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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 5 - Voices of Villiers-le-Bel: Exploring Social Trajectories 209

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Chapter 5 Voices of Villiers-le-Bel: Exploring Social Trajectories The suburban riots of 2005 and 2007 were unprecedented in their scale and intensity. In 2005 the scale of the violence was enormous as the riots spread to all corners of the nation, while in 2007 a new threshold was crossed in terms of intensity, with a number of shots being fired at police. But what were the causes of the violence? Chapter 1 set out the dominant interpretations articulated by various social and political commentators both during and after the events of 2005. This chapter also showed how these interpretations resurfaced during the 2007 riots in Villiers-le-Bel. The more security-oriented and, incidentally, the most dominant of these interpretations viewed the violence of both occasions as an attack on the Republic, a purely nihilistic violence perpetrated by hardened delinquents. Other commentators saw in the riots an ethno-religious revolt that essen- tially ref lected a clash of cultures and highlighted the inassimilable nature of certain populations of immigrant origins. On the other end of the spectrum, certain sociologists interpreted the events as symptomatic of a purely social crisis. Chapter 1 went on to show how each of these interpretations was ultimately insuf ficient in explaining the scale and intensity of the riots of 2005 and 2007 respectively. Naturally, certain social and economic variables such as academic failure and unemployment have an important impact on the social situation that characterizes life in the banlieues − these underly- ing social issues play a significant role in...

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