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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 4 - Villiers-le-Bel: Profile of a Quartier Sensible 185

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Chapter 4 Villiers-le-Bel: Profile of a Quartier Sensible The majority of the book to this point has approached the issues at stake from a theoretical perspective, drawing on the work of historians and sociologists in order to establish the necessary historical and ideological context within which the events of 2005 and 2007 must be understood. This approach has provided a valuable insight into the socio-cultural sit- uation that exists in the suburbs. However, any attempt to develop an understanding of life in these areas, and, consequently, to elucidate the causes and motivations underlying the riots, cannot rely on theory alone. In order to gain a comprehensive understanding of the complex cultural, economic and social processes at play in these areas, it is necessary to go beyond a normative approach and gain empirically based knowledge of the practical social dynamic that dominates life in the banlieues. In light of this fact, my analysis will now focus on a case study of Villiers-le-Bel, a suburb that witnessed significant violence and destruction during the events of both 2005 and 2007. The choice of Villiers-le-Bel as the object of this case-study stems from a number of significant factors. First, as will be shown, the commune of Villiers-le-Bel shares many of the features that characterize the quartiers sensibles, such as a high percentage of young people, high levels of unem- ployment, and low levels of educational achievement, to name but a few. It has been shown in previous chapters how these issues all impact upon...

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