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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