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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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Introduction 1

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Introduction Quartiers sensibles or banlieues – since the beginning of the 1980s, and the urban violence that took place in the Lyon suburb of Vaulx-en-Velin, these terms have rapidly become synonymous with certain French suburban landscapes. Characterized by severe social and economic problems, as well as a high proportion of inhabitants of immigrant origins, these areas exist at the limits of French society. In the quartiers sensibles the social climate is dominated by high levels of unemployment, crime and delinquency.1 Discrimination and marginali- zation form part of the daily life of inhabitants, whether it is through the tense relations with the police or the dif ficulties experienced by residents in securing employment due to their association with areas that are stigma- tized due to their social and economic problems as well as intense media coverage of past instances of violence. The scene of sporadic and highly mediatized outbreaks of large-scale urban violence for over three decades, these suburban areas have been targeted by French urban policy – the poli- tique de la ville – during that time in an attempt to integrate the banlieues into mainstream French society. However, despite numerous ef forts, the suburbs have remained excluded, with further episodes of violence merely serving to reinforce the negative perception of these areas in a circular process that further distances them from mainstream society. In 2005, the quartiers sensibles were propelled to the centre of atten- tion in French, and indeed world, media as violence once again enveloped these areas. The death of...

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