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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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Chapter 3 - In the Shadows of the Republic: Social and Ethnic Issues in the Quartiers Sensibles 115


Chapter 3 In the Shadows of the Republic: Social and Ethnic Issues in the Quartiers Sensibles Since its foundation, the republican model has provided a social and politi- cal matrix within which French society has developed and progressed. As has been shown in previous chapters, this model has been moulded and shaped by numerous political events and debates since its conception in order to arrive at its present day state: an ideological entity representing the ideas and myths that are the very fabric of French society. Having explored the ideological construction of the Republic, I will now move the focus from the general to the specific, from a wide-ranging discourse exploring the founding principles of the Republic to a specific examination of those areas of relegation that exist at the limits of this political and social system. The general ideological context that has been established provides a frame of reference for an investigation into the development of the particular social, cultural and economic setting that has evolved in the quartiers sensibles. This chapter will thus begin to explore, in detail, the nature of the blind spot of French republicanism − that is, those areas demonstrating the gap that exists between the ideals of the Republic and the social application of those ideals. This lacuna separating principles and their application poses a threat to the continuation of the republican model; the socio-cultural situation that exists in the quartiers sensibles provides tangible evidence of its existence, and indeed growth, at the beginning of...

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