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The Republic and the Riots

Exploring Urban Violence in French Suburbs, 2005-2007

Matthew Moran

In 2005, the deaths of two teenagers in Clichy-sous-Bois provoked three weeks of rioting in French banlieues. Cars were burned, buildings were damaged and young people clashed with the police in unprecedented scenes of violence. The government declared a state of emergency as the riots spread across France. Two years later, the French public were met with familiar images when riots broke out in the Parisian suburb of Villiers-le-Bel. What were the underlying causes of these episodes of extreme violence? What did the riots signify? What do they tell us about French society?
This book takes the reader inside the world of the banlieues and explores the nature and causes of the riots. Drawing on qualitative fieldwork conducted in Villiers-le-Bel, the author offers a unique insight into the motivating factors behind the violence. On a larger scale, the book examines the relationship between the underprivileged suburbs and the French republican model. The author explores a triad of interconnections: between republican ideals and the reality of daily life in the banlieues; between national projections of unity and localized realities of disunity; and between figures of authority and ordinary citizens.


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A Note on the Methodology ix


Methodology The research for this book comprised two methodological strands. First, the issues at stake were approached from a theoretical perspective, drawing on a wide range of studies relating to the French banlieues. This provided a historical and ideological context within which the events of 2005 and 2007 could be situated. Moreover, a review of existing literature provided a valuable insight into the socio-cultural dynamic that underlies life in the suburbs. However, analysis of life in the banlieues and, more specifi- cally, the drivers and causes of large-scale collective violence in these areas must pass from the theoretical to the empirical. To deconstruct the socio- cultural processes in operation in these areas and gain a comprehensive understanding of the social dynamic at play in these areas, it is necessary to enter the world of the banlieues and study it from within. Consequently, the second methodological strand involved a qualitative case study of Villiers-le-Bel. Lof land and Lof land state that qualitative research is of immense ana- lytical value: ‘the central reason for undertaking this ongoing witnessing of the lives of others is the fact that a great many aspects of social life can be seen, felt, and analytically articulated only in this manner’.1 Moreover, Jorgensen states that ‘it is not possible to acquire more than a very crude notion of the insider’s world […] until you comprehend the culture and language that is used to communicate its meanings’.2 Direct observation of the research setting thus allowed me to gain a first-hand...

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