Suburbs in Post-colonial France and Europe (“Integration”, “Multiculturalism,” “Communautarism”)

To follow up on our discussion about the French banlieues, you will find here an article (in English) written right after the 2005 suburban Riots. In “Understanding Urban Riots un France” Jonathan Laurence and Justin Vaisse give a precise account of how the French, Republican model of “Integration” is at stake in any discussion concerning the cultural, religious and political conflicts as they appear in France, and in particular in the suburbs. They also briefly compare the intergrationist model to other notions used to think about the encounter between the diverses cultures of immigrants and the supposedly more solid culture of European countries where these immigrants settled (Dutch “tolerance”, British “multiculturalism,” for instance). This article is also very good at explaining how one needs to go beyond these notions to consider the specific, concrete situation of the French banlieues and their population to understand the 2005 Suburban Riots.

Despite significant differences within Europe in terms of the spatial history of immigration, the suburbs of England, France or Germany share many features (see this article, in French), partly because they have designed their suburbs by looking at how other European countries dealt with what we could call the spatial organization of immigration (taking up this issue, writer Lydie Salvayre imagined in her 2007 novel Les Belles âmes a Bus Tour of the Suburbs for European good-hearted city dwellers). This article from French news portal Rue89,  written during the last London Riots, explains how the Tottenham Suburbs used to be a model of “Integration” for the Parisian Suburbs. And here, it’s worth noting that if we can definitely draw parallels between the 2011 Riots in the British Suburbs and the French riots 6 years before, the targets of the contestation and destruction were very different: in the more recent case, the symbols of capitalism in England (stores, banks) we attacked, whereas the French youth took the symbols of the state and of the Republic as a target (schools and buses in particular). This is the origin of the discourse according to which Islam is replacing the model of the Republic in the French Suburbs. This issue is a complex and delicate one: how productive is it to understand immigration and social interractions in religions terms? If “integration” as a model seems not to be working in France, how interesting is it to replace this  model with another one that insists on communautarism? How to think about Islam, in France, without either avoiding the question or falling into far-right reactionary position? How can we think of social interractions in the privileged space of post-colonial France?

Here are a couple of links to start thinking about these questions (and to read with a critical mind!):

  • In French

  • In English

2 thoughts on “Suburbs in Post-colonial France and Europe (“Integration”, “Multiculturalism,” “Communautarism”)”

  1. The is a crucial issue, Ngozi. And it was also very important when the factories were installed in the suburbs in the 19th century (workers had to live nearby). One of the main issue has always been to break the center-periphery polarization, and connect the suburbs to each other, so that suburban cities can also become centers.
    The project of the “Grand Paris” ( is going toward this direction, but indeed, there will still be an inequality between already dynamic suburbs and less dynamic ones. See in the video how the eastern part of the suburbs is neglected in this project. I agree with Ngozi: even when dealing with the banlieues, there is an inequally of treatment, which shows us again that this space is not homogenous, and that the questions are more social and political than they are spatial.

    The physical isolation of French suburbs is a longstanding issue that hasn’t been addressed by political officials thoroughly. The fact that thousands of Frenchmen and women (oftentimes nonwhite immigrants or the offspring of immigrants) are the main inhabitants of these suburbs reveals a troubling truth. France’s lack of integration has resulted in a segregated society.
    According to the video provided in the link above, an innovative, environmentally efficient metro ride into Paris and other neighboring cities is the key to ending this separation; and while the ride appears to be an effective option, it does not address the underlining issue concerning these French suburbs: the economically depressed nonwhite French.
    The metro is anticipated to drive middleclass workers back to the suburbs. Where are the current inhabitants expected to go? The neglect of the nonwhite members of the banlieues is noted even in the video, which focused exclusively on the metro’s benefit to the middle class and present white inhabitants. As riots continue to set banlieues ablaze, France must discover a way to integrate its North and West African citizens into society and at the same time maintain its traditional identity.

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