‘Les colonisés de l´intérieur’: Renegotiating Cultural Identities in French Society

Drawing on current social and cultural studies approaches that do not view group identity as something traceable to an essential ground but rather see identity as constructed through social and discursive practices, it is possible to observe these constitutive identity processes at work in a concentrated and dynamic manner in France in the wake of the Fall 2005 unrest in suburban housing developments. On the basis of such an approach, group identity can be analyzed as something that is newly negotiated in a postcolonial European society and ultimately defines the society itself. Three interpretive models became clear, following preliminary investigations:

  1. The reaction of the political elite was dominated by an interpretive model that interpreted the problem first and foremost as urban-based and socio-economic.

  2. The problems of the banlieues were increasingly judged as a consequence of ethnic differences constructed by the ethnic groups themselves. (The founding of a “representative council of Blacks”; debate on so-called positive discrimination; conflict over the role of Islam in the French Republic).

  3. What is new is the classification of the discrimination against suburban residents as a consequence of (post)colonial oppression. The new social groups explicitly define themselves, for example, as “colonisés de l´intérieur.” Thus the banlieue crisis becomes folded into the conflict over how to evaluate France’s colonial past.

Integration and urbanization politics in France have until now mainly been shaped by a territory-based approach in which national origin, skin color, and religion barely played a role. This project will investigate to what extent the new definitions of French society that can be extrapolated from the interpretive models are accompanied by a change in the traditional political model.

Term of Project: April 2006-Ongoing

Project Members:
Dr. Georg Glasze (Geography)
Dr. Jörn Thielmann (KOOM)