In the aftermath of the French riots, French politicians of all hues quickly went back to business-as-usual: lofty talk on the need for a better “intégration au sein du pacte républicain” (whatever that means), plus more or less open attempts to shift blame, or even to blame fantasy figures such as the uncounted (and therefore […]
Civil Unrest in the French Suburbs, November 2005
On October 27, 2005, two French youths of Malian and Tunisian descent were electrocuted as they fled the police in the Parisian suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois. Their deaths sparked nearly three weeks of rioting in 274 towns throughout the Paris region, France, and beyond (see maps, pictures, and graphs here.) The rioters, mostly unemployed teenagers from destitute suburban housing projects (the cités HLM) caused over €200 million in damage as they torched nearly 9000 cars and dozens of buildings, daycare centers, and schools. The French police arrested close to 2900 rioters; 126 police and firefighters were injured, and there was one fatality – a bystander who died after being struck by a hooded youth.
The French government’s response, if not swift, was predictable. Then Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy declared a “zero tolerance” policy towards urban violence. A year later, when civil unrest again flared up in the same suburbs – on October 1, 2006 in Les Mureaux, Yvelines, again the result of an incident with the police – Sarkozy returned to the his “law and order” discourse. The government’s response in November 2005 and since was amplified by a wide range of commentary that attempted to link the rioting to illegal immigration, Muslim separatism, and polygamous practices. In fact, while most of the rioters were second generation immigrant youths, the underlying issues were far more complex, involving social and economic exclusion, racial discrimination, and most importantly the capacity of the French Republic to respond to these challenges while maintaining its distinctive model of and formal commitment to the social integration of individuals, no matter what their color or creed.
In early November 2005, the SSRC, under the direction of its president, Craig Calhoun, organized this web forum, bringing together distinguished social scientists from France and the United States to reflect on the events as they unfolded. Like many SSRC forums, the intention was to gather expert opinions “à chaud,” to bring the perspectives and knowledge of social scientists to bear on an issue of great media attention and public debate. Most of the essays were written at the height of the rioting, at the moment of their greatest extension, as the French government declared a state of emergency (November 8th). But the issues that they raise about France’s capacity to address the problem of social exclusion continue to challenge social scientists and policy-makers, and to garner the attention of the media on both sides of the Atlantic.
Shortly after the rioting had died down, after the state of emergency was lifted in January 2006, another set of protests broke out, this time in central Paris and other French cities, and now made up largely of white youths. The unrest was in response to a law – the First Employment Contract – that was perceived to compromise job security, lower wages, and the rights of French workers. Millions of people demonstrated in the streets, including two mass mobilizations of March 7th and 19th. But there was also extensive and violent rioting by youths, strikes and occupations of French universities, and levels of violence that at moments recalled the suburban unrest several months earlier. As a result of this public pressure, the government revoked its youth employment law.
Unlike its response to the youth and labor protests in spring 2006, the government has failed to take significant action to address the ever growing crisis of social exclusion and racism affecting the French suburbs. No parliamentary commission has been convoked to understand the riots, and no major governmental policies have been proposed in response to the social problems revealed by the riots. These web essays help us to understand not only the social issues underlying the civil unrest in the suburbs in November 2005, but also the inaction of the government since.
SSRC Director of Academic Programs
October 24, 2006
French Sociology Under Fire: A Preliminary Diagnosis of the November 2005 “Urban Riots”by Franck Poupeau
In his Souvenirs(1850), Tocqueville confides that he has met both writers and politicians and that they each write history in their own way, from their own point of view. The former, as outside observers, construct general causes that dehumanize the course of events. The latter are too caught up in the action to see events […]
Territories of Identities in Franceby Riva Kastoryano
Nothing is new with the last riots in France, they just lasted longer. This time the “youth of the banlieues wanted stubbornly to be heard, to be seen and to be accepted. Ever since the 1980s, the press has been reporting the increasingly numerous riots in the French banlieues: among the most famous, Minguettes in 1981 […]
More Than Riots: A Question of Spheresby Stéphane Dufoix
Following the debates about the French riots on such a forum as the H-Ethnic list and also urged by both my students in sociology at the University of Paris-X Nanterre and students in my Debating French Identities course in the Educational Program Abroad of the University of California, I’ve been struck by the multiplication of […]
Ethnicity, Islam, and les banlieues: Confusing the Issuesby Jocelyne Cesari
The most astonishing thing about the recent riots was the surprise of the media, in France as elsewhere, at this outbreak of violence. For indeed, violence in the suburbs is nothing new. In the 1980s, the suburbs of Paris and Lyon were similarly set aflame. And in November of 2004, the violence of the suburbs […]
Reflections “À Chaud” on the French Suburban Crisisby Catherine Wihtol de Wenden
The crisis of the suburbs that began on November 3, 2005, culminated in two weeks of urban violence that powerfully shook France, and forced several neighboring countries to examine the French model of integration and the factors leading to such significant social gaps (the likes of which were exposed in the poor neighborhoods of New […]
An Emperor with No Clothes?by Alec G. Hargreaves
1. Causes While unprecedented in scale, the disturbances which rocked France in the fall of 2005 were not in any significant respect new. At a lower level of intensity, there have been similar disorders in disadvantaged urban areas containing dense concentrations of minority ethnic populations (neighborhoods generally referred to as the banlieues) since the late 1970s. […]
Violence in Franceby Michel Wieviorka
During more than two weeks, since the last days in October 2005, urban violence has developed in suburbs around Paris, and then also in other cities. Its main forms, its “repertoire,” to use Charles Tilly’s vocabulary, include setting fire to private cars, on the one hand, and targeting public institutions on the other hand—schools, for […]
France: One and Divisibleby Ezra Suleiman
One of the first things that a social scientist, as opposed to a political activist, notices about the breakout of the suburban riots in France is the ignorance of all those who are called upon to comment on, or who have the responsibility for resolving the crisis. Aside from knowing the place and the general […]
The Nature of the French Riotsby Olivier Roy
Intifada of the suburbs, revolt of the immigrants, youth movement, uprising of the underclass, jihad of Muslims against Europe? There have been many explanations for the riots that have struck France’s suburbs in November 2005. 1. A ghetto youth revolt These riots came as no surprise, they have been recurrent since the early 1980’s. What […]