taken for granted conceptions of the world: “unthinkable facts,” he calls them. The “race-blind” and “race-conscious” debates that were a regular feature of discussion about local conflicts in Cergy reveal some of these silences. They point to lacunae in the immigration narrative by suggesting that integration is more than a question of simply staying the course and obeying the rules. “Race-talk” shows up some of these gaps by raising the specter of inherited or structural inequalities that are at odds with the republican contract. But race-talk, and resistance to it, also does more. Buried in these debates lie more profound questions about culture and personhood that, in these pluralistic times, demand our a ention: how to account for the differences in lifeways, lived experience, and access to resources that ethnic or racial markers would seem to explain, without then falling prey to the essentialisms that reduce individual action or opportunity to a simple reflection of a person’s “culture” or “race”? In France, these tensions raise long-standing political and moral conflicts that have had real and at times devastating consequences. Calling up past events—most conspicuously in recent memory the dark years of World War II and the still too-hot-to-touch issue of France’s colonizing mission—deliberations over race and identity carry, in France, a very long shadow. Memories of the race-making policies of the Vichy regime—and the continuation of an extremist right-wing politics under the banner of the National Front—render, for some, the practice of communitaurisme a most dangerous game, while the evident difficulty France has had in coming to terms with its colonialist past—a past tied directly, some would argue, to the postcolonial phenomena of immigration—has moved others to insist on their shared, and racialized, experience. These are not anodyne considerations but point rather to fundamental questions regarding individual and social justice in modern democracies. It is these, I argue, more than any deeply ingrained French resistance to diversity or strongly felt defense of the country’s alleged cultural homogeneity, that come under scrutiny when local actors make their “race-conscious” and “race-blind” claims.

Race-Blind: La Bastide In the early summer of 1994, members of the association St. Christophe Ensemble mounted Operation Cleanup (Opération Ne oyage), a community effort to mobilize the residents of two apartment buildings located in the center of Cergy–St. Christophe to clean up their courtyards and walkways. The initiative was undertaken in an effort to encourage “citoyen-


Collective Terms

nité” and a sense of collective action, and especially to fight the negative image the buildings lent the neighborhood. Both buildings were falling into disrepair. One, the notorious Building I, was inhabited entirely by black people of African and Caribbean origin. The building suffered a terrible reputation; action was required, the members of St. Christophe Ensemble reasoned, if racist or xenophobic sentiment were to be kept at bay. Roundly applauded by officials at city hall for its efforts, the association had no trouble securing from the municipality tools, work gloves, garbage bags, and a truck to haul away debris. Notices were posted in the entryways of each of the two buildings, encouraging residents to turn out and lend a hand. Several residential districts of Cergy–St. Christophe are judged to be “in difficulty” (en difficulté), but the central îlot of La Bastide was, at the time of my research, considered to be in particularly dire straits. A residential area that frames the central plaza of city hall, the marketplace, the Maison de Quartier, and shops and services, the district of La Bastide defines the center of St. Christophe. At the time of its design and construction, it was intended to be an area of mixed housing of considerable prestige. The residences of La Bastide are grouped in four and five-story apartment buildings; nearly half at the time were rental units. The rest were privately owned, but grouped together as collective cooperatives. It was in the cooperative apartments that the crisis reached its most egregious dimensions. The origins of the crisis go back to the genesis of St. Christophe in the mid 1980s, when agricultural fields were being transformed wholesale into new suburban growth. The economy was in recession. While major pieces of the urban infrastructure—the RER (the rapid transit to Paris), shops, and services—were not yet open for business, the first residential apartments at La Bastide were ready for sale. New housing policies, intended to enable young and modest-income families to buy their own homes, were also at that moment being put into effect as part of the socialist reforms. These programs enabled first-time homeowners to obtain low-interest loans with graduated mortgage payments on the assumption that, over time, as their incomes grew and their savings increased, they would be able to put more money toward paying back their loans (Convention de Quartier 1994; Le Gall 1991). At the same time, gentrification in Paris and the inner suburbs was resulting in greater displacement of low-income families out of the city (Savitch 1988). In Cergy–St. Christophe, sales were slow. Low-income families who under different circumstances would not have been granted home loans were able, under this confluence of factors, to purchase apartments at La Bastide. A decade later, they found themselves at the center of a crisis of considerable size.

Race-Conscious and Race-Blind 97

At the time of my research, most of the buildings of La Bastide were inhabited by a mix of French and immigrant families. In four out of the nine cooperatives, the percentage of French families was over 50 percent (Le Gall 1991). Of the immigrants who made up the majority overall, most were from Sub-Saharan Africa, followed by Haiti, Asia, Southern and Eastern Europe, and North Africa. Building I, which suffered disproportionately from the îlot’s troubles, was populated entirely by Haitians and black Africans. Many of these families—those in Building I as well as others in the complex—arrived there from other cities a er having tried, without success, to move into low-income public housing (habitats à loyer modéré, or HLMs). They were turned away because their incomes were in some cases neither sufficient nor stable enough to qualify for housing in the public projects, and because of tacit quotas that sought to control the “balance” of foreigners in any given neighborhood (personal communication). In Cergy–St. Christophe, however, these families found developers anxious to make a sale. They were, moreover, able to benefit from the lowinterest loans being made available to young and first-time homeowners, as well as to prop up their incomes—at least, enough to satisfy promoters and loan managers eager to make a deal—with the family allowance the French government provides for families with children up to the age of eighteen. In this way they were able to purchase their own homes. Some ten years later, when I arrived on the scene, many of them found themselves in dire straits: their children grown, they no longer received the family allowance that once supplemented their incomes, and in the interim many had become unemployed. Their mortgage payments, meanwhile, had increased. By the time the municipality started to examine the situation and become involved in the early 1990s, the spiral of debt in La Bastide had go en out of control. The situation at La Bastide was further complicated by its organization as a cooperative. All of the îlot’s co-op residents were legally and financially considered part of an interlocking whole. They all shared, and paid for, maintenance, heat, and hot water together. Those who did not pay augmented the bill to be divided by the others. This meant that not only did neighbors in each individual building assume one another’s debt, but that everyone was affected by the fiscal straits of all the families living in the 181 private units of the îlot.4 Neighbors separated by several lengths of city streets were thus required to shoulder one another’s financial burdens. There are nine apartment buildings in La Bastide, which at the time were divided between two financial and four managing agencies.5 Managing agents came and went over the years with some regularity. Their complex billing systems caused many residents to complain that they were not


Collective Terms

privy to all of the facts, that they never knew just what they owed, or for what. In addition, some of the individual apartments of La Bastide had never had adequate heat or hot water. Some families, namely those on the top floors of certain buildings, protested that they had had heat only a few times during their eight or nine years of ownership. In addition to everything else, they had had to assume the cost of their own electric heaters. Their dissatisfaction with the provision of services, especially heat and hot water, provided some families, at least according to how others told it, an “excuse” not to pay their bills. On occasion, because of malfunction or excessive debt or both, and because the provision of utilities had not been broken down to serve each building individually, the delivery of heat and hot water was cut to all of the apartments in the îlot.6 Inhabited entirely by black people, Building I was the only building in the neighborhood without a be er “mix.” This was considered decidedly “not normal” and looked on by others in the neighborhood as evidence of poor planning. Indeed, more than an abstract policy statement, the objective of “balance” had entered into residents’ everyday concerns, and the lack of “balance” at Building I was taken by some as cause for alarm. It also did not help that Building I was the cooperative with the highest debt. As of June 1994, the residents of Building I, divided among twenty-one units, owed roughly $121,225 for mortgages, maintenance, and utilities (Convention de Quartier 1994). As with other buildings in the neighborhood where the financial situation had become particularly dire, maintenance at Building I was the first thing to go. The entryway was dirty, windows were broken and never repaired, mailboxes were damaged, and hall lights did not work. The courtyards around the building gave a bad impression: tiles were broken, trash li ered the walkways, the grass was patchy and brown. Poor drainage accounted for the water that regularly streamed out of the street-level garage. Regular garbage collection from the garage was stopped the moment light fixtures there were broken and never fixed. In order to benefit from the municipal garbage collection, residents had to move the large garbage container out of the garage, a task that they usually chose to circumvent by leaving the container on the street. Passers-by and residents of the adjoining building took advantage of the container’s presence to leave their garbage there as well. The building was known as the garbage dump of the neighborhood. At the time of Operation Cleanup, I had just moved into Building H, the building right next door. I rented a room in one of two apartments owned by an association created to house students. Because Cergy is a university town, a number of a ractive buildings meant expressly to house students are located at various sites around the city, and individual student

Race-Conscious and Race-Blind 99

apartments are sca ered throughout other residential areas. Rather than concentrate students on and around their university campuses, the city planners sought to integrate them into the general population, in hopes that they would become involved in local affairs and have a positive and dynamic influence on their respective neighborhoods. Following this logic, local officials suggested that placing students in the apartments of La Bastide would provide at least a short-term solution to the troubles that plagued the îlot. A report sponsored by the EPA, the administrative body that oversaw, during the first thirty-five years of its existence, the management of the New Town, proposed this as a transitional improvement at the moment that the municipality first started becoming aware of the problems at La Bastide. “For the next five to ten years, a student population disseminated throughout the various buildings as apartments become available, will li le by li le allow the face of the neighborhood to be modified” the writer of the report stated. “Beyond these transitional years, it is hoped that the housing will begin again to a ract the classic family population of the central city” (Le Gall 1991: 26). The association that managed the apartment where I lived was developed at least in part as a response to this policy decision. The president of the association was a medical doctor who worked at a clinic in the center of La Bastide. He was also a member of the city council. Having hired a young man to find tenants, collect the rents, and oversee the general upkeep of the apartment, he himself did very li le as landlord. For the duration of my tenancy, with the exception of one three-month period, I was technically the only student in the apartment. The others—at times there were as many as five of us divided among the four bedrooms, sharing one kitchen and no common space—were young people in various stages of transition, or dri ers, or people on the margins with no place to go. The turnover in the apartment was high, and for the families that lived in the other apartments of Building H, the problems posed by the tenants of our apartment were periodically as great a nuisance as any other of the crises they had to face. The owner of the apartment did not a end meetings of the cooperative, suggesting that his commitment to finding solutions to the building’s problems was not as strong as that of the families who lived there. And yet, financially, the apartment was sound. On paper, “housing students” appeared to be a solution of some promise. Its effects in practice, however, at least in this case, proved only to add to the other residents’ malaise. Operation Cleanup provided my first occasion to meet my new neighbors. From 9:00  to noon, when the members of St. Christophe Ensemble served drinks to toast to our success, we picked up li er, mowed the grass, clipped the hedges, and sawed off and hauled away dead branches


Collective Terms

from the courtyard’s few and isolated trees (Figures 4.1 and 4.2). I was told to wear gloves when picking up li er for fear of syringes, and to leave bo les behind out of concern for toxic residues that might be le inside. At first, it was mostly the members of St. Christophe Ensemble, not one of whom lived in either of the two buildings concerned, who turned out for the event. But as the morning progressed, more and more residents of the buildings pitched in, some of them delighted to see such an effort being made on their behalf. As we picked up long-forgo en debris half-buried under bushes and threw it into garbage bags, I spoke with the French woman who lived with her family in the apartment above mine. They had lived there since 1987. When they first moved in, she said, the apartment building was beautiful—clean and new. Living behind city hall, she thought, lent their apartment a certain prestige. But now, she said, everything had deteriorated. She worried that they would never be able to earn back what they had paid for the apartment, and said that she was ashamed to have friends over, with the courtyard looking so rundown. Theirs was one of the apartments most troubled by the lack of heat. Out of the seven winters they had lived there, they had had heat for only two. “But the real trouble,” she said, “is with the next building over.” By this she meant Building I.

Figure 4.1. Opération Ne oyage. Cleaning up the courtyards at La Bastide.

Race-Conscious and Race-Blind 101

Figure 4.2. Opération Ne oyage. Cleaning up the courtyards at La Bastide.

“A whole wave of people was moved in,” she said, “and that’s when the problems began.” Later, I heard her talking to one of the men from Building I who had arrived to help out in the morning’s activities. “But over there where you live,” she told him, meaning literally the building right next door, “it’s the Bronx.” In the a ernoon, when everyone had gone, the courtyard looked a li le sad. There was nothing but dirt where the children played, and what grass there was grew in patches, yellow and dry. The trees were bare, some of their limbs having been cut off and hauled away. Within a few days, the courtyards began again to fill up with li er. For Philippe Saulin, president of St. Christophe Ensemble, this was a great disappointment. He understood, he said, that some people living in La Bastide suffered from a lack of resources. But ultimately he felt they needed to be “made responsible.” Repeatedly, this was how the problem at La Bastide was defined: at best, people concluded, their neighbors needed to be “educated.” At worst, they assumed, they simply did not care. At the first meeting of St. Christophe Ensemble a er the summer vacation period, the members discussed Operation Cleanup and its success or lack thereof, and the possibilities for a follow-up sometime in the future. One man present, M. Vincent, was a resident of Building I. He and his wife were from Reunion Island, which, as part of the French overseas territories,


Collective Terms

made them French citizens. He said he agreed that another “Operation” was in order, but then added that nothing was more “vexing” than to have people come from “the outside” to clean up around your home. “It’s humiliating,” he said, “to have to bring in others who are not from chez vous.” Others at the meeting agreed, and discussed how to incite the residents of Building I to take care of their own affairs. A woman who lived in another building of La Bastide and who was especially vocal about the crisis said she thought the only way to have people behave more responsibly would be to encourage the participation of their children. The parents, she said, could not be counted on. They were, in her words, “pigs.” M. and Mme. Vincent told me that they considered the problems in their building to be a result of the concentration of Africans who lived there. If the problems in Building H, where I lived, were not so severe, Mme Vincent told me, it was because it housed a mix of people. “Here, it’s all Africans. You find that normal, that they put all the same people in this building?” When I replied that I did not find it abnormal, M. Vincent immediately wanted to know what I meant. “Yes, I don’t care,” he said, I mean we’re Réunionnais, everyone here has dark skin, but these others, they’re Zairian, they don’t know what’s going on. This is how they’re used to living where they come from. Some of these people don’t even speak French. You find that normal, that they would let someone buy an apartment who can’t even speak French?

They said their neighbors were “je m’en foutistes”—that they did not care—and were either unable, or simply unwilling, to take on their share of communal responsibility. I countered that certainly their neighbors had to be concerned about the amount of debt they had accumulated, but M. Vincent disagreed. They know nothing is going to be done, he said. Court cases can take years. The municipality, moreover, is reluctant to take too many cases to court, so the debt piles up. He spoke about people in the building who did not pay their bills, but who owned Mercedeses or VCRs, and about the party music they were obliged to listen to until all hours of the night. “You find that normal?” he asked me. “I tell you, if I had that much debt to pay, I wouldn’t be particularly in the mood to have a party.” Placing people’s will at the fore, the Vincents’ interpretation of their neighbors’ actions suggested that if they wanted to, if they showed the proper commitment to community values, they would have been able to turn their situations of indebtedness around. The proof, the Vincents argued, lay in the fact that their neighbors seemed to enjoy material comforts even as they pleaded financial hardship in the face of mounting debts. The situation had nothing to do with race or racism, the Vincents

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argued. They too had dark skin and came from another place, and yet did not allow themselves to fall into similar straits. But even more fundamental to the crisis, they asserted, were the problems of poor planning. All of those people should not have been allowed to live in the same building, reinforcing one another’s poor behavior and isolated from the positive influence of others who speak the French language and would not behave in similar ways. This perspective echoed the standard interpretation of events put forward by municipal officials. Starting in the early 1990s, the municipal government began responding to the demands of activist residents and looking for ways to intervene.7 The problem at La Bastide, as city officials defined it, was one of unscrupulous developers, poor managers, and irresponsible individuals. Among the la er they made a distinction between debtors of “good faith” and those of “bad,” suggesting that the crisis at La Bastide also came down to a question of individual will. Debtors of good faith, they proclaimed, were those who got in over their heads from the start, who were not well informed of their financial obligations, and who had suffered additional financial losses since buying their homes—the loss of a job, or of government family aid—that had since plunged them into debt. Those of bad faith were the people who took advantage, who counted on the other members of their co-op to maintain basic services, or who trusted that the system—the expense and delay in the courts, the lack of financial incentive for banks and managing agencies to pursue the problem with any urgency, the reluctance of local and departmental officials to throw families onto the street—would be long in catching up with them. Both categories included people who could afford to be “made responsible.” This, at least, was the judgment of many who did not understand why, even if they had “good faith” financial troubles, their neighbors could not be bothered to maintain their apartments and the common spaces around them in good repair. The standard interpretation of events at La Bastide thus focused on what many considered to be inappropriate forms of behavior, given the collective nature of the problem. The collective interest, they argued, dictated that individuals take it upon themselves to “be responsible” and abide by the terms of collective living. Instances of “bad faith” were felt to be especially galling precisely because of the “good faith” gestures many felt they had extended toward those in need. The problem had li le or nothing to do with the cultural backgrounds of the residents who lived there, nor the intercultural relations between them, except insofar as the non-French status of some of the residents may have impeded their capacity to function efficiently in French society. The way M. Vincent presented the difficulties of his neighbors was telling in this regard. He noted in


Collective Terms

particular that they did not speak French: a person who does not speak French, he assumed, has a harder time negotiating the bureaucratic, legal, and financial hurdles of home-ownership in France. Speaking French, in this instance, was seen as a form of social capital needed to be able to meet those expectations. This was not a problem of culture or difference, but of the tools needed to be able to function well in French society. As in the discourse on exclusion, the concern here is thus not necessarily that the people living in Building I were not French, but rather that their being not French had negative social consequences. Because they have the French language and social norms to master, because they tend to earn li le income, because they o en live in apartments that are too small to accommodate their family size, and so on, it is feared that immigrants such as those living in Building I are all the more vulnerable to processes of exclusion if they live together in concentrated spaces. Their inclusion, therefore, necessitates that they be targeted precisely because they are not French, and situated spatially in such a way—this, at least, is the intention—that will facilitate their access to French resources and adaptation of French norms. From the point of view of many of the people concerned, therefore, the problem of La Bastide represented a failure in urban planning because the organization of certain kinds of people with certain kinds of social problems was not well managed—the fault, mostly, of private financial and real estate developers. And yet—and here is the hitch—the people in question were mostly of foreign origin. From the standard perspective, be er management would have entailed using the power of the state to disperse these people in and among other groups in other buildings. It would have required marking them first as exceptional—and potentially problematic—for the very purposes of reducing the impact of those problems in any one locale. Thus, even as the state integration policy is pursued to facilitate immigrants’ adaptation to French life, it first defines and represents their differences as a problem needing to be solved. A socialist member of the city council who worked on housing issues in Cergy explained it to me this way: “It’s not simply an idea, like that, not to want to house a black person,” he said, it’s that if I house a black I have to assume all the shit that that’s going to bring. Because it brings de la merde. It’s very, very, very difficult … I had a woman at the Croix Petit [a neighborhood of Cergy]. I refused to provide her housing because I knew her family. She was living at her sister’s. She was one of two wives of a Malian man, they had children. She lived with her daughter. And I knew that in Mali she had two grown adolescent boys. Her husband was in Mali. He also had another wife, younger. So the woman wanted an apartment. She said that at her sister’s they didn’t have enough room. So I said wait, does she want an apartment because the husband is going to come back? Maybe

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it’s racist, but I refused to grant her the apartment. Finally she managed to have an apartment, just across from the neighborhood of Ponceau. And unfortunately I was right. That is, two months a er [she moved] her two sons came from Mali. And her husband returned not with one wife, but two wives, two other wives.

The logic of integration justified this city councilor’s actions on the grounds that they protected the collective social interest. Too great a concentration of African, polygynous families would throw off the desired “balance.” The landlord would find more people in his apartment than he bargained for; the children, having li le room to play, would spill into the courtyards and stairwells, making noise that disturbs the neighbors; the percentage of children of immigrant origins going to the neighborhood school would increase; their “special needs” (additional language instruction and so on) would place greater demand on teachers, leaving less time to devote to other children. Resources would then need to be siphoned off to reestablish the equilibrium that was lost. None of this is “fair.” It is this that was resented about the behaviors of those of “bad faith” at La Bastide. Their supposed lack of community consciousness had made others pay.

Race-Conscious: Whose Debt? Whose History? “The problem we have,” a resident of Cergy stated to the mayor during one the meetings of her reelection campaign in 1995, “is one of cultural differences. It happens o en that our children play outside. That’s part of our culture. But there are French people who don’t like that. Is that something that you can explain, that it’s part of our culture?” The speaker, who had emigrated to France from the former Zaire, was vice president of a newly formed association called ProPatria. The newest of several immigrant associations in the city, ProPatria drew its membership almost entirely from among people from Sub-Saharan Africa, despite its stated intent to bring together members of a variety of backgrounds. As the association’s name suggested, its members took on, explicitly, the question of what it means to be French. Several of the members from the association were present at the campaign meeting with the mayor, which was held at the Maison de Quartier in the center of Cergy–St. Christophe. Discussion turned frequently to the contentious set of issues at the center of La Bastide. The mayor responded that from her point of view the problem could not be a cultural one because, as she said, “my children play outside also. … But there are limits, that is to say there are rights and there are responsibilities. Children need to be taught not to play until 11:00 at night,” she continued,


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not to throw their balls against the windows. It’s unacceptable for children to play until any time of the night, to break things, to leave li er lying around. Frankly, when I walk behind Building I, I don’t understand how people can let their children leave their papers lying around like that. Frankly, raising this question of culture is a bit too easy. We hear it all the time, “It’s like that that we do things chez nous,” but it’s not a reason to abuse the collectivity.

For the men from ProPatria and many others living in Cergy, this language of “rights and responsibilities,” so central to the French republican ideal, did not satisfy. While, to be sure, culture or race could not explain the fact that some people did not seem to want to engage in the gestures necessary to maintain the upkeep of their collective living spaces, neither could the defense of the collective social contract explain the shadowy sense of injustice that seemed to linger behind the crisis at La Bastide or other aspects of immigrants’ lives in France. As the mayor suggested, it would have been out of order, and insulting, to lay the problems at La Bastide down to a clash of “cultural differences.” But between the more or less well-intentioned efforts of property owners to keep the public spaces around their apartments in good repair, and the flagrant case of Building I, the “garbage dump” of the neighborhood, which was inhabited entirely by blacks, there lay, in the minds of many who sought to understand, lay the blame for, and/or repair the crisis, the problem of race or “difference,” and the role it had to play in local affairs. M N’kollo, the vice president of ProPatria, told me that from his point of view, there was no one of “bad faith” living at La Bastide. Those who suffered from financial debt in Building I and elsewhere, he stated, were quite simply people with li le income who could not get jobs. He said that he had tried alerting officials at city hall to the problems at La Bastide years ago but that nothing had been done. He had suggested that the municipality create jobs for the people living in Building I because, he said, even if they had a li le bit of income, they would make do. That is what it is to be an immigrant, he said; you work hard. But city hall, he claimed, did not respond until it was too late. Lately they had hired some of the women who lived in Building I to work in school cafeterias and at other odd jobs around the city. It is important, he stated, that the municipal administration take on this role, because if these same people were to try to get jobs at Spie-Batignolles—the huge engineering firm that dominates a large tract of land on the bluff next to the Axe Majeur—or BP they would not be hired, he said, because they are black. Placing racial discrimination at the fore, this form of reasoning infuriates those who insist that materially poor or not, people could still take time to clean up around their walkways. It is a line of thinking that they see as an effort to wipe clean questions pertaining to individual will. From the stan-

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dard point of view, reasoning such as M N’kollo’s simply generalizes from specific incidents of racial bias to incriminate the whole, providing an “excuse” behind which minorities can hide their acts of uncivic behavior. But M N’kollo’s and others’ racialization of the debate served also a different purpose. Their interventions invoked a different historical consciousness that suggests that when viewed through a different lens, such notions as “responsibility” and “debt” carry a different symbolic load. From this perspective, integration becomes a historical problem, a question not only of the civic-mindedness that each individual brings to the “daily plebiscite” of national participation, but also of the relative forms of capital, conditioned by the past, that individuals carry with them. Indeed, ways of thinking about history—of “narrating the past,” as Trouillot puts it—are central to this debate. Narrative frames condition positionality, point of view; more significantly, they set up guideposts, insinuate danger zones, mark off those things which can and cannot be said. When the mayor of Cergy and M N’kollo from ProPatria discuss cultural differences and how they relate to the upkeep of the neighborhood, or whether or not children should be allowed to play in the street at night, they do so within a discursive field marked by politics and the kno y questions of a conflicted past. Hovering at the edges of much of this discussion is the tendentious question of colonialism and its legacy, a question that, while currently at the center of numerous polemics, remains largely in the shadows. In Cergy, it was raised tentatively only by members of local associations like ProPatria who sought, in their meeting with the mayor, to shi the discursive ground.8 “Isn’t there some way that you, that officials at city hall, that you could do something to explain, that if it weren’t for the movement of Europeans in one direction long ago, there wouldn’t be the movement in this direction [i.e. Africans to France] now?” a member of ProPatria asked. More than an effort to set the historical record straight, this question reflects an effort to realign the dominant historical narrative, to provide an alternate frame for understanding problems such as those that plagued the residents of La Bastide. Such notions as “responsibility” and “debt,” key terms in discussion of the crisis, can be maintained in absolute terms only when local actors come to the collective center on more or less equal footing. But when the colonial past and the immigration present are presented side by side, the ground shi s and “responsibility” becomes a relative term. The reluctance to tackle head-on the postcolonial piece of contemporary immigration phenomena has been the source of considerable criticism on the part of US and British observers who note the extent to which this question, which invariably raises questions about cultural and racial difference, is at cross-purposes with French universalist principles


Collective Terms

and therefore assumed to threaten dearly held nationalist ideals (Beriss 2004; Lebovics 2004; Ross 1995). Up to the current moment, discussion of France’s colonial past and its implications for the present have been mostly swathed in ambiguity and controversy, while at the same time recent events, commemorations, and new museums such as the Cité de l’histoire de l’immigration in Paris can be seen to reflect efforts to chart a course through the numerous imperatives—integration and difference, maintenance of the republican social contract, recognition of past and present injustices—that intrude on this debate. As some have suggested, these issues may generate controversy because they disturb “une certaine idée de la France,” though it must also be recognized that the considerations these issues raise go far beyond the question of French national identity. At stake is the question of how to recognize the numerous, and o en unequal, historical trajectories that impact upon people’s ability to exercise their rights as members of liberal democratic societies, without falling prey to a “reductionist sociology” (Benhabib 2002) that posits an essentialized and overdetermined view of race and culture. While these are pressing questions anywhere where cultural pluralism is an issue (Baumann 1996; Wikan 2002), they have particular resonance in France, where not only is the colonial question coming under scrutiny, but where the significant presence of the extreme-right National Front party and the political legacy to which it is heir render these ma ers particularly hot to touch. The debacle at La Bastide, the questions it raises about race in France, and most particularly the way these were discussed in public, cannot be understood without first taking into consideration the way these historical ma ers impinge upon the immigration narrative and its implications in the present day. In a discussion about current immigration troubles a French woman once remarked to me that she found it remarkable the way North and West Africans seek to hold on to their languages and practices when they migrate to France. “What do they want?” she asked. “It’s as if they want France to change for them. It would be like if we went to their countries in Africa and told them they all had to become like us.” To the extent that this was, precisely, one of the objectives of the French mission civilisatrice in the colonies, memory has proved short as, to be sure, obfuscation, negation, and forge ing constituted pieces of the imperial arsenal (Conklin 1998; Stora 1998; Wilder 2005). Symbolic sites of memory and representation, from the date assigned in 2006 by Jacques Chirac to serve as an official commemoration of the abolition of slavery, to the act of Parliament in 1999 that officially recognized the “events” in Algeria leading to independence as a “war,” have proved central to the question of how to manage the colonial legacy at the current time, as tentatively the curtain is raised on the

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colonial period and its more egregious aspects. In February 2005, uproar broke out following the passage of a law recognizing the contribution to France made by men and women from the former colonies who sided with the French in the struggle to keep the empire under French control (les harkis). Article 4 of the law, which has since been rescinded, stipulated that school curriculums should teach the “positive role of the French presence overseas, especially in North Africa,”9 a clause that infuriated those who esteem that the state should not be in the business of dictating the teaching of history, much less on a topic as sensitive as colonialism. This in turn incensed others who do not see the sense in forever apologizing for the past. The controversy revealed most starkly the knot of incendiary issues that the colonial question threatens to undo, which have as much to do with contemporary polemics over integration and communautarisme as with the problem of how to study and remember France’s colonial past.10 Up to this point the dominant immigration narrative has more or less steered clear of these controversies by situating the migration of individuals from the former colonies to the metropole within the longue durée of French immigration history, thus by-passing the particularities of the colonial migrant experience. Already this was considered a radical move when it was made in the mid 1980s, when France “discovered,” as it were, its important immigration past. In 1988, just as the current “immigrant problem” was making headline news,11 Gérard Noriel published his breakthrough study Le Creuset Français (The French Melting Pot). There, Noiriel argued that France suffers a form of “historical amnesia” concerning its immigrant past. Starting in the mid nineteenth century, he showed, France became, alongside the United States, one of the most important “receiving” countries for immigrant labor and for refugees fleeing persecution. As much as one-third of the population in France has a parent or grandparent with roots outside of France. These are historical facts, Noriel states, that got lost in the national mythology of France as a united and indivisible—read homogeneous—nation that had more or less buried its immigration history. His study was important for showing up the alarmist reactions against the late twentieth-century immigration “menace”: France, he argued, had passed this way before, and was, whether it knew it or not, already considerably diverse. Some twenty years later, Noriel’s analysis has passed into acceptable discourse, consecrated in the new National Museum for the History of Immigration (Cité nationale de l’histoire de l’immigration), which highlights the importance of immigration to the making of modern France,12 and called upon by people like the mayor of Cergy (see below) to calm objections such as those raised by the men from ProPatria. The new museum is noteworthy if for no other reason than it places immigration history legiti-


Collective Terms

mately on the map of national memory,13 and all the more so because of its unusual, and symbolically powerful, location. Installed in the remarkable Palais de la Porte d’Orée, the new museum inhabits the building that was originally constructed as the central pavilion of the Colonial Exhibition of 1931, a moment of fanfare that marked the apogee of the French colonial enterprise.14 Replete with art deco murals and bas-relief portraying the mutual gi s colonialism gave to the colonies and to France, the Palais (also the home of the Museum of the Colonies, the Museum of Overseas Territories and, in 1960, under the charge of André Malraux, the Museum of African and Oceanic Arts) creates a stunning and unusual backdrop for a new museum of immigration.15 In spite of its unusual se ing, however, the museum does not mark a special place for the history of the French Empire or reflect on if or how, post-independence, that history has shaped conditions for immigrants hailing from the former colonies. Rather, the history of the la er is “reinscrib[ed] … within the long history [longue durée] of the construction of national identity” (Murphy 2007: 70), according to which the former subjects of the empire and their descendants who have moved to France are immigrants like any other whose job, as it were, is to integrate well into France.16 Considered a radical move in the 1980s, this way of narrating French immigration history nontheless comforts the republican ideal by reiterating Renan’s notion of the “great cauldron” that successfully absorbs newcomers to its shores. Some would argue that this view becomes muddied when the colonial enterprise is included within the narrative frame because it suggests that certain French-immigrant relations got their start on other shores and in other circumstances. And yet not to be overlooked is how this view serves as a rebu al to the staunchly “differentialist” view of peoples and their habits of mind that has also found representation in French political discourse, and that is currently upheld by Jean-Marie Le Pen and his supporters in the National Front. Indeed, it is perhaps not a coincidence that Noiriel’s book came out just as Le Pen started achieving notable electoral success, as Noiriel’s text states explicitly that diversity is also French. Le Pen’s politics by contrast build on an organic view of culture as deeply rooted in national territory and tied to a sense of time-honored tradition that excludes the possibility of others “becoming French,” as to be French, Le Pen argues, is to have roots in French soil and tradition, in the French language, and the Catholic Church. While Le Pen claims that he does not hold anything in particular against other peoples and practices, he maintains that they should not be allowed to “mix,” as such things as “mixing” and integration can never work without inevitably weakening the integrity of the French nation. He seeks to reassure that his is not a racist doctrine but an integral one that recognizes, to the contrary,

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the authenticity and indivisibility of cultures—Arab and African cultures as well as French. This is why, he argues, immigrants from other places should return to their countries of origin, as that is where they properly belong (Holmes 2000). Le Pen’s politics form a continuum with a right-wing branch of antirepublican politics that has existed in France since the eighteenth century, and that stands in opposition to the rational, universalist aspirations of the republican project.17 To the extent that his electoral successes since the 1980s have successfully defined the limits of discourse on questions of difference and immigration, Le Pen’s politics and the historical memory that it evokes place people in a bind. How to speak about cultural difference without falling into the trap of incommensurate differences that Le Pen has lain down? If there is vigilance in France on these issues on the part of those for whom speaking in differentialist terms signals danger, it is not only because the National Front has stood to gain from this advantage, but also because the memory of World War II and the disastrous consequences of France’s own homegrown form of fascism and “race-making” stands as a reminder of the risks of marking and making something out of national, ethnic, or religious difference.18 Le Pen’s stubborn success is also a reminder that in France, far-right politics did not get swept away with the postwar boom but, to the contrary, constitutes a feature of the French political landscape with roots that reach back to the founding of the republic. For many, it is best not to pay his party too much heed, lest it re-open a door on racial politics they would just assume keep closed. In Cergy, and the region of Ile de France more broadly, the National Front maintains a shadowy presence with campaign posters plastered on the sides of buildings, on bridges, and on highway walls—an ominous sign, to those of foreign origin who seek to read it that way, that their presence is not wanted in France. Throughout the 1990s and up to the 2007 presidential elections, when the party’s prospects started to fall, candidates from the National Front consistently received up to 15 percent of the vote in various national and local elections. In Cergy, the National Front scored between 12 to 14 percent during this same period. The party’s most exultant moment came in April 2002, when Le Pen triumphed over outgoing Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin to make it to the presidential runoff elections, where he ran against the eventual victor, Jacques Chirac. In 1995, the National Front won enough votes in Cergy’s municipal elections to gain a seat on the city council. Many, however, the mayor of Cergy included, downplay the impact of this success precisely in order to avoid the rocky shoals of “identity politics” toward which Le Pen’s brand of popularism would seem to lead. “The vote for the National Front, you must understand, it’s a protest vote,


Collective Terms

not necessarily a vote against immigrants,” the mayor of Cergy told the men from ProPatria at the meeting for her reelection campaign. “It’s like voting for the Green Party, les Ecologistes, a protest vote,” added a French woman, who, being of Irish descent, also considered herself to be part of the immigrant experience. “That’s what the people who don’t vote for the National Front say about the vote for the National Front,” one of the African men present retorted wryly. He and others of his cohort had been trying to convince the mayor that as the most prominent elected official of the city, she needed to stand up to the support for Le Pen. The visible presence of the National Front was creating “fear among immigrant populations,” he said, who would undoubtedly “close themselves off ” in response to what felt to them like a racist provocation. The mayor’s repeated assurances that the vote for Le Pen was no more than a “protest vote” were not enough to convince them that, in the main, their presence was accepted in France. The passage of Chirac to the presidency that year was also taken as an ominous sign. “This is not good for us,” many Africans told me shortly a er Chirac’s election in 1995. As they said this, they made a gesture on their forearms, pointing to the blackness of their skin. In her meeting with the men from ProPatria, the mayor sought to convince them that their concerns were overstated. “Dialogue is what makes the difference,” she asserted. And then, we need to put things in perspective, relativiser les choses. There’s always been xenophobia in France. In the past, xenophobia against the Poles was terrible. The difference now is that xenophobia is taking a political form. But it’s a protest vote. Those who vote for the National Front are people who are voting outside the system, for whom the system is not serving their needs. It’s not necessarily a vote for an anti-immigrant program.

In making this assessment, the mayor drew on the notion of the longue durée put forth by Noiriel. As a country with a long and important history of immigration, France is in the end flexible and adaptable enough to integrate foreigners into its mainstream. There has been xenophobia before, the argument goes, and undoubtedly there will be xenophobia again, but in the end the republican values of liberty and equal opportunity will prevail. The racist and nationalist platform that these Africans were generalizing to be representative of the whole needed to be seen in context. It spoke for only a minority of people and appealed to other frustrations and demands. In any case, she continued, the political climate created by Le Pen could still not explain what she and others maintained were the anti-social practices of the residents in Building I. “I find it extraordinary that everyday

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people can’t find the means to clean up around their courtyards,” the mayor reiterated, anger rising in her voice. “It’s not possible. I’m speaking as a European, because if that’s a cultural difference, then I don’t understand.” The mayor did not argue with the contention that it is important to respect others’ cultural practices and habits of mind. Indeed, the moral valence placed on “tolerance” provides cultural “others” a certain authority for expressing their opposition to collective norms in cultural terms (see chapter 6). But tolerance has its limits: people living together in close proximity need also to figure out how to get along. If there was a “race problem,” the mayor continued, then at least some of the responsibility lay with minorities themselves, who insisted on seeing racism where none was intended. She told a story of a French girl being mugged on the subway. The man who a acked her was Moroccan. The girl fought him off, the mayor explained, only to be accused of being racist for having defended herself. “So you see,” the mayor said, “we’re confronted with that all the time.” For the members of ProPatria, however, the mayor’s response did not satisfy. It did not allow their particular historical condition to come into view. Between them and the people of earlier European migrations—the Poles, the Italians, the Portuguese—they argued, lay a critical difference: they are people of color, whose histories have been directly touched by the not-so-distant fact of European expansion and domination. Not all xenophobias are the same, they maintained. Between that directed against Poles and Italians—Catholics, Europeans, and whites—and that intended for North and West Africans—blacks and Arabs, Muslims, Christians, and animists, and more o en than not nationals of France’s former colonies— lie significant historical and geopolitical disparities. “France for the French,” reads the black and white xeroxed pamphlet that the men from ProPatria designed to describe their association’s objectives, drawing directly from the campaign slogans of the National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen. But who are the French? Alors, France for all of us. … We, the French who come from elsewhere, have joined ProPatria because we have things to say, to do, to give, to receive, to take, to learn and to understand to make a France that is égalitaire, libre et fraternelle. Let us express ourselves … because we are all French, even if our ancestors are not les Gaulois.

Referring here to the o en cited and frequently ridiculed colonial practice of teaching all subjects of the French Empire, even those with an African heritage, that their ancestors were the Gauls, the creators of this pamphlet asked that the definition of what it means to be French be enlarged, and


Collective Terms

most pointedly that the memory of the indignities of the colonial relationship not be ignored. Sporting as their logo “The Right to be French,” the members of the association did not ask for a complete redefinition of the fundamental premises of integration, but for a redefinition of its terms. In their meeting with the mayor, they sought recognition for their history as subjects of the French colonial power, as well as for their “culture,” in an effort to recast the context in which their and their compatriots’ behaviors were judged. Not everyone can be held to the same standards of responsibility, they argued, because not everyone comes to the public debate on equal terms. That historical consciousness, signaled here through an allusion to their cultures and their race, weighed heavily as they sought to push discussion toward recognition of those inequalities. For Aminata Diarra, the director of ADFA, one of the most prominent immigrant associations in Cergy, the questions of community and difference, debt and responsibility, as seen through the prism of the crisis at La Bastide, were too voluble to go unheard. The situation and others like it risked ending in stalemate, she averred, if efforts were not made to enlarge the parameters of debate. “Now, they’re stuck in a, something hellish,” she stated, speaking about the residents of Building I. They’re stuck because it’s people who, from the beginning to be able even to buy these homes, were stripped of the li le bit of savings that they had, to make a down payment. So they find themselves in a situation of indebtedness such that even if the house were to sell at its highest price, it wouldn’t pay back the debt. … So there’s a bi erness … about this, as if they’ve been doubly deceived. There’s the bi erness about being cheated completely out of the li le that they had. They know that one day or another they will be evicted … and maybe even some of them, they’ll leave themselves, in even greater debt. So it’s this bi erness that explains their a itude of le ing everything go, of this “I don’t give a damn,” of their seeming totally not to care. “You’re losing something, but me, I’m losing even more than you. So, let’s continue like that.” That is the reality.

Aminata is from Mali. Integration, as she understands it, is a ma er of both give and take, of mediation, and of French people too recognizing that they need to cede ground if immigrant populations are ever to feel that a place has been made for them to realize their lives in France. The risk otherwise, she warns, is a sense of injustice, of living on unequal terms. “Poor planning” and other impersonal forces of historical circumstance, as many explain the debacle at La Bastide, can easily harden into an antagonistic stance, particularly when the “haves” and the “have-nots” would seem to have been determined from the start by a broader history of colonial intervention, exploitation, and control.

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Coda: Classified People In May 1995, at the last meeting of the association St. Christophe Ensemble before the summer vacation period, about twenty people assembled to reflect on the activities and accomplishments of the group’s first year. A man who had never a ended any of their previous meetings introduced himself as Laurent Mabila, Zairian, and a resident of Building I—“the most famous building in Cergy” he quipped. Well into the meeting, the discussion turned to the question of the association’s role in the resolution of the housing crisis plaguing the neighborhood. Li er was again raised as an issue of some concern. “The big problem isn’t just li er,” Laurent Mabila interjected. “There’s also the problem of garbage. Building H for instance does us no favors. They dump their garbage in front of our building. There are apartments there that are rented to young people,” he said, referring to the student apartments in the building where I lived. “Once, one of them moved out, and he dumped all his stuff at our garbage container. Everyone says it’s Building I, it’s Building I, but it’s not just us.” Martine Parmentier, a member of St. Christophe Ensemble who lived at La Bastide and who was especially outspoken about the crisis, immediately jumped in. “You present Building I like a poor li le victim” she said. “Building I is the cause of 80 percent of the problems at La Bastide.” “She blows up each time,” Laurent Mabila interjected: “I know this woman.” Mme Parmentier continued to elaborate on the problems caused by Building I, but M Mabila refused to let himself be tainted with the same brush. “I bought an apartment, I wanted to live there in peace,” he exclaimed. “And all of a sudden I find myself in a building only with people of color. I wanted to live with the French, with people from India, with all types of people, and integrate myself into French society.” While the others listened with some discomfort, he and Mme Parmentier continued to have a heated exchange, which they carried out onto the street at the meeting’s end. M Mabila explained how he had tried to improve the situation at Building I, and how discouraged he felt by the lack of cooperation he received from his neighbors. He mentioned in particular the Haitians, Guineans, and Antilleans who lived in the building. Mme Parmentier added Zairian to his list. “No, no, I’m Zairian,” he corrected her, entrapped by his own efforts to generalize. Later he directed the conversation to the children still playing, long a er dark, in the Place du Marché. “How is it that it’s always people of color who let their kids play on the street?” he asked. “I don’t let my kids out. I keep them in the house if they want to play.” “People don’t take responsibility,” Mme Parmentier replied. They talked about how quotas should have been im-


Collective Terms

posed to control the flow of people into the neighborhood, and finally M Mabila offered what he saw as the only solution. “I’d like to invite Le Pen to town,” he asserted. “I’d like to invite him to Building I, to see how things are there. Why not put those people on a plane and send them home?” he said, referring to his neighbors. “He [Le Pen] is the only one who says things that are true.” Mme Parmentier agreed: Le Pen, she said, was the only person who dared to speak the truth. Hoping to escape the incriminating remarks that grouped all the “people of color” in Building I into the same irresponsible camp, Laurent Mabila nevertheless adopted a line of reasoning that would likely, in the end, have worked against him. In the nationalist worldview of Le Pen, even Laurent Mabila would not be spared a place on the plane sending “those people”—his neighbors—home. Indeed, the trouble with the “truth” that Le Pen purportedly speaks is its overly simplistic correlation between race/nation/culture and character, so that even as he was inclined to warm to his message, M Mabila also pushed against it: not all “people of color” he argued, are alike. And yet by drawing on the extreme propositions of the National Front, he was able to position himself as an insider and give voice to what some people in Cergy contend is a reality that only Le Pen dares to speak. The problem at La Bastide, they say, has something to do with the immigrant status of the people who live there. Reflecting the limits of racial thinking, Laurent Mabila’s comments also appealed to the contention that the neighborhood’s immigrant populations are especially implicated in its deterioration. In its ideal form, the French republican contract is meant to protect people from the abuses of classification that a more ethnicized form of politics can engender. In this era of pluralism, hybridity, and métissage, the republican model would seem to correspond to the lived realities of people in any number of multicultural contexts, where mix and flow live side by side with, or supersede, a more strict form of “identity politics.” And yet, as M Mabila’s comments suggest, there is something beguiling about a more “race-conscious” view, which seems to speak a truth that the republican “race-blind” perspective has resolved to keep stubbornly, and determinedly, at a distance. In this chapter, I have argued that the politics of integration as they are currently practiced involve an ongoing negotiation between these two poles. Integration, in order to be achieved, has necessitated the definition and representation of difference, the practice of deciding who and what should go into the collective pot. These decisions constitute assertions of value that would seem to belie the republic’s universalistic conceit, a contradiction that many of immigrant origin in France respond to when proclaiming the “hypocrisy” of French integration practices, and

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a contradiction that can make Jean-Marie Le Pen’s facile form of identity politics seem appealing in the face of complex multicultural configurations. Especially in the case of people who have migrated to France from the former colonies in North and West Africa, the contradictions of the integration discourse can seem an outright refusal to look that history in the eye. Recent mobilizations that invoke a more “race-conscious” view, including interventions of members of local associations like ProPatria in Cergy, signal a call for recognition of the relations of power and inequality that constituted a part of the history of Franco-African affairs long before contemporary problems associated with immigration started coming to the fore. Inclusion of this history in the integration frame shi s the terms of the republican discourse of “rights and responsibilities,” not because it exonerates individuals from upholding their piece of the social contract, as many in France would seem to fear, but because it accords that not all individuals participate in that contract on equal terms. If there is resistance to this form of talk, I would argue that it is not because, as many have suggested, it is at odds with French republican forms of social organization. Rather, as scholars such as Noriel and others have shown, “diversity” is and can also be French. To be sure, current polemics reveal the extent to which that diversity, and in particular that with roots in the colonial encounter, can be problematic, in part because it shows up fault lines in the republican ideal. But the “race-conscious” orientation of some of these debates signals dangers, to those who are opposed, that the national-culturalist politics of Le Pen and the historical legacy to which his party is heir have made too clear. It is here that lies the predicament of Laurent Mabila, of locating the path that leads between recognition and obtuse classification. On the one side of this debate, as Aminata Diarra, cited above, concluded about the situation at La Bastide, is the risk of retrenchment and stalemate on the part of immigrant populations who feel their grievances are not being given due; on the other side lie the dangers of race talk, of thinking in essentialized terms.

Chapter 5

THE COMMON GOOD Parents, Teachers, and the Public Schools

 It is 4:20 on a chilly winter’s day. A group of mothers gathers outside the doors of the nursery and elementary school Les Aloue es in Cergy–St. Christophe. Some are talking together; others wait quietly by themselves. They wrap their coats around them, trying to keep out the cold. It is the same scene, every day, in front of schoolyards across the country—the end of the school day. Parents, grandparents, babysi ers, older brothers and sisters have come to pick up the younger children and accompany them home. In the morning they will be back again to drop them off, and those whose children who do not eat at the school canteen for lunch will make the round trip one more time at midday, when they accompany their children home for lunch and then back again to finish up their classes in the a ernoon. For some families, then, the trip between home and school is made four times a day. The mothers watch as the children gather in the corridor behind the locked glass entrance that opens onto the paved courtyard, until a teacher arrives to unlock the doors, and the children run out of the schoolhouse and back into the fold of family life. For the past two decades the French public schools have been in the spotlight as the institutions located at the center of the notorious “scarf affairs” that, since the late 1980s, have brought to public a ention the issue of Muslim girls who choose to wear head coverings to school, resulting in the passing of a law in 2004 that bars the wearing of “ostentatious” religious symbols in the French public schools.1 That the headscarf affairs blew up within the context of the public schools is no accident, as

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the schools have long been at the center of debate about the definition of the republic and the imparting of its values to the body public. Liberté, égalité, fraternité—the republican blazon figures prominently on the façades of schoolhouses around the country. There, in a daily reenactment of the forging of the republican public sphere, children are bidden to join with others to acquire a shared set of learning and values, leaving their private lives—their cultural, religious, or class-based particularities—behind them. The bastion of the state that perhaps comes closest to touching people in the intimacy of their family lives, the schools play a central role in the marking of the boundary between public and private domains. At Les Aloue es, teachers and parents who made a point of being active in school affairs remarked frequently that they thought it a good idea that at least one parent be present in the daily ritual of dropping off and picking up the children at the end of the day. Older brothers and sisters, they said, or babysi ers, were a poor second at best. The act of accompanying children to school is said to help ease the transition from home to school—to cover, in effect, the middle ground, ensuring that children not fall into the breach between the two. The extent to which parents engage in this exercise is seen as indicative of the degree to which they “care,” or inversely, to which their parenting is held to be remiss. “Active” parents make note of who is or is not present at the beginning and end of the day as if to confirm their underlying fears: “absent” parents could have collective repercussions. Should their absence signify negligence, then all the children at the school—middle-class and lower-class, French and immigrant alike—could finish by paying the price. At Les Aloue es, it was largely the middle-class parents of children attending the school—a school reputed to be “in difficulty”—who displayed the greatest sense of anxiety about these potential repercussions. This anxiety manifested itself in one direction as anger against school officials, and in the other as distress about other people’s children, other people’s parenting skills, and the dramas of other people’s family lives. “Social mixing,” the o en-cited objective of so much urban policy, has resulted in neighborhood schools where children hail from a broad array of social and national backgrounds, a form of integration that some parents feel is less than ideal if it is to have negative consequences on their children’s success. In this context, then, the private lives of others are made a regular part of public debate, and the distinction between these private and public spheres is regularly blurred. This would perhaps not be of much consequence were it not that, in France, the notion of a shared collective interest depends broadly on the maintenance of these distinct domains. Looked on as an emancipatory space in which people can act independently of their private a achments,


Collective Terms

the public domain is conceived as the arena where people come together to locate, through reasoned deliberation, the common good. Located outside of this sphere is the private domain, which includes ma ers relating to the family, religious belief and practice, tradition, and custom. While subject to state legislation, private affairs are protected so long as they do not directly contradict or otherwise impinge upon values determined to be in the best interest of the larger whole. The public schools constitute one institutional se ing in which this separation between public and private is put into effect, which is why, among other things, girls wearing headscarves to school proved to be so controversial. Religious beliefs— and insignia—are esteemed to be private ma ers that have no place in the ostensibly neutral, rational space of the classroom, and assumed to be all the be er protected if in the public realm everyone agrees to keep his or her private convictions out of view.2 As recent scholarship on the concept of the public sphere has pointed out, this framework poses problems in that it assumes that such things as faith or conviction—or, as many have argued, subject positions tied to race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and so on—can simply be bracketed off “as of they [did] not exist when they do” (Fraser 1993: 11). It is too simple, many argue, to demand that such ma ers be confined to the private sphere when they have everything to do with how people of diverse social and cultural backgrounds may act and be perceived in various contexts. Many thus speak now of “counter-publics” and “plural publics” that bring to light the limited scope, and interestedness, of what was once a more homogeneous—read bourgeois—public domain (Calhoun 1992; Habermas 1989, 1991; Landes 1988; Robbins 1993; Taylor 1992; Warner 1992). The intrusion of Muslim girls wearing head coverings into the public arena in France could thus well constitute one such example of a “counter-public” pushing into public debate. And yet, as I have sought to argue in this book, any assumption that such “counter-publics” can be understood as existing outside of the broader social context that gives them meaning is also problematic. That is, while the problems faced by girls wearing headscarves in the French public schools may show up the blind spots of laïcité, or state-sponsored secularism, it would be erroneous to suppose that girls wearing headscarves constitute one face of a preexisting minority that can be considered independently of the multifaceted and complex domain of public deliberation in which such things as Muslim identity, girls’ access to education, laïcité, women’s rights, and so on are discussed in France. The “preferences, interests, and identities” reflected in such choices are, as Nancy Fraser states, “as much outcomes as antecedents of public deliberation, indeed are discursively constituted in and through [these forms of debate]” (1993: 20).

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In this chapter, I explore two different levels at which these public/ private distinctions operate. At one level, there is the official separation of public and private spheres as reflected in the running of the public schools. This is an ideological separation, it is important to note, to which many people in France ardently adhere, as it upholds the notion that all people, regardless of where they come from, can participate in and contribute to the civic values of fairness, responsibility, and so on that many in France fight hard to maintain. At another level, there are the myriad ways the public and private spill into one another through the ebb and flow of daily life, which give a particular shape to the common interest and make it appear at times hostile to alternative experiences or points of view. As people come together to set the public agenda—in this case in relation to the running of the public schools—who decides? Who determines the line where the public and private meet? How are “shared interests” defined? In the case of the “headscarf affairs” these questions were raised to the level of national media and eventually parliamentary debate. In the case of the running of the local public schools, one of multiple arenas in which the limits of “public” and “private” are raised, these parameters are defined through local interactions that reflect people’s ability to mobilize resources, their public commitments, and private fears. Like many other schools in Cergy—and especially those classified as en difficulté—Les Aloue es was a central site of transmission and learning that provoked strong displays of emotion as parents clamored for means to ensure their children’s success. Precisely because the school was considered troubled, the nature of what constituted the “collective interest” there was particularly charged. As some parents pushed forward with an agenda that they maintained was in the interest of all, others saw their capacity to care appropriately for their children called into question. Immigrant parents in particular were o en singled out as insufficiently involved in their children’s schooling. Somewhat perplexed by the urgency with which both teachers and other parents argued this point—where they come from, they told me, acts of schooling properly belong to those who are trained to teach—many parents of immigrant origin resented the way the deeply personal—i.e., their ability to raise their children as they saw fit—became the subject of public debate, making them feel less welcome to air their opinions in the public square. The line between family and state, and private and public, marked by the schools—that locked schoolhouse door—is intended to protect children from the disparities in practice, custom, belief, wealth, or background that might impinge upon their capacity to learn. In this respect, the schools stand as a model for the division between public and private space that constitutes a part of the republican project more broadly. The schools are


Collective Terms

imagined as spaces free of particularistic constraints, where children can develop their capacities as free and reasoned individuals. But as parents seek ways to cope with the anxieties of raising children in neighborhoods that they worry are unsafe, and as they fret about their children’s futures in an uncertain economy, the private distinctions of wealth, background, and cultural difference play out in other ways. Discussions—o en tense— about the roles parents should play in their children’s schools, and the relative levels of responsibility and negligence of other people’s parenting, reflect the extent to which that shared collective interest is also inflected by class interests and other marks of social distinction.

Teachers on the Front Lines One of nine lower schools in the neighborhood of Cergy–St. Christophe, Les Aloue es was entering its sixth year when I first started to follow its activities. Its bright, modern appearance belied its reputation as one of several “difficult” schools in the neighborhood. Located in a zone sensible, the school served a higher than average percentage of poor, unemployed, or immigrant families and as such was entitled to receive additional government funds. During the 1994–1995 school year, a total of twenty-seven nationalities were represented among the 216 children in a endance. The majority—60 percent—were foreigners, most of them coming from SubSaharan Africa and a few from Asia and the Maghreb. Of the remaining 40 percent classified as “French,” more than one-third were naturalized citizens, or were from the DOM-TOM—France’s overseas departments and territories such as Martinique and Guadeloupe in the Caribbean, and Reunion Island off the coast of Africa. Most of the children’s parents held low-paying service jobs, if they worked at all, although some children came from the homes of schoolteachers, managers, or professionals. The proportion of children from relatively prosperous backgrounds was diminishing, however, as many of those families chose the option of flight, preferring to put their children in private schools or to move to other, more upscale neighborhoods. “I hate to say it,” one of the nursery school teachers confided, “but it’s really a ghe o here.” Florence Guérin was the principal of the nursery school at Les Aloue es during the 1994–1995 school year. She and one other teacher had worked at the school since it first opened six years before. Her colleague, Catherine Norbert, the principal of the primary school, had arrived only that year. Given Florence’s seniority, she tended to be the person most in charge of both divisions of the school. Like so many teachers working in a zone sensible, Florence saw up close the nature and complexity of social and

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economic hardship existent in la banlieue. She was commi ed to ge ing to know the families of the children in her charge, if for no other reason than to maintain the ideal of fairness that she and her colleagues considered essential to their task: imparting knowledge, and above all forging a united citizenry out of the children of multiple backgrounds in their care. Differences of all kind, from differences of wealth and background to those of faith and conviction—as the foulard affairs have notoriously shown— were to be set aside in the classroom se ing, the be er to allow teachers to extend opportunity equally to all. Leveling the playing field required, at least from Florence’s perspective, that she become invested in the families of her more disadvantaged students, in order to ensure that the less privileged not miss out on opportunities that their be er-off peers would obtain as a ma er of course. Ever since I had first spoken with Florence the previous July to ask if I could follow events at her school during the course of the year, she had made a point of keeping me informed of the lives of her students as they unfolded outside of the classroom. One day in mid January, she was particularly distressed. “Oh Beth,” she said, “we’ve had quite a week.” First, she said, there was the mother of Aniatou: “She’s leaving her husband. She’s living now with her three kids in a shelter in Pontoise, waiting for an apartment.” I knew vaguely the family she was talking about. Aniatou was a Senegalese girl in kindergarten whose half-sister, Koumba, was in the same class. One day, while engaged in a paper-cu ing and pasting exercise, Koumba had told me with pride that she had “three mothers.” This annoyed Aniatou, who explained to her half-sister that their mothers were not the same and that she should not get confused. There are seventeen children in their family. “There are some people who tease us,” Aniatou told me on another occasion, because their family is so large. Aniatou’s mother worked in the cafeteria at Spie-Batignolle, the large engineering firm that dominates the bluff next to the Axe Majeur. Her husband worked on the line at a truck assembly plant. The children, Florence worried, were going to become caught in a tug-of-war between them. The mother had told the principal that her husband beat her, and had instructed Florence not to let the children leave with their father should he come to see them at the school. The father, meanwhile, had told Florence that he knew all about “women’s liberation,” but that as far he was concerned, it was for Europeans, not for Africans. His wife, he said, had no right to leave him. Florence had nonetheless made up her mind to protect the mother’s wishes. She felt the mother was brave to leave her husband, and understood that for many women, their arrival in France amounts to a moment of liberation. “They learn their rights,” she said, and decide not to put up with their husbands’ abuse any longer.


Collective Terms

“And then there’s the Minister Sablon,” she continued. “He decided to go back to Haiti.” The improvements in the political situation there following the election of René Préval as president had raised his hopes of making a be er life in his native country. He had a small business in France, which he up and le , Florence explained, leaving as well his wife and eight children, including a baby who had just been born in September. “‘But how will you live?’” Florence told me she had asked the mother, who responded that they would get by on the family allowance given by the French government to families with children under the age of eighteen. Florence Guérin simply shook her head and shrugged. “And then,” she said, “you know the first and second grade classes, they’re leaving on a classe verte”—a two-week excursion to the Pyrenees. “Of all the students, there is only one who says she can’t go, a Haitian girl, because they say they can’t afford to pay.” Florence had asked the girl’s mother to come speak with her, to see what the problem was, but one of her sisters had come instead. “And I asked, ‘Why didn’t your mother come?’ And the girl said, ‘Because she doesn’t speak French well enough. It’s Creole, Creole…’ And then today I get a call from Aide Catholique, who wants to know why the girl can’t leave on the classe verte.” From the volunteers at Aide Catholique, Florence learned that the family had no papers, that they could not work, and that they did not receive any government assistance. I knew the girl’s mother from seeing her at Aide Catholique’s weekly office hours, or permenances. A timid, elderly woman, she always smiled a lot and, with her broken French, carefully laid out a series of heavily creased documents in her efforts to explain to the charity volunteers the nature of her family’s situation. Over the course of her visits to the permenances, when she was continually incited to find work, off the books if necessary, her situation started to become clear. She lived with her four children and husband in one room in an apartment they shared with two other families. Each family paid the equivalent of $400 a month in rent. The landlord, who lived in Haiti, had delegated his son, who was in Paris, to take care of the apartment. From time to time the electricity was cut, or the heat. The volunteers at Aide Catholique helped out on a regular if not particularly consistent basis, in exchange for which she and her husband were eventually solicited to do odd jobs around the church. Later in the day, Florence told the girl’s teachers about the family’s plight. “All I know is they have no papers, so they don’t have any revenue, not even the family allowance.” One of the teachers expressed a mixture of shock and despair. “They don’t have papers?” she asked. “Three years they’ve been like that? And they’re in France?” She couldn’t believe it, she said, adding that she found it strange they had not been deported.

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“And then,” Florence continued, in her accounting to me of the week’s crises, “there’s another Haitian woman. She has a stomach out to here. She says to me ‘Oh Florence, I’ve got a tuile [headache, problem].’ She’s pregnant out to here and the baby is not her husband’s. Already she told me about li le Olivier,” who is in Florence’s class, “who she says stayed in her stomach for two years, who didn’t want to come out.” This, Florence had explained to me once before, is the story of the “sleeping child”—a belief held by Haitian and West African women. “I know that’s a way they use of protecting women who’ve been adulterers and so on,” she said, “so ok. But there she is telling me she’s got a tuile. Her husband has put her out, she’s living somewhere else. And I say to her, ‘You should have told me, we could have gone to the doctor or something, something could have been done.’ ‘No,’ she says, ‘it was put there by God, to punish me, it’s God’s doing.’ So you see,” Florence continued, “there’s always that explanation, that reference to God, that fatalism,” and again she shrugged. I once asked Florence and her colleague Catherine how they cope with these stresses, and how they make sense of, or explain to themselves, the difficulties they encounter in the lives of the children who a end their school. There is no time to analyze, they explained. They simply respond, as they can, to the crises of the moment. Their job, Florence told me, has a double function: on the one hand they are to teach children the knowledge contained in the standard, centrally devised educational curriculum; on the other they try to fill in the gaps le by negligence at home. “Normally our role is simply to have them work,” Florence explained. I mean strictly speaking … you have a unit of math, you have a unit of French, you have a unit of history, you have a unit of geography, you have a unit of gym. All that, you can say “Good, I’ve done my job.” But you can’t teach these subjects to a kid who hasn’t eaten in the morning and who has an empty stomach, to a kid who hasn’t showered in two weeks, to a kid who arrives in the middle of winter without socks in his shoes, to a kid who saw his father hit his mother all night.

With their team of psychologists and special education teachers, she explained, they do what they can to help. “But what repercussions that has in the life of a child. It’s so fleeting. … Maybe for some it has an impact, but others it won’t. But how can you analyze this when you’re in the heat of the moment?” At schools like Les Aloue es, teachers are faced with the challenge of creating a sense of coherence in the classroom across the range of their students’ differences of social class, nationality, language, and religion. Coherence,3 they argue, is necessary to ensure that all students be granted the same opportunities to succeed. Too much intervention from beyond the schoolhouse walls is considered suspect, should it unduly influence


Collective Terms

different children’s life chances. In the ma er of educating the young, children are held to be best served at the hands of an impartial state that will, according to the ideal, confer equal chances to all regardless of the relative strengths or weaknesses of their immediate backgrounds.4 This is an orientation that is regularly confirmed by state directives. In the 1994–1995 school year, for instance, the minister of education released a ruling that time was to be made available during the school day for elementary school children to do their homework. The unequal amounts of guidance children received from their parents at home, the minister reasoned, granted some children an unfair advantage. And yet teachers also place great stock in ge ing to know the families of the children in their care. Precisely because the children in their classrooms hail from such a diverse range of backgrounds, teachers feel it is important to make that connection the better to build the buffers that will let fairness prevail. Parents, as a result, are asked to show up at school events while told to leave their particularities, at least metaphorically, at the door.

Conseil d’école The conseil d’école is the only institutional channel that officially grants parents an opportunity to become involved in school affairs. While parental presence at various school events is duly noted, parents are denied more direct intervention in their children’s schools, with the exception of those who serve on the conseil d’école, where their input is limited to extra-scholastic ma ers. An elected commi ee that meets with teachers and municipal representatives two to three times a year, the conseil bridges the gap between the institution, the wider community of school families, and local authorities. It is meant to be representative of the families whose children a end any given school. At Les Aloue es as at other schools in Cergy, however, the conseil drew largely from families planted firmly in the French middle class. At Les Aloue es, nine representatives and six alternates—fourteen women and one man—were elected at the beginning of the school year to serve on the school’s commi ee. All but one of the parents was of French origin.5 Most were mothers who stayed at home with their children, with husbands who worked in white-collar jobs. Some of the women on the commi ee also worked, in office jobs or in one case as a college professor. These were the parents who were generally the most visible at school events, whereas their children, in terms of social class and national background, constituted a minority in the school. The conseil d’école provided an opportunity for these mothers to meet with the school’s teachers and in an officially recognized manner address

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the non-scholastic ma ers on which they were able to have some say. At Les Aloue es these included the quality of food at the school canteen, the question of school security, and the organization of their children’s workday. Through their work on these issues the members of the conseil sought to win recognition that they had some stake in the management of school affairs. Tensions between these parents and school officials were palpable: parents resented teachers whose authority in ma ers of scholastic achievement was sacrosanct, while schoolteachers marveled at the council’s priorities when the crises they confronted everyday—children who came to school on no breakfast, children whose parents had no work and no papers, children from broken homes, children who lived with three families under one small roof—were from their perspective so much more pressing. Equally as striking was the acutely visible desire, and frustration, among the women on the school council to do something, anything, to improve the quality of life in the school, particularly as they worried that the difficulties the school faced would have negative effects on their children’s life chances. A majority of those active on the commi ee expressed antagonism toward their children’s teachers. They were deeply dissatisfied with the education their children were receiving and with the way they, as parents, were received within the school’s “fortress-like” walls. Their children’s education was, they said, “mediocre,” and they were not pleased with the way the school was run. The school cafeteria was too noisy, they said, and security was not up to par. By the end of the year, two of the parent representatives announced their intentions to move away, relieved, they said, that they would be able to place their children in different schools and, wi ingly or not, adding to the trend toward a growing concentration of children of lower socioeconomic backgrounds in the city’s schools.6 In the spring of 1994 the Ministry of Education put out a call for discussion and referendum on the question of how to manage the children’s workweek, an opening seized by members of the conseil with great determination as an opportunity to make a more significant contribution to the running of school affairs. Specifically, the minister proposed eradicating Saturday morning classes from the nation’s nursery and elementary schools, and sought input from parents, teachers, and others concerned to determine how to make up the displaced hours: should they be redistributed to Wednesday mornings when, following the existing schedule, children did not have school?7 Should a half hour be added to the regular weekday? Should the school vacation periods be shortened, or should the existing system not be touched? The vote from the spring of 1994 had been inconclusive; as a result the ministry asked parents to continue the debate during the 1994–1995 school year.8


Collective Terms

The parent representatives on the parent-teacher commi ee at Les Aloue es seized this offer with resolve. The vote of the previous year stuck like a thorn in their side. They had been given an opportunity to effect important change and yet, they said, the call for a vote had happened so quickly they had had time neither to study the question nor to come to an agreement. This year, determined to give the issue their full a ention, they called a series of meetings to study its implications. Their discussions reflected the moral anxiety they experienced living in a neighborhood judged to be “en difficulté.” As they sought to elevate their concerns to a more general level, these debates also revealed the extent to which the notion of the “public good,” as an ongoing, quotidian form of negotiation that reflects different groups’ abilities to mobilize resources, both grows out of and spills into people’s private fears. The discussions precipitated by the minister’s initiative lasted throughout the academic year. Of particular concern to the parents was the question of the rythme d’enfant—the periods of high and low energy that a child cycles through throughout the day or week. The parents viewed the issue as having serious moral and social implications. Medical experts had done studies; children, they learned, had particular biological needs. To working parents who argued that it would be nice for the family if the children had their Saturday mornings free, others responded that it was the “rhythm of the children, not of the parents” that ma ered most. Philippe Saulin, raising the issue at a meeting of the association St. Christophe Ensemble, suggested that the question of how to manage the child’s school week was a “perfect example” of the confusion that reigns regarding the values that link families to their children’s schools. “Everyone is talking now about le rythme scolaire,” he said. The question is, are we really thinking of the interests of the child, or of the interests of individuals? Is the idea to let parents have a peaceful week-end, or to help divorced couples so that [one parent] can have the child for the weekend and get to the TGV [the train] on time to put him on the train to Bordeaux? Because that’s the situation a lot these days.

The problem of the rythme d’enfant opened a Pandora’s box of worries associated with the modern age: children who come from broken homes, individuals with no family or social conscience, working parents who have no time for their children. The question of how to organize the workweek became a target onto which parents projected their anxieties about how to protect their families from changes in family and community structure, and from the encroaching hazards of urban life. At the first of the school year’s three meetings of the parent-teacher commi ee at Les Aloue es, the question of the rythme scolaire was raised.

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Florence Guérin ran the meeting. She more or less dismissed the topic as not particularly relevant to the scholastic events the teachers had planned for the upcoming year. In the eyes of a majority of the parents on the commi ee, this act marked the principal as an “authoritarian” opponent with whom they would have to contend for the rest of the year. For them, the rythme scolaire had everything to do with the problems of Cergy–St. Christophe, and therefore with life at Les Aloue es. As they saw it, the issue had repercussions that reverberated at numerous levels of community life, starting with the problems posed by disadvantaged children who, it was supposed, were not well looked a er at home and so would use their free time to “hang out in the streets” and potentially engage in disorderly behavior. Granting children more free time on Saturdays could thus have the unintended consequence of aggravating the neighborhood’s already existing social problems. The proposed changes, moreover, threatened to widen the gaps that existed between children from different socioeconomic backgrounds, if in their free time some children were enrolled in extracurricular activities while others simply did nothing, or worse. Municipal services, these parents concluded, would have to get involved, and parents too, they argued, needed to be “made responsible” to help keep such hazards at bay. As the year progressed, discussion extended outward to include other parents from other schools who were also engaged in debate on the issue. In mid March, two of the mothers from Les Aloue es organized a meeting, held at the Maison de Quartier in Cergy–St. Christophe, with members of other parent-teacher groups from schools across the city. Thirty people a ended the meeting, which was considered an encouraging sign. The meeting signified, perhaps, that on other issues too parents would be able to come together to create a consensus and put a dent in the schools’ “fortress” walls. Although in the end the parents at the meeting were not able to reach an agreement on how best to manage the proposed elimination of Saturday morning classes, they used the meeting as a forum to discuss the ancillary issues that made the question one of such vital moral and social concern. The proposals that were most favorably received at the meeting were those that touched on larger social problems. These were seen to stand in contrast to suggestions that, many insisted, argued “only in favor of the parents.” “For me, the main arguments for not changing Saturday classes is I’m interested in what’s best for the children,” one of the seven men present at the meeting stated. “I’m afraid that if we get rid of Saturday classes that will create a gap between children, between those who participate in activities and others who hang out in the streets, or who go hang out at Auchan [the nearby hypermarché].” His were the first of several interven-


Collective Terms

tions that raised the problem of “les enfants défavorisés,” or disadvantaged children. It was essential, many argued, that city hall offer activities, free of charge if necessary, to ensure that a change in the regular school routine not leave these children with nothing to do. Of equal concern was the comportment of these children’s parents, whose supposed negligence made the whole community suffer. A member of the city council, who identified herself only as a parent representative at her children’s school, most consistently returned to this theme. (If others at the meeting knew she was an elected official, they did not let on.) “I think there’s also work to be done at the level of the parents,” she said. “I arrive at school in the morning and hear kids talk about the movie they watched the night before until 11: 30 … And then in addition if they haven’t had a good breakfast … There’s a lot of work to be done.” Towards the end of the meeting she intervened again. “I don’t agree that it’s always the animateurs who are responsible for offering activities to children,” she stated. “Why don’t more parents get involved, and take care of these activities? There are parents who don’t feel at all responsible for their children. It’s sad to say, but … They leave their kids at the door, and as far as they’re concerned, that’s it. There’s an education of the parents to be done too.” Another woman agreed, but stated she was discouraged at the prospects. She recounted how parents at her children’s school had come together to organize activities at the library. “The first year,” she said, “there were five parents, the next year there were three, and a er that there was one, me. And I can tell you, it wasn’t working. It was only two times a week, but a er a while, whew, I cracked [on sifflait]. As it is there aren’t enough parents to go on field trips, to the pool. It’s always the same [people who get involved].” As a public form of speech, this kind of talk helps create consensus about what is most in the public interest. Parents who mobilized on this issue did so both because it was an opportunity to have some input in the otherwise impenetrable domain of their children’s schools (as they saw it), and because it provided a focal point onto which they could project their more nebulous fears about living in a zone sensible. While the question of the four-day school week never got resolved, the parents did seem to reach agreement that in this, as in so many other social issues in Cergy, the source of their problems lay in other people’s lack of responsibility. If anyone thought to question the way this consensus might reflect the particular set of interests of this group of mostly middle-class families, they never let on. This was, rather, a familiar refrain that drew from dominant considerations about how people should behave in the public sphere. The extent to which this view went largely unquestioned becomes all the more apparent when juxtaposed with comments made at an earlier meeting of the conseil d’école by an “alternate” parent who had not a ended

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any of the parents’ previous meetings, and who, not insignificantly, would not a end any of the commi ee meetings hence. The rythme d’enfant, she suggested, was perhaps not one of the school’s most compelling priorities. “Given the population of St. Christophe,” she said, “that’s already very disadvantaged, you talk to them about the rythme biologique, they’re going to think you’re speaking Chinese.” With all the things there are to do here, to focus on the rythme biologique, excuse me, but I don’t think so. You take an African family, all of them in front of the tv, with nine children si ing there, and the tenth, the poor thing, trying to find a place to do his homework. You talk to them about the rythme scolaire? I don’t think so.

What exactly this woman thought the other mothers on the conseil d’école should have a ended to, she never stated, while her comments suggest that she might have preferred that they be more a uned to the complexities of the neighborhood’s social inequalities. The fact that she chose not to return to meetings of the conseil d’école is important, however, as it raises questions about who gets involved in local politics and how consensus about the common interest is achieved as a result. As her comments suggest, the points of view expressed among parents in discussions of the rythme d’enfant were not the only opinions around, but they were the only opinions ge ing a public airing. While in principle anyone could have been elected to the conseils d’écoles, in fact those who sat on the councils tended to be representative of only a minority of the populations present in the schools in terms of social class and national background. Most everyone recognized this and regre ed, in particular, the relative lack of participation among immigrant parents on the conseil as well as at other school events. Typically, teachers and parents active on school commi ees sought to explain this problem through reference to what they imagined were the difficulties immigrants face in adapting to life in France. They cited language barriers, a less than full understanding of how the school system works, and the intimidation that some parents, unschooled themselves, seemed to feel in the presence of their children’s teachers. But as I discuss below, for a group of African women who came together at ADFA to discuss this problem, the real difficulty lay in the nature of the debate in the schools and on the conseils themselves, where they felt they were made to suffer a prejudicial regard.

Good Mothers “If families can’t understand what is happening [at their children’s schools], they should ask, try to find someone to explain it to them. They


Collective Terms

need to show an interest in their children’s education.” The speaker, Mme Lavallier, was a vice president of the Association indépendante des parents d’élèves (AIPE), one of three associations to which parents must belong in order to be elected to local parent-teacher commi ees, and a former teacher. She and two other parent representatives of the AIPE, Farida Benichou and Philippe Saulin, both active members of St. Christophe Ensemble, were meeting with a group of fourteen African women at the Maison de Quartier in Cergy–St. Christophe to discuss the question of how to get parents of immigrant origin more involved in their children’s schools. The African women present had been hired by ADFA to participate in a training program to become “cultural mediators.” The brainchild of ADFA’s director, Aminata Diarra, this project was hatched in hopes that one day these women would relieve her of some of her numerous duties as an intercultural expert in charge of an organization much in demand. In training, the women were given capsule exposure to multiple facets of the French administration with the intent that once they had completed their program, they would be hired to work in hospitals, schools, or city halls to serve an immigrant, or at least African, clientele. Education and the administration of the public school system constituted one of the units of their four-month training program. ADFA was recognized in Cergy and surrounding cities as one of the region’s foremost African community organizations. It had grown from its dynamic roots as an association created by and for African women to help an ever-expanding immigrant clientele manage the hurdles of establishing their lives in France. The association first burst on the scene in the late 1980s during an “African fortnight”—a series of municipally sponsored cultural events, during which, according to Aminata, “all of Cergy beat to the rhythm of Africa and Madagascar.” With time, the association grew, with local and regional support, to a end to the needs of an ever-growing caseload of immigrant families, thereby addressing a gap in services that the city government was only too eager to fill. From its grassroots origins, the association has grown to occupy two apartment spaces in a residential district of Cergy–St. Christophe. It pays the salaries of more than a dozen full- and half-time employees, and provides such services as juridical assistance securing housing and residency papers, a er-school study time and activities for neighborhood children, literacy and computer classes, and workshops in sewing, cooking, and cra s. The association sponsors conferences on education and intercultural relations, and its team of “cultural mediators”—still in training in the mid 1990s—works now in numerous venues in Cergy and surrounding cities. In the interim, concerned that the organization had become “too French”—too routinized, and counting too many white French women on its board of directors and among its

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employees—most of the association’s original members broke away in the early 1990s to form another association of their own (see chapter 6), while Aminata Diarra, who was awarded the Legion of Honor in 2003 for her work, has become something of an expert on intercultural affairs, serving for a time on the European Commission on Racism and giving interviews to the nightly news. The fourteen women who trained to become femmes médiatrices were selected among those who regularly partook of ADFA’s services, in hopes that as they became more involved in the association’s activities and organization they would help put to rest the idea that the association had abandoned its original mission as a center of and for African women. The question of how they and other immigrant parents could play a more active role in the children’s schools came up several times during their meetings and classes, o en as a topic of some bewilderment: the importance of simply showing up on the school grounds was looked on by this group as somewhat odd. “I know it seems silly,” an Algerian woman said once to the other women in the group, “but we need to understand that here even just seeing your face is very important … Otherwise they’re going to think we don’t care about our children … Even if you don’t understand the language, it’s important to go just to say hello to the teacher. It makes a difference. It ma ers to them.” For these women, simply showing up at their children’s schools was yet another hurdle to cross on their way to “becoming French.” Anything less, they determined, and their capacity to act as good mothers would be maligned. During the meeting with the three representatives of the parent-teacher commi ee at the Maison de Quartier, these women’s sense of annoyance was only confirmed. Mme Lavillier’s opening comments, which reflected common assumptions that immigrant parents do not get involved in their children’s educations because they do not understand what is expected of them, were not very warmly received. How could she assume that this group of women was not interested in what was happening at their children’s schools? The problem, the women from ADFA retorted, lay on the other side—the chilly reception that they, as African women, receive in their children’s schools. Farida Benichou, one of the parent representatives present and herself a native of the Berber region of Algeria who moved to France with her family at the age of eight, sought to remind the women from ADFA that many parents feel antagonism toward their children’s schools. “I’m convinced that it’s not a question of immigrant families,” she stated. “Even the average French family, even [about them] there are stereotypes.” The real issue, she maintained, was to understand the interests of the child. Children need structure, and an accompaniment from home to school that gives the child a sense of continuity, stability, and protection.


Collective Terms

“It’s a question of families taking an interest, reserving time to work with a child on his homework” she said. “The child has to be well supported. Otherwise he is in two completely different milieus—school life and family life. He shouldn’t be le alone to negotiate the two.” This comment reflects strikingly the distinction that is made between school and home, public and private, while also suggesting that there is something alienating about the disinterested (or so it is imagined) public sphere that makes family support particularly important. This, I would argue, is especially so in the context of the zone sensible. There, parents anxious about their children’s life chances make exacting demands, while teachers juggling the multitude of backgrounds of the children in their care try to impart the standard curriculum at the same time that they seek to create an environment in which even the more disadvantaged children can thrive. In the process, even the smallest of gestures—making the trip twice, sometimes four times daily to the schoolhouse door—come to have moral and symbolic weight. It was this that the African women present that morning seemed most to resent. The importance a ributed to these acts—and the negative assumptions a ached to those who did not engage in them—militated against their more active participation by making them feel stigmatized. “Dialogue is all good and well,” Hélène Omansango, who is from Cameroon, rejoined, “but o en the teachers have a fixed idea in their heads about how the mother is with her child. They think ‘Oh this one, she has five or six children, she can’t take care of her children, she doesn’t have time.’ But believe me,” she said, an angry edge rising in her voice, “even if we have ten children, we can always find time to take care of our children.” Insistent that they were being coached in the basics of good parenting, the women from ADFA remained fortified in their conviction that as immigrant women they were subject to a prejudicial regard. The collective project that they were being asked to join—for the good of the children, for the good of the community—had cast them in the role of a problem needing to be fixed. Against everyone’s hopes for greater dialogue as the meeting got started, the morning served in the end to reinforce separate camps. “I don’t agree with that woman there,” Hélène stated to her colleagues as the meeting broke. “Immigrants are treated differently. That’s what I think.”

Public and Private Of the many things I observed in Cergy, the resentment that brewed, on all sides, around the issue of parental involvement in the public schools

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was perhaps among the most bewildering. Why did parents on the conseil d’école seem to resent their children’s teachers so? Why was there such moral panic associated with the question of the rythme scolaire? And why did all of this serve to inflame further French-immigrant relations when, at least on the surface of things, that was far from what anyone had in mind? The answer I believe, at least in part, has to do with the marked distinction between public and private realms that the public schools, like other public institutions in France, are meant to uphold. While this distinction is perhaps clear in institutional arrangements, it is far more muddy in practice. The public sphere, imagined as a disinterested, emancipatory realm where everyone can find his or her place unhindered by the weight of private a achments, is also a contentious space where private anxieties, resentments, and ambitions spill into one another to create new sources of conflict and consensus. The values of fairness, participation, and responsibility—collective ideals to which all in Cergy are supposed to adhere in the public realm, and from which all can hope to reap the goods—were continually being renegotiated through the kinds of deliberation I witnessed among parents in relation to the public schools. That not everyone came to that discussion on equal terms was clear, and given the context of limited resources in schools and neighborhoods where opportunity was considered to be in short supply, those discussions—which were, in the end, about what constitutes and who controls the “common good”—became vehicles for a range of unspoken assumptions and fears. To close, I cite another moment from my discussion with Florence Guérin and Catherine Norbert, the two principals at Les Aloue es, about their experiences as teachers in a zone sensible. Recounting for me, somewhat breathlessly, the episode of Justin, a Haitian boy whom they rescued early one morning when his aunt failed to get him ready to leave with his classmates for a two-week trip to the mountains, their account sets off ever more starkly the porous boundary between private family lives and the public good—that line that is to be kept so clearly maintained. Florence and Catherine told me this story to show how far they were willing to go, in the name of fairness, to protect the interests of a child in their care, while their narrative revealed again the private indignities that the “public good” and its enactment can impose. As the other children and their parents waited at the school for the bus that would take them to the Pyrenees, Florence and Catherine ventured into Justin’s home to get him ready for the trip. Florence Guérin [FG]: I went upstairs. I entered the bedroom of the mother, who was in bed [laughs], in her nice nightshirt. It was clean, it was, ah, the house all neat and all that, but … Besides, there were the kids in junior high school, and they were going to arrive late, in my opinion. … Everyone in bed


Collective Terms

in this house, and I assure you, there were a lot of them. The boy wasn’t, he got out of bed. Catherine Norbert [CN]: He was up? FG: Yes, well but, I mean, he was naked, or no, he was in his underwear, I mean… CN: Pyjama bo oms. FG: Pyjama bo oms, right. In any case, his torso was bare. … So I saw Mme A. and I said, “But Mme A., it’s not possible. Justin has to go. You’ve already paid.” Because in addition to everything else she’d paid already [for the trip], at city hall…

Florence continued: She is o en sick, she’s old, so I can imagine that she has a hard time. She has her ten children, she must have a hard time raising her ten children. I don’t know how long she’s been single, but at any rate since we’ve been at the school she’s always been alone. But, if you like, her real children have had at least a li le affection, because I think she loves her daughters. But this li le one there, he’s the li le écorché [the one who’s been burned]. I found that too unfair that it was him who wasn’t going to be able to go to the Pyrenees, you see? Frankly I found that … no ma er who, I mean if that had been, it wouldn’t have been fair for no ma er who to see all of his classmates leaving, but this one in particular, really. So I said to one of the older sisters, “Find me a suitcase etc. Where is Justin’s closet, his things and all,” and I went through his closet. I went, ok, where is his underwear, but I couldn’t find his underwear … So I looked in the dresser. Fine. We found what we needed, but he didn’t have any pyjamas. So I took the pyjamas that were in the next closet, [the closet of one of the girls]. Right away [the aunt] tried to snatch it away from me; it was one of her real daughters. So I said, “Listen, you work it out among yourselves. Your daughter, she can sleep in a t-shirt for two weeks, but Justin, he needs pyjamas to leave on the classe de neige.” [Laughs]. So we put everything in the suitcase, and then we led our Justin to Catherine’s car, and vroom, we le . CN: As if we were in an American police car.

We all laughed. FG: It was like the best chase scene, you see? CN: And then the applause of the parents. FG: That’s right. The applause of the parents when we arrived.

Florence and Catherine may have felt justified in their actions in order to ensure that Justin not be denied the opportunity to leave on a school trip with his classmates, but one has to wonder how he and his aunt and cousins felt about his two schoolteachers rummaging through their per-

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sonal effects.9 The moral certitude, and presumed disinterestedness, of the values defended in the name of the common interest—fairness, responsibility, participation—are o en so taken for granted that few think to question how the common interest is defined, who sets the agenda, or whose interests it serves most to protect. In France, people’s behaviors are passed through the prism of the principles that make up the collective ideal. Heavily weighted with value, they are imagined as absolutes to which everyone can, and should, adhere. While this orientation has the advantage of not locking people into racial or cultural categories that in the end may have very li le to do with who they are, it too o en neglects to take into consideration the hidden injuries that such moral regimes can produce. In the case of the public schools, practices established in order to create an impartial space for children to learn are considered sacrosanct, an arrangement that comes with a price. The mothers who served on the conseil d’école and the parents who mobilized on the question of the rythme scolaire a ended to issues that in large part reflected their anxieties as middle-class parents with children in “difficult” schools. In the process, others—and this very o en included immigrant parents, whose children were majority in number—were le feeling stigmatized, “treated differently,” as Hélène Omansango stated above, as they looked for means to make their voices heard.

Chapter 6


 I have argued up to this point that in order to understand the long-standing “immigrant problem” in France and its relation to the geopolitics of the querulous banlieue, it is necessary to look outside of the ethnocultural categories o en used as a means of explaining the kinds of hardships and conflicts that one might find there. Following Brubaker and Cooper’s warning against confusing “categories of practice” with “categories of analysis” (2000), I have sought to see how differences of various types— socioeconomic, racial, national, ethnocultural—are made to mean something within and in relation to the French integration ideal, rather than assume that these differences are in and of themselves meaningful and the root cause of the difficulties people of immigrant origin may face in the banlieue. Cultural pluralism is very much a reality of contemporary France. My aim has been to understand how it is lived, and to see how quotidian debates about what it is and how it should be managed shape the representations that people make of themselves and others in the everyday. In the midst of these debates, what then are we to make of culture (“one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language,” Raymond Williams quipped [1983: 87])? This is a particularly complicated question, not least because the term itself has become subject to so much debate. “Everyone is into culture now,” Adam Kuper writes (1999: 2). Like a genie let out of the bo le, culture shows up everywhere. Heritage sites put “culture” up for sale; “difference” is asserted as a right worth fighting for. Once the centerpiece of American anthropology, the culture concept has come increasingly under a ack since the 1970s. Anthropologists are now exhorted to “write against culture” (Abu-Lughod 1991), to

Having Culture


push against the timeless, fixed portrayals of “peoples and cultures” and cultural wholes that once, many argue, characterized the discipline and made “others,” invariably, seem never quite as modern as “us” (Asad 1973; Fabian 1983; Marcus and Fischer 1986). The meeting of anthropology and new disciplines grouped under the rubric of cultural or critical studies has proposed new directions by insisting on fissures, slippages, and trajectories of dislocation, urging a focus on the “displaced peoples, dislocated cultures and fractured communities” that in the postcolonial, postmodern world constitute the “leading edge of what is destined to become the truly “late-modern” experience. [These] are the products of the cultures of hybridity,” Stuart Hall writes, “the products of the new diasporas, obliged to inhabit at least two identities, to speak at least two cultural languages, to negotiate and ‘translate’ between them” (1992: 8). Within these frameworks, critical multiculturalists view cultural difference as a wedge, a weapon of the weak, a means for the “subaltern” to expose the myths of national homogeneity or cultural superiority by which elites maintain positions of dominance. Reading cultural texts against the grain—bringing in other voices, other points of view—practitioners of the new disciplines seek to dislodge the unquestioned truths that all too o en keep subject peoples in their place, and in the process enlarge the possibilities for dissent, and for the underrepresented to take a seat at the ever-expanding, ever-shi ing multicultural table (Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies 1982; Spivak 1988 Stam and Shohat 1994; Turner 1994). These approaches have generated stimulating intellectual work by questioning the means by which knowledge and authority are achieved. As frames for social analysis, however, they are problematic on at least two counts. First, as both a theoretical orientation and a political/social program, multiculturalism (as a theoretical paradigm) describes what it also prescribes (as a social program), and vice versa. The situation is something like a dog chasing its tail: as “culture” and “diversity” enter into social life as values worth fighting for, or as they are evoked to provide self-evident means for understanding complex social problems (the notion of second-generation youth suspended “between cultures,” for instance, comes to mind), then surely the use of those same categories to explain these phenomena becomes problematic. As Kuper explains, the notion of culture has shi ed “from something to be described, interpreted, even perhaps explained, and is treated instead as a source of explanation in itself” (1999: xi). Meanwhile, and in relation to the prior point, much of this scholarship continues to treat the “dominant” and the “dominated,” the colonizer and the colonized, French and immigrant, as discrete ethnic groups, even as it aims to show how these identities are constructed and


Collective Terms

dynamic. This is, to be sure, in part of a problem of language, a difficulty to which I have tried to be a uned: how to avoid speaking in the language of ethno-racial-cultural categories when o en those categories are all that is available to us? But that is, or should be, it seems to me, just the point: these are categories that demand analysis, especially if we are to avoid being entrapped by classifications that an unreflexive use of language can suppose. Anthropologist Ghassan Hage addresses these issues in his work on multiculturalism in Australia. Social life, he argues, is to be sure made up of meaningful categories and classifications, but their deconstruction alone does not show us how they function, their practical effects, or the ways they act on and in the world. To the contrary, deconstructionist work o en supposes a tacit “be er way of thinking,” as if “their” categories and logics (those of the French, the colonizer, the dominant) are somehow wrong because they are tied to an oppressive form of politics. Following Bourdieu, Hage argues that such analyses fail to recognize the extent to which these are “categories of practice, produced to practically make sense of and interact with the world” (1995: 67)—that they are, in other words, asserted by social actors precisely in order to make certain claims and achieve desired results. Notions such as “culture,” “difference,” and “diversity”—“key words” of contemporary multicultural landscapes and scholarship—do sociological work, work that can have significantly different outcomes and consequences depending upon the intentions and understandings of those who put these notions into circulation.1 In this chapter I explore these questions through a consideration of some of the conditions and consequences of various forms of “culture talk” as they appear in Cergy. While it is true that many residents and city officials refuse to accept culture as a legitimate variable in the management of the city’s social problems, various city authorities do make room for “cultural difference.” Cultural diversity is frequently celebrated as a positive source of enrichment and local, regional, or national pride, the “wealth” of France (and of Cergy) residing, among other things, in the variety of heritages and traditions (immigrant traditions included) the country (or city) has to offer. Members of immigrant associations are regularly encouraged to participate in neighborhood events by pu ing their cultures on display. Culture, in these instances, is defined as something that immigrants have, that they can contribute and share. This celebration of diversity is nonetheless made to conform to the larger logic of integration, with various ethnic displays (French regional displays included) shown to be a part of, rather than oppositional to, the central collectivity. Insofar as it provides a means for local residents to participate in the collectivity, diversity can thus also, paradoxically, be a resource that people of non-French origin

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use in their efforts to “become French.” At the same time, insofar as they agree to participate in local life in this way, those who organize themselves around their cultural “richness” become defined by their difference. Highlighted as the source of their value, a distinct cultural heritage comes to be seen as a valuable asset for those who have culture to give. Positive demonstrations of the city’s cultural diversity also serve an important social function, as they both encourage and display the city’s capacity for tolerance. As Hage (1994, 2000) and others have argued, “tolerance” is double-edged, suggesting a confined role for those who are “tolerated” while granting a moral advantage to those who do the tolerating. At the same time, the values to which tolerance appeals—acceptance and appreciation of other people’s ways of being—speak to the genuine efforts made on all sides, “French” and “immigrant” alike, to find some common ground. In the current climate of a real or presumed “immigrant problem,” many take quite seriously the idea that they should be open to one another’s differences. This, they say, will help them learn be er how to get along. Members of immigrant associations who participate in local events similarly express hopes that by pu ing on display what they feel to be unique and important about themselves—their “culture”—they will be able to generate greater acceptance by those around them of their values and practices. People cite “culture” as a way to explain one another’s behaviors, and conversely, aspire toward accepting one another’s cultures as a step toward living in greater peace. The impulse toward disclosure, inclusion, and tolerance suggests the hope that through an appreciation of cultural difference will come greater understanding. “Culture” is thus also bestowed a transparent analytic power, the key to grasping who other people are. The term’s inherent ambiguousness, however, nearly ensures that not everyone in the collectivity will seek to achieve these goals in similar ways. For members of the local administration and many of the city’s residents, cultural differences can best be appreciated when they replay the community motif—people of various horizons coming together to build a cohesive whole. For many members of the city’s minority populations, however, “culture” holds a different promise. These residents of the city aspire to use their cultural distinctiveness to carve out alternate, and possibly more prominent, niches for themselves within the city’s social landscape, to generate greater awareness of what they maintain are the prejudices they suffer, and to inspire a more general acceptance of their practices. The way the city’s diversity is orchestrated and managed by its residents and administrators alike is thus motivated by interests that extend beyond “tolerance.” Rather, “culture,” as indexed through various artifacts and displays, is employed by different parties as a way to promote their par-


Collective Terms

ticular ambitions. As such, it lies at the center of local power struggles, as the city’s administrators and residents use “culture”—aspiring, they say, to tolerance through the sharing of their various cultural riches—as a vehicle to realize other goals.

Celebrating Diversity Spring is a busy time in Cergy. The months of May and June herald the end of the school year and the last spurt of activity before the quiet months of summer, when those who can afford to leave on extended vacations. Members of associations meet to wrap up the year’s business, and those who are active in their neighborhoods come together to put on their annual fêtes de quartier. Actively promoted by officials at city hall and the directors of the Maisons de Quartier, these festivals provide, like the city’s annual Association Day, an occasion for members of local associations to display the fruits of their labors and for the city’s activists to encourage others to come out and participate in civic life. The annual fêtes de quartier are the most obvious place to see the city’s different cultures on display. The fêtes provide a festive, participatory frame for residents and administrators to celebrate the city’s range of social activities, its diversity included. Immigrant associations take their place alongside other groups—the dance club or the moto club—at any given fête’s arrangement of stands, the immigrants’ “culture” being the thing they have to put on display. “Culture” in this instance is commensurate to a social activity. Like any other hobby or interest, it provides a group of people with reason to form an association, serving as the organizing principle around which to plan social action.2 Immigrant associations are typically created to offer language classes, religious instruction, or cultural activities for children, to raise money to send to members’ countries of origin, or to provide mutual assistance and aid.3 More to the point, once organized in this way, these groups can be encouraged to participate in local events. In Cergy, the annual fêtes de quartier constitute an important piece of the local administration’s politics of participation, as highly visible events that represent the city in its ideal form. The cultural groups that participate in these events thus assist city administrators in their objective of turning the city’s diversity toward the favored goal of creating a cohesive whole. Typically, each fête begins in the morning and lasts all day, o en to be topped off at night with a bal populaire—dancing to a live band. Members of participating associations set up booths or tables where they sell food, display their activities and their wares, or provide entertainment. O en there are games for children, ranging from face painting to graffiti writing

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(on a predetermined stretch of wall) to “Go Fish,” where for a few centimes children can try their hand at winning a toy, wrapped in newspaper and string, that they hook with a homemade fishing pole. A central stage provides a popular focal point for people’s a ention as a place where local residents test their talents and perform. To the delight of their peers, teenagers o en take to the stage to sing and dance to karaoke versions of their favorite songs (Figures 6.1 and 6.2).

Figure 6.1. Games for children at the annual fêtes de quartier.

Figure 6.2. Children perform for their peers at the fêtes de quartier.


Collective Terms

At one such festival women from the Association Départementale des Femmes Musulmanes (ADFM), a direct spinoff of ADFA, served chicken yassa—a Senegalese dish—and “exotic drinks.” At another they put on a fashion show of African dress. Other stands at the festival were tended by associations of Vietnamese, Malians, Mauritanians, Moroccans, and Tunisians. Dressed, in some cases, in their traditional a ire, the members of these associations sold food, played music, served thé à la menthe, and displayed the objects and ornaments of their erstwhile homes (Figures 6.3 and 6.4). The day’s performances included a group of French women who had studied African dance and performed what they had learned to the percussion accompaniment of their Congolese instructor. A circus man in harlequin dress turned his hand-cranked piano and sang French folk songs, before performing his strongman acts of swallowing swords and breathing fire (Figure 6.5). A group of Malian dancers, unrecognizable in their fantastic masks, jumped and swirled to percussion accompaniment, while African women from the audience got up to join them for a quick turn before, laughing, they returned to their friends on the bleachers on the side. At the end of the day, a group of rock musicians arrived to keep the party going into the night. The politics exercised in the organization of the fêtes de quartier is one of considerable control. As highly visible events, the fêtes signify the city at

Figure 6.3. Celebrating diversity at one of the fêtes de quartier. Musicians from Morocco.

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Figure 6.4. … dancers from Mali.

Figure 6.5. … an organ grinder from France.



Collective Terms

its best: people coming together, having a good time, showing a willingness to cooperate and work together for the building of something bigger than their individual parts. More significantly, they provide a means, from the initial planning stages to their final execution, for local officials to become involved in and direct grassroots activity. Local officials help coordinate and a end the meetings of the commi ees organized to plan the events; they ensure the availability of municipal materials and resources, and define, in some instances, the hours and security needs of the fête. Li le is le to chance, and especially in those neighborhoods esteemed to be en difficulté, the annual fêtes allow representatives from city hall to make contact with local residents and bend the grassroots to their priorities. Cultural associations thus constitute something of a boon to local administrators, as they provide organized units around which the municipal government can cast its net and manage the diversity that constitutes a prominent feature of local life. Unlike the more terse discussions about li er or the unruliness of other people’s children that are o en the content of local debate, the annual fêtes de quartier provide moments when people of the neighborhood can come together in a ritual display of what the officials at city hall, at least, would like them to be. At these moments, the notion of cultural difference is accorded status as a wellspring of neighborhood riches, something that can and should be “valorized,” if for no other reason than that acts of appreciation will help people feel they have something important to contribute to the collective whole. “Having culture” in these instances is a positive thing, a ticket to a more inclusive integration. This is an orientation that regularly spills over into other contexts. Parents active in addressing the problems of the local schools, for instance, on occasion suggested that African mothers might participate in the classroom by cooking an African meal or telling an African story. This, they argue, would help these mothers to “valorize their culture” in the eyes of others, give their children a sense of pride in their African heritage, and break the barrier that makes them feel unwelcome in their children’s schools. Such a suggestion assumes, however, that “African” is a meaningful term (and meaningful for the woman and child in question), while also giving the term its meaning: “African” then becomes what people with origins in a particular part of the world can use to define themselves, to claim as their own; in the eyes of others it becomesthe source of the “richness” they have to give. Defined in its outer signs—a musical icon, a native cuisine, an artistic heritage—”culture” at these moments serves as a shortcut to difference, a tag to which people who define themselves and/or who are defined in this way must a end. It is not only people from other countries and other cultures who are asked to contribute this way. The harlequin circus performer, or regional groups who sell, like others, specialties of their

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native cuisine, allow the French, too, to “valorize” what is theirs. Even as the city’s residents refer, somewhat disparagingly, to the kind of culture put on display at such events as no more than “folklore,” they defend these activities as important to the good health of the neighborhood, supposing that in some hard-to-define way such signs provide insight into the way their culturally diverse neighbors think and live. These events hold out the promise that at least in some things, the city’s residents can turn out in all their specificity and find a common ground. And through this means of participation, the city’s diverse residents can signal—or at least allow others to imagine that they are signaling—their allegiance to the terms of an engaged and commi ed citoyennité.

“Who We Really Are” I first met the women from ADFM—the Association Departementale des Femmes Musulmanes—at one of the fêtes de quartier. A splinter group of ADFA, widely recognized as one of the more important immigrant associations in Cergy (see chapter 5), this group piqued my interest if for no other reason than that its creation made visible the fact that there were multiple ways for African women to showcase their “Africanness” within the local frame. Created in 1993, the group was considered an important part of the city’s social landscape insofar as its members participated regularly in public events; having been founded by defectors from ADFA, moreover, the organization generated a bit of a stir. The differences between the two groups were striking. ADFA, for all that its work was respected, was in several contexts criticized for having become too routinized, for having lost its African focus. ADFM, while much less known, was on the other hand a world apart, a place where, in the words of the group’s president, “we can let ourselves go between friends.” The status of both associations, and the kind of activities and services each provided, were nonetheless integrally tied to their being “African,” while it was also different ambitions on the part of each group’s members to put that “Africanness” into practice that drove the two groups apart. Ostensibly the differences between the groups had most to do with the religious orientation of the second of the two. Most, if not all, of ADFM’s members had originally been members of ADFA; they le the older group because they wanted to create an association with a more explicit Muslim focus. The association’s religious interest notwithstanding, however, the organization counted only women from Sub-Saharan Africa among its forty-five or so active members and not, as might be imagined for a Muslim organization, women from the Maghreb. Other women from the group told


Collective Terms

me that in any case religion was only a small piece of the story. At its origin ADFA, the older organization, was really exciting, a member of the new group told me; but li le by li le meetings were held and decisions were made that, she said, its members did not know about, and they started to get disheartened. “Have you seen it now?” she asked me, speaking of the older organization. “It’s all French! With the exception of Aminata,” she said, referring to ADFA’s director, Aminata Diarra, “there aren’t any Africans le . It’s not normal.”4 Indeed, for all that Diarra and other members of ADFA are o en discouraged that they cannot find African women to take on responsible positions within the organization, the women of ADFM, by contrast, turn out for the association’s meetings and activities in force. Formed in the late 1980s, ADFA—the first of the two associations—was at the time the only organization in the immediate region of its kind. The association’s members, both past and present, recall its beginnings as a dynamic time. The organization brought African women from around the city together to participate in cultural events, create social networks, and provide mutual assistance in jumping the administrative hurdles of life in France. Before long, the city administration seized on the engaging potential of the group and shaped it to serve its need for a liaison with the city’s immigrant populations. ADFA started to receive state, departmental, and municipal funds—money for a part-time staff, permanent office space, and meeting rooms—and moved increasingly in the direction of an activist social service agency, intent on representing, serving, and intervening on behalf of the area’s immigrant populations. With time, as the organization gained recognition as an association of considerable standing in the local social and political landscape, its decision-making processes, the group’s former members claim, moved increasingly out of their hands. For Aminata Diarra, who works overtime securing funds for ADFA’s growing list of services and interventions, the diminishing number of African women active in running and directing the organization is a source of great frustration. She is aware that the image of the organization is intrinsically tied up with her personal leadership as a Malian woman with a canny understanding of the multiple worlds in which she moves. Since the departure of many of the original members, she has sought to a ract other African women to assume positions of responsibility within the organization, and explicitly created the training program for femmes mediatrices with this goal in mind. Women from Africa, the Maghreb, India and Sri Lanka, and occasionally from France participate in the organization’s activities—its literacy, health, and sewing classes, and the a er-school activities provided for neighborhood children—or come to seek assistance in negotiating the complex legalities of their immigrant status. The association’s clout, much of it established by Diarra’s reputation as an effective

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“cultural mediator” with a sophisticated understanding of integration issues in France, has given it enough credibility to argue persuasively on behalf of immigrant families who need help ge ing their papers in order, or managing the French bureaucracy, or securing a place to live. Among the more conflict-laden caseloads the association handles is the search for appropriate housing for low- to moderate-income polygamous families. These cases are difficult both because public housing simply is not built to accommodate families with numerous children and multiple wives, and more significantly because, polygamy being against the law in France, juridical rights and protections do not extend to co-wives who have no legal standing. In these cases, Diarra and her co-workers seek practical solutions that they hope will sensitize French officials to the need to extend social protections to co-wives and their children, lest they fall into the juridical no-man’s-land of people who cannot receive assistance because technically they do not exist. Aminata Diarra winces when others accuse her and her colleagues of routinizing the organization, or of leading it to become “too French.” In the early days, neither she nor anyone else imagined that the organization would turn toward social work, but when in 1989 the city invited members of the association to participate in discussions regarding the implementation of measures to assist the integration of the city’s disadvantaged populations, immigrants included, she was determined to play a part. The city administrators clearly saw a need for an association like ADFA to act as intermediary with local immigrant populations, to help them overcome, like any other group of exclu, the barriers to their integration. Rather than have “the whites” think that they, African women, were not capable of taking on the increased responsibilities of the organization, Diarra agreed to take on the role of director. She is adamant about the fact that somebody within the African community had to respond to the city’s appeal. As it was, local officials wanted to place ADFA under the tutelage of another, more experienced association in town, but Diarra refused. She was incensed, she says, by city administrators’ doubts about whether she and the other women of the association could manage their own affairs, a move that from her perspective amounted to a discriminatory slur. Thus while others may criticize Diarra for having taken over the leadership of the organization and changed its direction, she says she felt she had no choice. It was a political decision on her part, based on her commitment to sustaining an “African” and/or “immigrant” perspective in work directly tied to immigrant affairs. This was a choice favored by local officials as well, for even if they worried about the organization’s administrative capabilities, they were aware of the need for non-French mediation in its dealings with immigrant populations. Even if outwardly ADFA is


Collective Terms

defined as a social service agency, therefore, the organization’s development and current direction are integrally tied to its “Africanness.” Diarra insisted on maintaining control of the organization precisely because she was adamant that integration cannot occur equitably without the assertion of alternate points of view. To the extent that her work has been successful and received support, it reflects also a tacit understanding on the part of authorities at large that this is so. It was, however, because of the shi away from its more explicitly “cultural” focus that ADFA’s original membership broke away to create ADFM. The association served, for many of its members, as a social club, a place where they could affirm their cultural identities away from the public eye. The all-woman membership turned out for the association’s meetings and activities with gusto. Dressed, sometimes elaborately, in their African attire, they came together for their meetings to discuss business, share a meal, and sometimes have a party. They a ended one another’s parties and baptisms and family events, sold each other boubous, slippers, scarves, or gold jewelry that they had brought back from Africa or bought in bulk in Paris, and through the association paid into a fund that in turn helped finance various family obligations. The association provided these women a social life and a legitimate reason to dress up and go out on weekends, leaving their husbands and children behind. The majority of the women in ADFM were native Wolof speakers, but French was the only common language among them. It was not unusual for their meetings to be conducted in a multitude of languages. “In French!” one or another member would shout above the din, as she sought to bring the group back to a common language they all could understand. On the religious side, the group tried to organize a class in the Koran for members’ children; transmi ing and “valorizing” their culture, they argued, was also an important part of what they do. At times they experienced conflict between the religious and cultural components of their organization. At one meeting the women discussed criticisms they had received about a public festival they had organized in the fall. Some within the Muslim community had found the festival unbecoming to a religious organization. They argued that the women, dressed in their most elegant boubous, had been too bawdy when they danced: they had showed their “fesses,” backsides, too much—behavior hardly considered appropriate for a group that calls itself Muslim. Denise Toure, from Burkina Faso, laughed. “But we had so many layers of clothes on,” she said, “how could we have shown our fesses? You were there,” she said, turning to me. “Did you see our fesses?” “Besides,” said Mariam Diome, the group’s president, who was from Senegal, “it’s in our bylaws that we are both a religious and a cultural organization.” “If people criticize us,” another added, “then too bad.

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We’re doing this for us.” “Yes, but if we want to get access to rooms, to financial assistance…” “But if we listen to others we’ll never do anything at all.” Having a good time, I was told later, was also a part of religion. That too, was critical for preparing the spirit for prayer. Indeed, having a good time was a key to what these women were about. Their displays of jocularity were o en aggressive and sexual. A long way from their families—parents, aunts, uncles, and in some cases children— who still live in the countries they consider home, some of the members of the association spent most of their week commuting to Paris, where they worked taking care of other people’s parents and children, in small shops as seamstresses, or in businesses as maids and cooks. Others had semiprofessional training—Mariam Diome, for instance, was a nurse’s aide. The association provided a forum for the women to “be African”—explicitly so, allowing them to exult in the pleasure of making a space that was deliberately their own. On nearly every occasion, the women si ing near me took special care that I be given a fork or a spoon to eat with, despite my protests that I could serve myself, like them, from the pla er of food with my hands. Or it was not uncommon for women to change into African dress for the duration of a party, and back again into Western dress for the journey home. At one such party a Moroccan woman—she was not a member of the association but a friend of the hostess—put some North African music on the stereo and, alone in the center of the room, tied a scarf around her hips and shimmied and shook: she was marking her cultural space. Some of the West African women tried to imitate her. They laughed hard as they tried to make their hips move like hers. There was pleasure to be had in the marking of these distinctions. When I asked the association’s president Mariam Diome why she and others from her organization participated in larger, citywide social and cultural events, she replied that she thought it was important to “break barriers” and reach out to others in the neighborhood. “We live here, our children are here. To go toward others is to teach them. … If people don’t get to know one another then there will be racism, obligé.” This statement fit well within the parameters of local discourse. Others in Cergy also maintain that it is important to be “open” to other cultures, because that, they say, is the only way people of different backgrounds will learn to get along. The fêtes de quartier are, among other things, a celebration of that spirit of tolerance. But Mariam Diome’s comments also suggest another expectation: that others who appreciate aspects of their culture will learn something important about them, that their cultural “riches,” as they are defined in Cergy, will move others to new insight and respect. Other women from the group expressed similar thoughts. It was good, they said, that I a ended their meetings and parties, as that allowed me to see them


Collective Terms

“as they really are.” “You see, it’s good now, you come, you’re comfortable with us, we’re comfortable with you. It’s not like the others, they’re afraid or I don’t know what it is,” one of the women of the association said to me at the end of a party at her home. Pu ing their cultural “riches” on display would do more, they hoped, than insert them, one among many, into the larger collective frame. It would, rather, show others pieces of themselves that ma ered most. Their participation in local activities constituted a form of self-disclosure, a gesture made in hopes of winning others’ admiration and esteem.

Dancing African Many people in Cergy agree that to be “open” to others’ cultural differences is a positive thing. It is the only way, they argue, that all of the city’s residents, with their varied backgrounds and histories, will learn how to get along. “We need to share our riches in a spirit of tolerance,” Philippe Saulin, the president of St. Christophe Ensemble told me, “not close ourselves off each one in our own particular community.” Tolerance is assumed to bring greater understanding. Its moral valence grants those groups that are defined as “cultural,” or as having culture to give, a space from which to stake a claim. But “tolerance” can also breed other conflicts, for in spite of its presumed transparency, “culture” is a resource subject to debate. The tolerance that is choreographed during such events as the fêtes de quartier, for example, is intended to place all the participating social and cultural groups on a similar plane, where they stand in equal relationship to the overarching whole. Culture does not distinguish these groups, but provides them a means to fit in. This was a form of social organization that frustrated some of the women from ADFM who hoped to use their “culture” to win the admiration of others in the collectivity. Out of the demonstration of their culture(s), many of the women of the association sought a means to elevate themselves above the collective frame and win recognition for their distinction.5 Unlike the path taken by the directors of ADFA, who chose to advocate for and on behalf of people of immigrant origin whose distinct traditions, they felt, were not sufficiently taken into account by authorities with whom they had to interact, the women of ADFM responded to local integration politics through an exaltation of their Africanness, invented, as it were, out of the multiple languages and traditions that informed the backgrounds of the members of the group. In early October 1994 the women of ADFM organized their first special event—an African fête open to the public. The fête was held in the large

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basement common room of the Maison de Quartier in one of the older neighborhoods of the city. The women charged 100 francs, or $20, for admission, which included one free so drink served toward the middle of the evening. The entry fee, plus minimal publicity, had the effect that not many people outside of the organization a ended. When I spoke of the event to a colleague, a French sociologist based in Paris who had been working in Cergy for years, she told me she did not plan to a end because she figured the party would not be for the people of the “ville nouvelle, but more for them, the femmes musulmanes and their network.” Indeed, promoting the association was not high among its members’ priorities. They did not, for instance, set up a display on Association Day, when many of the city’s numerous associations seek out new members. Their recruitment worked mostly by word of mouth, a strategy that was nonetheless sufficient to a ract a large and commi ed membership. Nor were the women especially concerned about aligning themselves with local preferences. Through the end of their second year, the association had not requested supporting funds from the local government. Most of the members were not interested in assuming the obligations to the city such support would imply and agreed to fund their activities, rather, with the dues paid by active members. Members of the association were nonetheless a entive to local protocol and eager to win the administration’s good favor. At their fête in October, the women put chairs aside for special guests. To their intense pleasure, a member of the city council a ended the event with his wife, and later the mayor arrived and was a entively ushered to her seat. The two officials were treated as honored guests, and the mayor’s presence, especially, was duly noted. The two-man video crew that recorded the evening’s activities, their camera connected directly to a monitor so spectators could see what they were filming, highlighted the mayor’s presence with frequent close-ups. With the exception of a line dance, however, when the association’s members tried to teach the city councilor’s wife how to swing her hips like they do, most of the women did not go out of their way to encourage their paying guests to join them in the evening’s festivities. They dedicated most of the evening, rather, to a dance in which only they participated. Rolling their hips and li ing their skirts to reveal layers of pe icoats underneath, they danced provocatively with the small group of Senegalese drummers who provided the music. Midway through the evening the women lined up for a “fashion show of traditional dress.” Wearing multilayered boubous, elegant jewelry, and headdresses, their hair done up in elaborate braids, they paraded across the floor in clothes from their native regions (Figure 6.6). The president of the association took the microphone and announced the countries from which they came: Senegal,


Collective Terms

Figure 6.6. Women from ADFM put on a fashion show of African dress.

Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania. A professional photographer, o en present at their functions, took their pictures. For her part, the mayor’s a endance at the fête signaled an interest in the association’s creation. As part of what she called her “politics of proximity,” it was important that she know and be in contact with this energetic group of African women, most of whom had defected from one of the more prominent immigrant associations in the city. She was, it seemed, interested in encouraging the women’s involvement as active participants in the city’s animated public life, and she used the occasion of her a endance at this event to ask them if they would be interested in organizing another cultural event for the spring. Her request was interpreted by some of the women in the association as an affirmation of their contribution to city life. They looked forward to the possibility of a spring event as an opportunity to make an indelible mark on the local map. Such an occasion would allow them to break with the dominant frame and assert the cultural value of their association in more singular terms. Denise Toure, from Burkina Faso, was especially taken by the mayor’s propositions. It was from her that I first learned of the mayor’s interest in having the association organize a spring event. “She [the mayor] says maybe we could do it bigger this time,” Denise explained; “maybe at the Axe Majeur, so everyone will come.” Speaking to me only a week a er their October fête, Denise told me she was already looking into whether Yous-

Having Culture


sou N’Dour, or maybe Baaba Maal—two Senegalese world music celebrities—would be able to provide the entertainment. She went on, adding that the husband of one of her co-workers worked as a cook at the residence of the Senegalese president in Paris. Maybe, she speculated, given this connection, even the first lady of Senegal would be able to a end. Denise Toure’s enthusiasm for this event was repeatedly tempered by ADFM’s president, who maintained on several occasions that what the mayor really had in mind was a mixed cultural event at which ADFM would be only one of several participating groups. Denise, however, would have none of this. Other groups could organize their own event if they wanted to, she said, but she did not want them piggybacking on what she envisioned as a triumphant moment for the association. She imagined the event as an opportunity for the women to show off their African culture. They would organize performances of African music, dance, poetry, and dress. Their children would participate. It would take place in the large gymnasium in Cergy–St. Christophe, and many people would a end. In Denise’s mind’s eye, the African culture the association’s members shared would serve as a vehicle to engage their children’s interest, to make them proud of their parents and their heritage, to touch the hearts and minds of others in the collectivity, and win their admiration and respect. As the only Burkinabé woman in the organization, Toure’s zeal was not reserved for her particular traditions, language, or heritage alone. The “African culture” of which she and other women in the association spoke was a mélange of their multiple traditions, a pan–West African culture of which Paris, an important site on the world music map, was becoming a hub. Passing this culture on to her own and other members’ children required that Denise look for models outside of her own experience. She turned, quite literally, to products for sale in a Paris video store. Returning from the city one day armed with videocasse es of girls “dancing African,” Denise met with a group of children and teenagers at the Maison de Quartier to organize their performances for the spring event. The girls in the videos were dressed, in one case, in halter tops and wrap skirts, in another in traditional African dress. “You see,” she said to me and the children she had assembled, “we’re going to have them dress like that. They’re going to learn these dances.” Two of the girls, giggling, asked Denise if they could also dance to other things, like “funk” or “souk.” “That will be difficult,” Denise replied, “because that’s out of the African frame. It has to be an African event. We don’t want to do things that are European, Western.” At a previous meeting, another woman from the association had raised the objection that all young people want to do these days is dance to rap music. “They don’t know how to dance African,” she said. “They’re just interested in wiggling their hips.” The women of the asso-


Collective Terms

ciation looked to the spring event as an opportunity for their children to learn and perform their African culture. Denise announced to the children that she had plans for them not only to dance, but also to sing and recite poetry. She hinted that maybe even a television crew would come, that they would be filmed and “seen everywhere,” and that they would make their mothers proud. West African music and dance—distinct, in Denise’s view, from all that was “European,” and yet available for purchase in a Paris boutique—was going to be their ticket to a greater recognition. Later that winter, the association’s president Mariam Diome met with the city administrator in charge of coordinating the city’s busy vie associative. Her office, the service CAPVA (Cellule d’animation et promotion vie associative), had been created to respond to the needs of the proliferating number of associations present in the city and was to act as a central clearinghouse. Mariam Diome met with the director of the service to discuss the possibilities for the association’s spring cultural event, and to see how to tap into local resources. But there she encountered another logic that diminished the association’s plans. From the municipality’s point of view, what ma ered was not that the women from ADFM put on a spectacular show, but that they participate with others in the regular and ostensibly inclusive social life of the city. To this end, the director of CAPVA encouraged Diome to envision the event in other terms, to be more “open,” and to work in partnership with other organizations around the city. In the end, they concluded that the best solution would be for ADFM to participate, with others, in the city’s (and country’s) annual Fête de la Musique— a daylong festival during which groups of musicians, both amateur and professional, gather at various locales and perform for the passing crowds. This was, according to CAPVA’s director, a decision that she and ADFM’s president arrived at together: So from having started with this project that was completely vague, she [Mariam Diome] realized that her ideas were too closed in. … And then we realized that the period when she wanted to do this was full of other activities around the city … so that her project could allow her an opening toward these activities.

“It’s very important to work in partnership,” she continued. “The more you have partners, the more you meet people to work with, the more effectively you valorize not only your work, but your association itself. … So that’s really important, to find one’s place in relation to everyone else who is active in the city.” In keeping with this logic, she encouraged Diome to coordinate her plans with officials at city hall, but in the end ADFM never participated in the Fête de la Musique, and the association’s vaunted spring cultural event never occurred.

Having Culture


The director of CAPVA’s emphasis that ADFM strive to make liaisons with other associations in the city was fully consistent with the larger logic of integration, by which city services and civic groups are looked on as “partners.” As such they are expected to work together in the creation of a larger project, and toward a greater goal. The city’s annual fêtes, among other examples, put this principle in motion: each participating group is considered equal to the others, all ranked in relation to the city’s overarching whole. Visions such as those of Denise Toure are incompatible with this objective. Her idea was to use the association’s cultural “riches” to carve out a distinguished space for her group and West Africans generally. Faced with the logic of the city, these aspirations were never realized. Indeed, in Cergy, “culture” is to promote the work of creating a more cohesive social whole. In these instances, therefore, even others’ cultural differences can be bent to the service of making them French. Moving beyond the immediate context of Cergy, the questions I have sought to raise here have to do with what to do with the concept of “culture.” Kuper has suggested that we avoid the word altogether, and “talk more precisely of knowledge, or belief, or art, or technology, or tradition, or even of ideology (though similar problems are raised by that multivalent concept)” (1999: x). And yet culture clearly ma ers. It ma ers to people in Cergy for whom it serves as a way of enlarging their understandings of themselves and others; it ma ers to the women of ADFM who in no uncertain terms found pleasure in acting out their “Africanness,” even as that Africanness ran the risk of being reduced to “exotic drinks,” dancing, and styles of dress; it ma ers to the directors of ADFA who, for all that they conformed to local expectations, remain strong in their conviction that only by bringing their alternate perspectives to bear will various administrative services find solutions appropriate to the circumstances in which people of multiple different origins find themselves. It ma ers for people who talk about the value of tolerance, about the necessity of respecting one another’s cultural differences, and the importance of learning to get along. And yet, as these examples show, it remains unclear to what “culture” most directly refers. I suggest that the reason culture has come to ma er so—and more now, it could be argued, than it did even fi y years ago—is because it provides legitimate symbolic grounds on which to assert particular claims within liberal democracies, where feelings of exclusion and discrimination remain o en so diffuse. This is especially true in France, where, as I have shown, the resistance to viewing social problems through a racial or ethnic lens is particularly strong. Indeed, as “culture” is asserted there, it remains to be determined just what are the “cultural differences” to which people refer. In Cergy, this is a question to which people who


Collective Terms

participate in community events in cultural ways are obliged to respond. As they represent their cultures at events like the fêtes de quartier, they make choices about what it means to be African or Berber or Vietnamese or French, and in so doing invest these categories with meaning. “Culture” is then defined as existing in these categories, and the categories come to serve as ways that people try to explain to themselves and others who “they really are.” As in so many places where “diversity” has been asserted as a legitimate claim, in Cergy culture is a resource to be negotiated and defined, even—or perhaps especially—as it is assumed to refer directly, and with li le ambiguity, to the way people “really are.” This presumed transparency, as well as the moral valence placed on “tolerance,” have rendered “culture” and “difference” particularly potent political resources in these multicultural times. The shared histories and activities of ADFA and ADFM reveal the complex interlacing of the social and cultural aspects of French integration policy, as well as the extent to which definitions of “culture,” especially, are formed by different actors pursuing particular social and political goals. More significantly, they show the extent to which the cultural differences that are so o en assumed as “givens”—in Cergy, in other banlieue, and in considerable amounts of writing on multiculturalism—are polyvalent, the symbolic grounds across which significant political, social, and economic struggles about the right to resources are being waged.



 Much has changed in France since I first started to conduct my research there in the mid 1990s. Jacques Chirac, who was elected during the course of my first period of fieldwork, is no longer president; the National Front, a er having come close to a stunning, and disturbing, victory in the presidential elections of 2002, is less present, even as many would argue that the ideas the party stands for have been usurped by the party now in power and moved more solidly into the mainstream. The Socialist Party, along with the Le more generally, is in disarray, while Nicolas Sarkozy, the man who infamously referred to the youth in the troubled suburbs as “scum” just prior to the riots in 2005, is now president of the republic. The issues of insecurity, exclusion, urban unrest, and immigrant “difference” that I have discussed throughout this book are just as present now, if not more so than when I first became interested in these subjects, and the “problem” of the banlieue would seem to have increased in urgency, while significant solutions of any long-term benefit are in short supply. In Cergy, too, the political, social, and physical landscape is not quite the same. “Difficult” neighborhoods are now traversed by surveillance cameras and locked enclosures. The Maison de Quartier in Cergy–St. Christophe (since renamed le Quartier de l’Axe Majeur et l’horloge) no longer plays the central role it once did, as new antennes de quartier that serve as mediating outposts of city hall have been set up around the city, extending the municipal government’s “politics of proximity” into its different neighborhoods (Garbaye 1997). City hall, by contrast, no longer sits in the center of St. Christophe, but has moved, in a symbolic shi of some significance, to a larger, corporate-looking building on the outskirts of the


Collective Terms

district. A socialist majority continues to sit on the municipal council, but the figure of the mayor has changed. Even the central marketplace has been made more rational, with the fruit and vegetable, fish, cheese, and meat vendors now selling their wares from an enclosed shed on the outer edges of the open market square. Still under construction when I first arrived, the newest district of the city at Cergy-le-Haut has turned into a relatively dense maze of mid-rise apartment buildings and commercial streets; it is there that residents can expect to see the city’s first mosque constructed. An older and problematic district of the city—the neighborhood destined to receive people of immigrant and lower socioeconomic background which, when the city was first constructed, was viewed as a bold experiment in “social mixing” (see chapter 1)—has since been completely razed, the sinuous pathways that at the time were meant to foster a small-town feel now replaced by buildings and walkways built in straight lines, with be er lighting. The notion that be er urban form will foster be er social function is once again being here renewed. More importantly, there is evidence that the mixité sociale that was intended to be a hallmark of the New Town is in decline, and especially in the neighborhood of Cergy–St. Christophe. Between 1990 and 1999, the most recent date for which census data is available, the number of people working in midlevel management and administrative jobs declined considerably, while the numbers of unskilled laborers, people in unsteady employment, and the unemployed have been on the rise.1 Beyond Cergy, the controversial subjects of race, culture, and difference, though no less contentious, are to a certain degree being more openly discussed, as evidenced by such scholarly works as Fassin and Fassin’s De la question sociale à la question raciale? and Ndiaye’s La Condition Noire, the national media a ention granted the CRAN (the Conseil Représentatif des Associations Noires) a er its founding in 2005, and experiments in affirmative action–type programs (under the rubric of discrimination positive) as initiated by elite schools of higher learning like the Institut d’Etudes Politiques (Sciences Po) and ESSEC (a prestigious business school). Not insignificantly, these programs target promising students from the banlieue (or more precisely from educational priority zones, or ZEPs), thus making geographic location, versus ethnic identification as in the United States, the object of their actions. Controversial proposals to allow ethnic criteria as a legitimate variable in the collection of statistical data and as a legitimate target of enlarged affirmative action programs have moved to central stage. While recent initiatives of this sort have been struck down out of concern that such practices would have “perverse effects” and lead to a “rise in communitarian tensions and resentments” (Le Figaro, 17 December 2008), efforts to render “diversity” more transparent continue to make

Conclusion 161

headline news. The debates that lie at the core of this book thus continue unabated, with the problem of the banlieue rising regularly to the top of the country’s domestic agenda and weakening, many fear, the French republican model that to date has not been able to staunch the dissolution and unrest in evidence there. Increasing numbers of people in France would seem to be looking to notions of culture, race, and “difference” as means to explain, or perhaps seek solutions for, these ongoing social problems. I have argued that in order to understand these phenomena it is necessary to consider, first, the social contexts in which these categories come into play and are a ributed value. The ethnic diversity that has long been a reality of French urban life constitutes a considerable piece of life in the banlieue; in order to grasp its significance I have sought to inquire into the frameworks and negotiations used by people locally to put into practice their commonly held collective life. The French republican contract, its integration ideal, constitutes the overall discursive frame within which these forms of negotiation take place. Over the past decades, this ideal has been hotly debated by some and resolutely defended by others. It lies at the center of numerous political debates and regularly sways the kinds of choices people make in their defense of or assault on what they consider to be the limits of the acceptable. It is central to an understanding of cultural pluralism in contemporary France not only as a form of discourse, but more importantly as a form of practice that is regularly asserted, challenged, tested, and remade “on the ground.” Integration as a form of political policy has created material results, among them the “mixed” communities, neighborhoods, and housing projects in the banlieue in which it was hoped everyone would, over time, “become French.” While this objective has most certainly not been realized as policy makers at first envisioned, these urban spaces have nonetheless created new social configurations—“mixing,” a er all, has not been without consequence— generating the conditions against which contemporary questions of identity in France are being asked. As a New Town, the city of Cergy provides one example of a deliberate program of social reform begun in the mid 1960s. Reproducing a logic that has served historically as a fundamental precept in the construction of the French Republic, the model of community built into Cergy’s landscape was intended to engender a cohesive social whole that would sustain itself over time. The New Towns were conceived in order to stave off the social dissolution thought to be at work in the hastily built suburbs of the postwar period. They were designed with diversity in mind, on the contention that a mix of people of different ages, occupations, and social classes would help create “balance” and social cohesion as people forged social ties across their mutually enforcing social functions. The hope was, too,


Collective Terms

that out of the warp and we of their daily lives, the New Towns’ residents would build something bigger than any one of their singular parts—a social fabric, a shared public sphere, a common culture—to which they would all feel some sense of a achment, and to which they would all seek, actively, to belong. This is what, according to the dominant republican model, French culture and the French nation are meant to be for France’s citizens—a commonly held sphere of social life that is built out of acts of public participation and that gives back the protections of belonging to a diverse and complex social whole. Once touted as a “city of the future,” Cergy is now very much a city of its time. The utopian modernist vision that resulted in the city’s construction has given way to the complexities of late twentieth- and early twenty-first–century urban life. The city’s residents, like their counterparts in other cities in France, grapple with the realities of long-term unemployment and its nefarious effects. As their city has grown, so they have had to adapt, repeatedly, to the demands of rapid urbanization and social change. Most significantly, they have had to contend with what many among them perceive as a risk of imminent social breakdown. Built amidst hopes that it would engender new forms of citizenship and a newly engaged public sphere, Cergy is also emblematic of what many hold to be the fundamental social problem of their times. As a New Town, the city is populated— with the exception of the city’s youth—entirely by people whose sense of belonging and tradition reaches back to someplace else. Without their strenuous efforts to make it thrive, many fear that the city will become a site of modern anomie, with only a loosely knit social fabric and no sense of common vision to which the city’s residents can adhere. This is the image that is regularly sent up of the country’s dissolute suburbs. It is the image that those whom I have called Cergy’s activists have worked so resolutely to push against. I have argued that it is only when viewed against this background that the matrix of relationships that many refer to as the country’s “immigrant problem” can be understood. In Cergy, as in other cities in France, the question of how best to integrate people of foreign origin into the local design is being posed in relation to larger anxieties about how best to build and sustain a cohesive social fabric in a period marked by a preeminent concern for the problems of insecurity and social dissolution. Held to be more than a singular consequence of a period of sustained unemployment, these problems are above all seen to be a sign that other integrative social institutions—the family, the community—are also breaking down. The struggle to hold these forces at bay has been waged, locally, across a contested moral terrain. There, “responsible” civic participation is posed as the necessary antidote to contemporary processes of exclusion and civic

Conclusion 163

unrest, and it is through this prism of abstract moral principles that people’s behaviors and identities are regularly passed. The discursive shi , led by members of self-styled minority groups, to focus on questions of ethnic and cultural difference marks an important challenge to this framework, drawing a ention to the way integration can act as a discriminating force that selects and chooses, even as it strives to create an ostensibly universal, cohesive whole. In a recent article, the demographer Patrick Simon discusses the concept of “indirect discrimination.” This is a phenomenon, he states, for which “the question of intent is not decisive. … A set of procedures and decisions, none of which is, strictly speaking, discriminatory, could end up filtering individuals in a sufficiently regular manner … based on their origin without its author even consciously trying to produce that result” (2008: 24). The moral regimes enacted in the name of the collective interest that I have discussed in this book could be considered, perhaps, to fall under the rubric of this concept. And yet I would caution against too readily assuming the assertion of forms of “culture clash” that this notion could produce. While conceptions of “culture” and “difference” have become critical sites for political and social struggle in France, the tensions that they signify do not fall easily along demarcated fault lines between distinctly drawn cultural groups. To the contrary, the very mixité that integration policies have sought to foster has rendered these interactions more opaque—and, it seems to me, more interesting—occurring as they do between people whose cultural identifications—French-born sons of Algerian-born workers; West African women of diverse regional, linguistic, and national backgrounds; foreign-born, naturalized French citizens who define themselves variably as either “immigrant” or “French”—are so much more complex. That these people are marked, and mark themselves, in distinctly cultural and sometimes racial ways has to do with history, with the differentiating practices of the republican project, and with the multiple identifications people use to navigate the numerous trajectories of their lives. Situations of “culture contact” are in these instances being dramatized, as people make efforts to work through the complex histories that have brought them to this particular time and place. As many have observed and as new forms of “identity politics” attest, these forms of contestation are hardly unique. Cultural and ethnic differences are being mobilized in many parts of the world as people in subaltern positions a empt to situate themselves within a globalizing capitalist order (Baumann 1996; Bauman 2001; Miller 1994; Turner 1994; Wacquant 2008). But as we seek to make sense of these phenomena, it is important that we heed the concerns of critics who warn against taking these assertions at face value, and inquire rather into the historical, social,


Collective Terms

economic, and political interests and/or anxieties that these classifications serve. Why has “diversity” become a political issue? Why are oppositional politics being formulated in these terms? Thinking through these questions by maintaining a unique focus on “culture,” “difference,” and ethnic groups all too o en leads to an overly rigid and reified framework that in these days of disjunction, displacement, and flux is no longer tenable, if it ever was. As Gupta and Ferguson put it, the “deceptively simple-sounding belief that France is where the French live” (1992: 12) is no longer so deceptively clear, not only because France is, and long has been, a diverse, polyglot territory and nation, but because as a source of identity, and outside of their juridical applications, the notions “France” and “French” (or Senegalese or Moroccan or American) cannot be held to any kind of strict definition, and nor should we a empt to try.2 Of course in France, people also carry on as if the meanings of these terms were a ma er of common consent. In Cergy, West and North Africans hold a continual exchange about who or what is African, Arab, or French, if Algerians are African or if blacks can be Arab, and why, in the end, they are all more clean, kind, or hospitable than the French. French people, in turn, joke about the differences between being a Norman and a Savoyard, and rank what they hold to be the distinctions between their Asian, African, and Caribbean neighbors. With these remarks the city’s residents try to explain the differences of experience, access to resources, and behavior that the city’s “mixing” has given them occasion to observe. And yet as I have shown, these sorts of distinctions are held to be mostly extraneous to the working-out of everyday community concerns. The tenacity of this social model against a more explicit cultural reading of daily life holds potential for rethinking the way we understand how people frame their understandings of themselves and others, their rich and complex experiences, within culturally plural contexts. I have sought to tease it apart the be er to understand its consequences, and for the very simple reason that it can help us see “difference” from a different point of view.


 Population Profile Cergy–St. Christophe 1990–2001

Description Total Population Percentage of total population under 20 years old Percentage of total population of foreign (non-French) nationality² Percentage of French population who are foreign-born (e.g., naturalized French) Percentage of foreign (non-French) population from the Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia) Percentage of foreign (non-French) population from sub-Saharan Africa Percentage of population unemployed Percentage of population unemployed ages 15–24 Percentage of unemployed who have been unemployed for less than one year Percentage of unemployed who have been unemployed for more than one year

Cergy–St. Christophe 1990 1999 2001 source: source: source: INSEE INSEE SIRS1 9,644.0 9,882.0 45.3 38.9 18.3



City of Cergy 1990 1999 source: source: INSEE INSEE 48,227.0 54,816.0 38.9 32.5 13.5


8.8 15.7

12.0 20.2




12.0 19.2

16.4 25.7












Description Percentage of unemployment among population of foreign (non-French) nationality Percentage of working population in precarious employment (short-term, temporary, internship) Percentage of working population in executive or high-level professional jobs (cadres, Prof. Intel. Supérieur) Percentage of working population in white-collar administrative jobs (employés adminisratifs d’entreprise) Percentage of working population in blue-collar jobs (ouvriers) …percentage of whom are skilled workers (ouvriers qualifiés) …percentage of whom are unskilled workers (ouvriers non qualifiés) Percentage of unskilled workers of foreign (non-French) nationality

Cergy–St. Christophe 1990 1999 2001 source: source: source: INSEE INSEE SIRS1 24.3 26.0





City of Cergy 1990 1999 source: source: INSEE INSEE 20.6 24.2


























Total number of households Percentage of households with French head of household Percentage of households with foreign head of household Percentage of single-parent households Percentage of households living below the poverty level

2,818.0 83.4

3,259.0 84.0

15,280.0 88.0

18,883.0 88.8









Percentage of population who are homeowners Percentage of population in subsidized housing (HLM) Percentage of population in subsidized housing (HLM) with foreign head of household














¹Poll cited in Parizot et al. (2004) ²Does not include people of foreign origin who have taken French citizenship ³Sample size is smaller than figures cited by INSEE as only 18–59-year-olds are included


 Introduction 1. See, for instance, Doug Ireland, “Le ers,” The Nation, 23 January 2006; Hargreaves and McKinney (1997); Norindr (1996). 2. See also Conklin (1998). 3. See Kates (1990) for an instructive discussion of this principle and its application to the case of Jewish emancipation during the French Revolution. 4. For recent arguments along similar lines, see, among others, Beriss (2004), Keaton (2006), and Price (2007), and Mathy (2000) for a discussion of the reciprocal, and frequently at odds, “Anglo-Saxon” and “French” debates on this subject. 5. The supposed elision between Frenchness and universality is o en proposed as a paradox by scholars critical of the French model, as in this statement by Beriss (2004: 27): “To be French is to be a member of a particular nation and representative of a universal ideal. To be anything else is to be only particular, a condition that may be escaped only by becoming French.” 6. See, for instance, Blu (1980: 7): “I was interested in the elusive subject of identity, a subject that tended to disappear when direct inquiries were made,” and Sartre in his essay “Black Orpheus”: “if he [the black poet] turns around to look squarely at his negritude, it vanishes in smoke” (1988 [1948]: 299). 7. See, among others, Barou (1984); MacMaster (1991); Silverman (1992). See also Grillo (1989). 8. The headscarf issue has served as a lightning rod for many of the controversies incited by the Islamic presence in France. Feminists have argued that headscarves, as a symbol of women’s oppression, do not belong in the classroom. Others, worried about the spread of fundamentalist Islam, express concern that girls who wear headscarves are being pressured by their extremist brothers and fathers. Still others argue that obedience to religious precepts will prevent these girls from participating in certain school activities—gym classes, for example—that constitute part of a well-rounded education. Some girls, meanwhile, have insisted on wearing the veil in defiance of what they consider to be the assimilationist pressures of the French state, and others argue that it is hypocritical of the state to rule against headscarves on the grounds of the separation of church and state when Christian boys and girls are allowed to wear Catholic crosses without exception. In 2004 the legislature sought to put an end the problem through passage of a law that makes it illegal to wear any “ostentatious” religious symbol in the schools, a law that, despite its careful wording, many see as explicitly directed against



the French Muslim population. The law and the debate leading up to it should also be seen as an effort to address more broadly, within the context of a heightened awareness of the complexities of the multicultural society that France has become, what it means to be French. See, among others, Beriss (1990); Bowen (2006); Feldblum (1993); Gaspard and Khrosrokhavar (1995); Holston and Appadurai (1996); Le Monde (4 June 1994, 13 September 1994); Sco (2007); Vichniac (1991); Weil (2004). 9. Literally “the waterer gets watered,” a French expression that comes from the title of one of the first Lumière films, in which a gardener’s watering hose is turned back on himself. 10. For a helpful analysis of “folk” and “analytic” uses of identity terms, see Brubaker and Cooper (2000). 11. See Bauman on what he calls the “sound and fury” of the contemporary interest in identity, that he argues substitutes for a more stable experience of community that in the world of fast-track capitalism has come undone. “‘Identity,’” he writes, “owes the a ention it a racts and the passions it begets to being a surrogate of community: of that allegedly ‘natural home’ which is no longer available in a privatized and individualized, fast globalizing world… The paradox is that in order to offer even a modicum of security and thus perform its healing role, identity must belie its origin, must deny being just a surrogate. It needs to conjure up a phantom of the self-same community which it has come to replace” (2001:128–129).

Chapter 1 1. A total of nine New Towns were constructed in all. In addition to the five around Paris, two were built in the vicinity of Lille, one outside of Lyon, and another outside of Marseille. 2. The New Town that Delouvrier helped conceive is more correctly called CergyPontoise. The city of Cergy is one of 12 (originally 11) municipalities that make up the entire ville nouvelle. 3. The work of, among others, Zola, Hugo, Baudelaire, the Impressionist painters, and later, Walter Benjamin, all reflect the centrality of Paris to their understanding and description of modernity. See Blake and Frascina (1993); Clarke (1984); Harvey (1989a, 2003); Higonnet (2002); Prendergast (1992). 4. Notable exceptions include earlier urbanization projects, namely the Place des Vosges and the Place Dauphine, initiated under Henri IV in the seventeenth century. 5. Schwartz (1998) argues that during the la er part of the nineteenth century Paris became “spectacularized”: all manner of daily life took on the quality of an object to be experienced at a partial remove. The same could be said for how Haussmann viewed Paris: he took the bird’s-eye view, which he subsequently inscribed on the city through his network of perspectives and spectacular views. See also Mitchell (1989). 6. These and other examples of Haussmann’s visual “tricks” can be found in Jordan (1995: 194–198). 7. The district around the Garnier Opera House, with its broad avenues and modern department stores—those elegant temples to modern commerce—is perfectly Haussmannian in form and character (and reveals how li le he anticipated the coming of the automobile).

Notes 169

8. Haussmann’s construction of major city parks in working-class parts of the city suggests nonetheless that he was not immune to nineteenth-century efforts at moral reform. 9. The project to construct the grands ensembles was national in scope, and large housing projects of the sort were also launched on the edges of numerous other cities in France. The problems presented by the Paris banlieue, however, were particular, given the strong population pressures on the city and the irregular development that had characterized the Paris region in the period up to World War II. 10. Member of the Resistance, Abbé Pierre was the founder, in 1949, of Emmaüs, an organization that militates for decent housing for the homeless. 11. For more on the grands ensembles, see also Brun (1985), Lallaoui (1993), Merlin (1989), and Fourcaut and Pacquot (2002). 12. Circular of 21 March 1973. 13. For a sensitive and compelling view of life in the bidonvilles, see Bourlem Guerdjou’s 1998 film Vivre au Paradis, which shows also the tensions experienced by bidonvilles residents as they struggled to navigate between their desire to live and work in France, state repression, and their sympathies for the Algerian struggle. 14. From the government circular dated 10 April 1972 on the cités de transit: Article 2.1. “The cités de transit can be defined as groups of lodgings intended to provide temporary housing to families, identified as precarious occupants, for whom access to definitive housing cannot be envisaged without socio-educational intervention destined to assist their social insertion and their promotion. Clearly, the cités de transit are able to receive foreign families as well as families of French origin.” Article 2.1.1 “[The cité de transit] is intended only for families who present problems of social insertion and who risk in the future being rejected by the habitual populations of social housing.” Cited in Laé and Murard (1985:198). 15. Contrary to what is here assumed, individual shantytowns were, according to some, well-kept, in spite of the difficulties of the overall living conditions. See for example testimony in Lallaoui (1993) and Pétonnet (1979). 16. As recently as July 1997, Le Monde reported the demise of the last of the cités de transit in Nanterre. Constructed in 1956, the cité continued to house a total of 253 families (Le Monde 16 July 1997). 17. In Algeria, Delouvrier was general delegate to the colonial government from 1958 to 1960, a post to which he was appointed by de Gaulle (Savitch 1988: 100). There, he was charged with the implementation and oversight of the “Constantine Plan,” an ambitious social and economic development scheme intended to pacify an increasingly restless population in Algeria and in turn weaken the FLN. The plan was never realized due to the Algerian War and Independence in 1962. h p: // le-plan-de-constantine.html 18. See Wilson for similar arguments regarding the importance of class diversity in American inner cities. “Even if the truly disadvantaged segments of an inner-city area experience a significant increase in long-term spells of joblessness,” Wilson writes, “the basic institutions in that area (churches, schools, stores, recreational facilities, etc.) would remain viable if much of the base of their support comes from the more economically stable and secure families” (1987: 56). 19. All the names of the people with whom I worked in Cergy have been changed. 20. In addition to Paul Delouvrier, many of the engineers and planners responsible for the New Towns had held high posts in France’s colonial administrations. Jean Millier, second in command to Delouvrier, worked as minister of public works in Ivory Coast (Hirsch 1990: 26). In the 1950s, Bernard Hirsch, director of planning for Cergy-Pontoise, was director of public works in Mali and Mauritania (Hirsch 1990: preface). See Leb-



ovics (2004) for more on colonial officers and their transition to the metropole following decolonization.

Chapter 2 1. Some of these zones, Cergy–St. Christophe included, have also been declared ZRUs, or zones de redynamisation urbaine, signifying a particularly low income base. 2. The first tentative efforts in France at affirmation action, called discrimination positive, significantly target young people from “education priority zones” or ZEPs (zone d’éducation prioritaire), many if not most of which are located in the suburbs, confirming again the extent to which growing up in certain areas is considered a sign of disadvantage. Students from these zones are allowed alternate admissions requirements to some of the country’s elite grandes écoles, notably the Institut d’Etudes Politiques (Sciences-Po), the first institution to put this initiative in place in 2001, followed by ESSEC, a prestigious business school. 3. In 1999, urban zones designated as being “in difficulty” had on average an unemployment rate of 25.4 percent as against 12.8 percent in France overall (Lelévrier 2004: III.1). 4. See Wacquant (2008) for a compelling discussion of the devolution of these neighborhoods and the significant ways in which they differ from the American urban zones to which they are frequently compared (cf. the Nouvel Observateur article cited below). 5. “Black” is a term used to refer mostly to teenagers with black skin, regardless of whether they are of African or Caribbean origin. “Skins” refers to “skinheads,” generally thought of as white teenagers associated with the National Front. “Beur” is a slang word that refers to second-generation Arab youth. “Feuj” is “juif,” or Jewish, in verlan, the youth street language. 6. The author of this article, Farid Aïchoune, himself of Algerian origin, has recounted elsewhere his experiences as a child in Paris in October 1961, when he, his mother and sister were rounded up by the police during a period of heightened tensions during the Algerian War. See Stora (1998: 97). 7. According to a report from 2004, unemployment rates in Cergy–St. Christophe hover around 20 percent, while the 1999 census places this figure at 16 percent (see Appendix). Roughly an equal percentage of people hold part-time or short-term jobs and have what the French call “precarious” employment. Crime in the neighborhood is mostly concentrated in car the and vandalism (Parizot et al. 2004; Ministère de l’emploi, du travail et de la cohesion sociale 2006). 8. The history of religious institutions in the New Town provides, in itself, a capsule glimpse at the history of mentalities as they have changed over the past forty years. Reflecting the secular spirit of the times in which they were built, Cergy’s first neighborhoods were designed without churches, the idea being that people would find their own spiritual way through local neighborhood associations and/or in the old village church. By contrast, somewhat imposing churches have been built in the newer neighborhoods of Cergy–St. Christophe and Cergy-le-Haut and now, for the first time, a mosque. While this project, still in the fundraising stage (funds are being raised by a local multiethnic Muslim organization), has not been without controversy, it has received the support of city hall.

Notes 171

9. The village of Boisemont joined the agglomération of Cergy-Pontoise, originally comprised of eleven municipalities, in 2005. 10. Cergy-Pontoise was officially designated a communauté d’agglomération in 2005, a change of statute that technically moves the city beyond its status as a ville nouvelle. The EPA, which was created specifically to oversee the development of the ville nouvelle, is now obsolete. 11. See de la Pradelle (1996) on the social and economic viability of markets in France. 12. The official French census, conducted every ten years, does not obtain information on racial or ethnic origins, though it does differentiate between “foreign” and “French.” The census figures for 1999 show 15.5 percent of the population of Saint Christophe to be of foreign nationality. An internal document produced for the city in 1994 stated that in certain neighborhoods the percentage of foreigners was as high as 47 percent (Ville de Cergy 1994). The data cited here come from a survey conducted by a private company in 2001 for Ile de France. 13. The mayor, a former socialist, broke with the party in 1993 and ran as an independent in 1995. 14. See Tissot (2006) for a discussion of the institutionalized limits placed on practices of participation in “difficult neighborhoods” in the banlieue. See also Agulhon and Bodiguel (1981) and Palard (1991). 15. The division of urban sectors into zones urbaines sensibles was not enacted until 1996; as early as the late 1980s, however, Cergy–St. Christophe was identified as a neighborhood in need of intervention.

Chapter 3 1. See Bauman (2007) on what he calls “one of the most bewildering paradoxes” of our “liquid times.” Cities, he writes, “have become dumping grounds for globally conceived and gestated problems. The residents of cities and their elected representatives tend to be confronted with a task which by no stretch of imagination can they fulfil: the task of finding local solutions to globally conceived troubles and quandaries” (2007: 83, emphasis in the original). As I argue here, it is important to keep this perspective in the frame when considering the frustrations and resentments felt in the contemporary banlieue. 2. la luĴe contre exclusion 3. See Donzelot and Roman (1991). 4. This “day” has since been transformed into a “week” devoted to “international solidarity.” 5. Pierre Bourdieu makes this same argument in Distinction (1984: 134): “Indeed, it presents no paradox to suggest that the chief victims of the devaluing of academic qualifications are those who enter the labour market without such qualifications. The devaluation of diplomas is accompanied by the gradual extension of the monopoly held by academicqualification-holders over positions previously open to the academically unqualified, which has the effect of limiting the devalution of qualifications by limiting the competition, but only at the cost of restricting the career openings available to the unqualified and of reinforcing the academic predetermination of occupational opportunity.” 6. See Gérard Noiriel (1988) on what he calls the “historical amnesia” of the French visà-vis the role immigration has played in the nation’s past. Earlier periods of important



immigration, he argues, were also met with xenophobic sentiment and declarations that immigrant “others”—Italians, Belgians, Poles—were too different ever to become French. These are arguments that I also take up in chapter 4. 7. The sizeable Asian population in Cergy, consisting mostly of Cambodians and Vietnamese, is generally considered exempt from these generalizations. People in Cergy consider Asians to be self-sufficient, tightly bonded, and posing few if any social problems or demands. One woman told me that of the Africans and Asians in her building, it was the Africans who caused the most trouble. The Asians, she said, “have a mentality like us.”

Chapter 4 1. For an early reflection on this comparison, see Bre ell (1981). 2. On French-US comparisons on race, multiculturalism, and “difference,” see E. Fassin (2001); Mathy (2000). 3. The question of the legitimacy of collecting ethno-racial information for statistical purposes entered into fierce public debate starting in the late 1990s, signaling an important turn toward a focus on discrimination as another face of the integration issue. In 2005, the CNIL (Commission nationale informatique et libertés) put forward recommendations regarding the “measurement of diversity,” including measures to allow for the collection of ethnic data. The HALDE (Haute autorité de lu e contre les discriminations et pour l’égalité) has opposed such moves, while at the same time supporting a parliamentary bill intended to open the way to the scientific study and measurement of diversity; this bill was nonetheless overturned by the Constitutional Council in 2007. The Haut conseil à l’intégration, created in 1998, brought official a ention to the problem of discrimination for the first time and in 2000 created a telephone hotline for people who consider themselves victims of racial discrimination. See D. Fassin (2001, 2005), Ndiaye (2008), Simon (2008). 4. La Bastide also included an additional 156 rental units that were not as seriously affected by these problems. 5. This was the case in 1995. Because of the unstable situation at La Bastide, there has been considerable reorganization of the financial and managing parties involved since the cooperatives were first put on the market. 6. In 1995 a proposal was approved by residents of the co-ops for capital improvements that would provide each of the nine buildings with its own heat and hot water systems. 7. Because the development and sale of apartments at La Bastide was managed by private developers, the affair is technically beyond governmental jurisdiction. In 1995 local and departmental government officials became involved by helping residents form an association—to which the city and department promised substantial funds—to assist co-op owners pursue debtors in court and help them correct the buildings’ technical faults (namely the poor delivery of heat and hot water). 8. The CRAN (Conseil Représentatif des Associations Noires) was created in 2005 to bring together, under a national umbrella organization, the numerous local associations that, like ProPatria, aim to improve the visibility of minority populations in France and introduce their concerns in national debate. See Le Monde (26 November and 7 December, 2005); Le Nouvel Observateur (13–19 April 2006); Ndiaye (2008); Tin (2008).

Notes 173

9. The controversial text of the law reads as follows: “The school curriculums recognize in particular the positive role of the overseas French presence, especially in North Africa, and accord to history and to the sacrifices of the soldiers of the French army from these territories the eminent place to which they have a right.” 10. See Blanchard (2001), Blanchard and Lemaire (2003), Rioux (2007). 11. The Marche des Beurs is widely considered one of the first manifestations to bring the problem of discrimination against people of immigrant origin to national a ention. Beginning in Marseille in October 1983, it ended some 60,000 people strong in Paris in December of the same year. The march was one of the first significant actions of the anti-racist group SOS Racisme. 12. One of the original members of the scientific advisory board to the museum, Noiriel and seven other members of the board (including demographer Patrick Simon and immigration historians Nancy Green and Patrick Weil) resigned in 2007 in official protest against the creation of a Ministry for Immigration and National Identity under the new Sarkozy administration (Le Monde, 22 May 2007). 13. An interesting comparison is to be made with the remarkable seven-volume work edited by Pierre Nora, originally published in the mid 1980s, entitled Les Lieux de Mémoire on the history and memory of France. This opus contains only one article on France and the colonies (under the heading of “Commemorations,” on the Colonial Exhibition of 1931, wri en by Charles-Robert Ageron), and one other, wri en by Noiriel, on immigration (entitled “Français et étrangers”). 14. The Colonial Exhibition also marked the occasion for the first public demonstration against French colonial policy in the capital, an “anti-Exhibition” organized by the Surrealists and members of the Communist Party that intended to show the “truth about the Colonies.” See Blake (1999), Ezra (2000). 15. According to Jacques Toubon, president of the museum, the decision to situate the Cité in the Palais de la Porte d’Orée was made only a er several other possible locations were considered and turned down (personal communication). 16. For more on the Colonial Exhibition and the Cité nationale de l’histoire de l’immigration, see Green (2007), Lemaire and Blanchard (2003), Lebovics (2004), Price (2007), Ungar (2003). 17. A form of political thought, according to Douglas Holmes, that “assumed its most sophisticated manifestation within the artistic triumphs of romanticism and most malevolent expression in the politics of fascism” (Holmes 2000: 8). 18. This was not always the case. As Henry Rousso (1987) has shown, it took a good thirty to forty years a er the close of the war before the French would begin to examine more closely the active role played by the Vichy state (which some claimed, even as late as 1997, was not France; see Le Monde, 23 October 1997) in the deportation of some 76,000 Jews. In the name of France, Jacques Chirac made the first public apology for the deportations in 1995, an act that was then performed by the Catholic Church and a national police syndicate in 1997. The 1990s closed with the closely watched trial of Maurice Papon for crimes against humanity in relation to his role in sending some 1,700 Jews to the East. Not insignificantly, and in an additional twist to the complex issues of the history and memory of the colonial encounter that I explore here, Papon’s role as chief of the Paris police in a 1961 crackdown and massacre of Algerians at the height of the Algerian War was only brought more openly to light as a result of this trial. See Assouline and Lallaoui (2001). On the current debates about the merits and dangers of the use of ethno-racial statistics, see the special issue of French Politics, Culture & Society edited by Shanny Peer and Daniel Sabbagh, in particular Simon (2008) and Blum and Guérin-Pace (2008).



Chapter 5 1. See Bowen (2006) for an excellent analysis of the headscarf issue, the firestorm it provoked, and its resolution in the law. Sco (2007) views these “affairs” through a postcolonial lens that ties them specifically to problems of integration and Islam in France. For a thoughtful discussion by a member of the commission that proposed the ban, see Weil (2004). 2. The text of the law passed in 2004 on the wearing of religious signs states that articles of clothing that “manifestent ostensiblement”—clearly show—religious affiliation would be banned from the public schools. This raises the obvious question of what constitutes a “clear” manifestation of religious orientation (small Catholic crosses and Stars of David, worn discreetly, are presumably allowed), and moreover of whether other signs of religious affiliation, such as Christmas decorations (which, at least based on my personal experience, are ubiquitous), are not then in contradiction with the spirit of laïcité upheld in the schools. 3. Some, stressing the cultural dimension, would say “sameness.” See Sco (2007: 12). 4. The gap between the ideal and what happens in practice has been most pointedly analyzed in the work of Pierre Bourdieu (Bourdieu and Passeron 1964; Bourdieu 1984), whose comprehensive studies of education and social class in France uncover some of the mechanisms by which the educational system reproduces already existing hierarchies of class and distinction. Measures to redress the educational imbalances between populations are reflected in the designation of “educational priority zones” (zones d’education prioritaire, or ZEPs) and zones sensibles that receive additional government aid. As I show in this chapter, however, these policies can backfire, as the extra monies are o en not enough to offset the stigma a ached to these “priority zones.” Relatively modest efforts to extend greater opportunity to students in these zones have been spearheaded by some of the more prestigious grandes écoles, notably l’Institut d’Etudes Politiques (Sciences Po) and ESSEC. On affirmative action (discrimination positive) in France, see Sabbagh (2002). 5. The only “non-French” representative to the conseil d’école came from Venezuela. 6. See Appendix on the shi ing socioeconomic trends in Cergy–St. Christophe. 7. The decision not to have children a end school on Wednesdays was originally made so that they would be free to a end catechism classes. This was part of a compromise agreement made during negotiations over the separation of church and state under the Third Republic, a detail that no one thought to raise during the vociferous debates over laïcité (state-decreed secularism) and the public schools during the various headscarf affairs. 8. This was neither the first nor the last time this issue would be discussed. The question had previously been debated in 1992 and remained on the table until the fall of 2007, when the new prime minister, François Fillon, quite simply did away with Saturday morning classes via ministerial decree, reserving that time for students with special needs. 9. See Reed-Danahay and Anderson-Levi (1991) for a pertinent discussion of how teacher-family relationships play out in French urban and rural milieus. As they point out, “tension between local families and public schools is … a common theme in French history” (1991: 546), as teachers feel it falls under their purview to instil “rational” middle-class values among the families in their charge. Reed-Danahay and AndersonLevi ’s work provides an important corrective to the idea that only “non-French” families experience tension with their children’s teachers.

Notes 175

Chapter 6 1. Consider, for instance, this statement by Adolph Hitler, quoted by Hage at the beginning of his article on “The Limits of Anti-Racist Sociology”: “I know perfectly well, just as well as all these tremendously clever intellectuals, that in the scientific sense there is no such thing as race” (Hage 1995: 59). Kuper makes the same point in his preface, where he discusses how coming from South Africa made him wary of arguments about “cultural differences,” given the way these were embraced by South African nationalists in support of their pro-apartheid politics (1999: xi–xiv). As I discuss in chapter 4, Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front has similarly used a defense of “cultural differences” as justification for its nationalist, anti-immigrant program. 2. Foreigners were formally allowed to create and direct associations of their own in 1983, a move that reflects both an awareness of the growing stake in French society held by people of foreign origin, as well as efforts to control, and maintain oversight over, the social activities of non-French social groups. 3. For more on the activities of African immigrant associations, see Barou (1992), Boudimbou (1992), Daum (1994), and Poiret (1994a, 1994b). 4. At the time of my research, the president of the association and another employee who handled the judicial aspects of the organization’s caseload were women from West Africa. The teacher of the association’s literacy classes, the woman who directed the afternoon sewing workshop, the coordinator of the children’s a er-school activities, and the office secretary were French. More than half of the members on the association’s board of advisors were French. Since that time, the makeup of the association’s salaried personnel and volunteer board has changed considerably, though it remains a mix of French and non-French. The current president of the board is French. 5. In his essay “The Politics of Recognition” (Taylor 1992), Charles Taylor argues that contemporary democracies have ushered in a new “politics of equal dignity” and “equal recognition” wherein groups demand that their unique identities be recognized as a constitutive part of their democratic rights. Taylor is helpful in laying out some of the fundamental arguments of multicultural debates, while he fails to question an underlying premise of those debates, which assumes a certain “givenness” to these emergent group identities. It seems to me it is necessary, as I argue here, to look rather at the contexts and conditions within which those identities are being formed in order to understand more precisely why “difference” and “culture” have emerged as sites of political struggle.

Conclusion 1. During this period, the percentage of people in midlevel administrative positions declined by 15 percent, the percentage of those employed in short-term, temporary employment increased by 7 percent, and the number of unemployed increased by 4.5 percent. See Appendix. 2. As this book goes to press, the Sarkozy admininistration has launched a nationwide debate on identité nationale, an initiative that has proved to be anything but clear, all the while resuscitating familiar polemics on who can legitimately lay claim to “being French.”


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 Abbé Pierre, 32, 169n10 affaire du foulard. See scarf affairs affirmative action, 160, 170n2, 174n4 Algerian War, 1, 39, 169n17, 170n6, 173n18 associations parents d’élèves. See parentteacher committees authenticity, 14, 111 Axe Majeur, 56, 60–64 “balance”, 4, 14, 16, 17, 50, 54, 66, 84, 97, 98, 105, 161 banlieue. See suburbs Battle of Cergy, 44, 47–48 bidonvilles. See shantytowns Bobigny, 31 Bonaparte, Louis Napoleon (Napoléon III), 27, 28 Bourdieu, Pierre, 140, 171n5, 174n4 Bronx, 55, 65, 101 Castells, Manuel, 33 Cergy. See Cergy-Pontoise; Cergy–St. Christophe; New Towns Cergy-Pontoise conception of, 25, 42–46, 58–62, 168n2, 171nn9–10 dissent to. See Battle of Cergy reputation of, 54 population figures, 58 Cergy–St. Christophe description of, 59–64, 159–60 history of, 59, 96 housing problems and, 96–99 population profile, 65–66, 165–166, 170nn7–8 reputation of, 2, 3, 17, 53–54, 65

and social organization, 70–73 Chirac, Jacques, 1, 108, 111, 112, 159, 173n18 Cité nationale de l’histoire de l’immigration, 108, 109–110, 173n16 cités de transit, 37–38, 52, 169n14, 169n16 civic associations and African immigrant groups, 17, 22–23, 78, 92, 105–7, 112–14, 131–34, 144, 146–58 and Association Day, 71, 142, 153 and civic engagement, 17, 70, 140, 142, 154 and law of 1901, 69 and social organization, 20, 69–73, 146, 156–157 See also participation Clifford, James, 7 collective interest, 15, 16, 22, 39, 103, 119, 121, 122, 163 See also republicanism, French colonial exhibition, 1931, 110, 173nn13–14, 173n16 colonialism and historical memory, 107–109, 173n13 and immigration, 110, 113, 117 Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés (CNIL), 172n3 communautarisme, 92–94, 109 See also ethnic community; “ghettos” community French perceptions of, 3, 7 ideal, 3, 14, 16, 80, 141 and local activism, 17, 53, 67–69, 80, 95 perceived threats to, 6, 72, 102, 105, 129–130 and urban planning, 6, 27, 42, 59, 161

188 Index

See also civic associations; ethnic community conseil d’école. See parent-teacher committees Conseil représentatif des associations noires (CRAN), 160, 172n8 cultural studies, 139 culture and French national identity, 11–16, 86, 93–94, 110–11, 113, 160–61 local discussions of, 7, 18, 21, 23 as a theoretical problem, 3, 4, 7–9, 19, 95, 108, 138–40, 157–58, 163–64, 175n5 See also difference; tolerance de Gaulle, Charles, 25, 29, 31, 43, 169n17 Delouvrier, Paul, 25, 26, 29, 40–44, 169n17, 169n20 difference and exclusion, 83–88, 90–91 and French republicanism, 2, 5, 8, 14, 86, 116–17 and local debate, 22, 104–7, 112–14, 116 as a socio-political resource, 22, 140–47, 152–58, 163 discrimination, 5, 10, 21, 22, 55, 56, 75, 91, 92–93, 106, 157, 163, 172n3, 173n11 indirect, 163 discrimination positive. See affirmative action diversity. See difference Durkheim, Emile, 14, 19 education priority zones, 160, 170n2, 174n4 education. See public schools Emmäus, 32, 169n10 ESSEC, 46, 160, 170n2, 174n4 Etablissement public d’aménagement, 51, 58, 59, 64, 65, 99, 171n10 ethnic community, 9, 93 ethnic statistics debate over, 93, 160, 173n18 exclus, les. See exclusion exclusion, 2, 5, 14, 15, 16, 22, 56, 68, 74–77, 90–91, 104, 157, 159, 162 and charitable organizations, 77–83, 84 and les exclus, 21, 75–86, 89–90 fight against, 21, 75, 78–80, 84, 87 and immigration, 75, 85–88, 90–91 and unemployment, 81–83

Fassin, Eric, 94 fêtes de quartier, 142–146, 151, 152, 158 Fillon, François, 174n8 garden cities, 31 “ghettos” comparison with US, 55, 65, 92 fears related to, 2, 39, 55, 65 local reference to, 2, 65, 84, 101, 122 and urban policy, 4, 20, 41, 50 See also integration, communautarisme grands ensembles, 32–35, 37, 40–41, 50, 55, 59, 169n9, 169n11 Green, Nancy, 173n12 growth, post-war, 6, 25–27, 31–33, 40, 77 habitat à loyer modéré (HLM), 109, 173n9 Hage, Ghassan, 140, 141 harkis, and law of 2005, 109, 173n9 Harlem, 56, 65, 84, 92 Haussmann, Georges-Eugène, 20, 26, 168n5 Haussmannization, 26–30, 33, 48, 51, 168nn6–7, 169n8 Haute autorité de lutte contre les discriminations et pour l’égalité (HALDE), 172n3 Hirsch, Bernard, 44, 47–48, 50–51, 59, 169n20 Hitler, Adolf, 175n1 Howard, Ebeneezer, 31 identity, 4, 7–9, 12, 14, 24, 90, 91, 93, 95, 120, 139, 161, 163–64, 167nn10, 11, 175n5, 175n2 See also culture; difference “identity politics”, 12, 16, 111, 116, 163 Ile de France, 3, 26, 40, 44, 58, 62, 111 immigration, 9, 36–40, 50, 52, 84, 87, 88, 94–95, 107–12, 117, 171n6 See also integration Institut d’études politiques (Sciences Po), 160, 170n2, 174n4 integration and difference, 84, 86–89, 94–95, 104–5, 107, 114, 116–17, 140–41, 146, 148–50, 152, 157, 158, 161, 163; see also “social mixing” French conceptions of, 11, 13, 20, 84, 92–94, 104–5, 117. See also republicanism, French and political debate, 15–16, 22, 108–10, 117, 172n3

Index 189

and public schools, 22, 134 and urban policy, 27, 29, 36–40, 41, 42, 50, 161 See also immigration jeunes, les. See youth Karavan, Dani, 64 Keaton, Trica, 14 Kuper, Adam, 138, 139, 157, 175n1 laïcité. See secularism, state-sponsored Le Pen, Jean-Marie, 12, 16, 22, 110–111, 113, 116, 117, 175n1 See also National Front Lenoir, René, 77 marche des beurs, 173n11 Ministry of Education, 126, 127 Mitterand, François, 64, 70 multiculturalism, 4, 5, 10, 12, 24, 56, 66, 94, 116, 117, 139–140, 158, 172n1, 175n5 comparison France and US, 92–94 National Front, 16, 95, 108, 110, 159, 170n5, 175n1 local support for, 111–113, 116 See also Le Pen, Jean-Marie New Towns history of, 2, 6, 19, 40–43, 50, 52 and regional development, 3, 25–27, 40–43 and social reform, 27, 29, 35, 41–42, 161 utopian spirit of, 3, 6, 17, 58, 66 Nora, Pierre, 173n13 Noiriel, Gérard, 109, 110, 112, 171n6, 173nn12–13 Pacquot, Thierry, 66, 67, 68 Papon, Maurice, 173n18 parent-teacher committees, 22, 126–33 Paris. See Haussmann; Haussmannization; suburbs participation and feelings of discrimination, 134 and exclusion, 78–79, 85 and notions of community, 7, 11, 17, 20, 23, 57, 69–73, 94, 107, 135, 137, 142, 162, 171n14

See also civic associations; republicanism, French public schools and definition of public/private spheres, 118–20, 121, 134–37, 174n9 and French republicanism, 22, 109, 125 and immigrant experience, 121, 133–34, 135, 137, 146 and integration, 39, 65, 105, 118 and social problems, 122–26 and urban planning, 33, 41, 43, 59 See also parent-teacher committees; rythme scolaire; scarf affairs public sphere, 4, 6, 11, 15, 17, 19, 21, 22, 57, 73, 76, 80, 86, 87, 119–20, 130, 134, 135, 162 race, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 21, 23, 93, 108 and exclusion, 75, 85, 108 and French republicanism, 11, 12, 22, 86–87, 91, 93, 106 and history, 95, 111, 114 local discussions of, 95, 102, 113, 116–17 “Red Belt”, 31, 52 See also suburbs Renan, Ernest, 11, 12, 19, 110 republicanism, French, 11, 12, 22, 74, 93–94, 119, 121, 162 and contemporary political debate, 12, 15–16, 110–111 and difference, 2, 9, 10, 13–15, 22, 24, 76, 93, 95, 106, 108, 110, 112, 116–17, 161, 163 and notions of community, 6, 161 responsibility and community ideal, 2, 20, 72–73, 94, 101, 102–03, 115–16, 122, 129, 130, 162 and exclusion, 77, 80–83, 90 and feelings of discrimination, 22–23, 106–107, 114 and social contract, 13, 105, 117, 121, 137 riots, 2005, 1, 2, 10, 23, 54–55, 159 See also suburbs Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 13, 19 Rousso, Henry, 173n18 Rushdie, Salman, 7 rythme scolaire, 128–131, 135 See also public schools Saint Denis, 56 Sarcelles, 33–35

190 Index

Sarkozy, Nicolas, 159, 173n12, 175n2 scarf affairs, 16, 56, 118, 121, 123, 167n8 and law of 2004, 118, 174n2 Schéma directeur d’aménagement de la region parisienne, 40, 43 Scott, Joan, 13, 174n1 secularism, state-sponsored, 15, 120, 174n2, 174n4 seuil de tolérance. See threshold of tolerance shantytowns, 6, 20, 25, 36, 39, 169n13, 169n15 displacement of 37, 38, 50 Simon, Patrick, 163, 173n12 social contract, 1, 13, 16, 86, 94, 106, 108, 117 “social mixing”, 4, 13, 14, 29, 38, 50, 52, 92–94, 110, 119, 160, 161, 164 See also integration SOS racisme, 173n11 Stovall, Tyler, 31 suburbs comparison with US, 56, 65 and diversity, 2, 13–15, 52, 161 growth, 20th century, 3, 19, 25–27, 29, 30–36, 169n9 and integration, 35–40, 138, 160–61 reputation of, 1–3, 31, 54–56, 59 and social problems, 54–56, 74–75 and urban unrest, 1–2, 54–55, 89 See also New Towns threshold of tolerance, 38–39 tolerance, 23, 113, 141, 151–152, 157, 158 trentes glorieuses, les, 25 See also growth, post-war Trouillot, Michel-Rolph, 94, 107

unemployment, 21, 51, 55, 74, 81–83, 160, 162, 170n2, 170n7, 175n1 and exclusion, 76–78, 81–83, 85, 91 urban planning. See Haussmann; Haussmannization; New Towns urban priority zones, 54, 56 vie associative. See civic associations villes nouvelles. See New Towns Voltaire, 27 Weil, Patrick, 173n12 Wieviorka, Michel, 53 Wilder, Gary, 11 Wolf, Eric, 93 World War II and memory, 95, 111, 173n18 and suburban growth, 1, 3, 26, 31, 169n9 and the Vichy regime, 95, 173n18 youth and discrimination, 89–90 and immigration, 1, 8, 15, 139, 170n5 and suburbs, 2, 6, 51, 53–56, 70 and urban violence, 1, 23, 55, 89, 159 zones d’aménagement différé (ZAD), 43–44 zones d’éducation prioritaire (ZEP). See education priority zones zones urbaines sensibles (ZUS). See urban priority zones