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 as anything other than the result of chance arrangements. And although Tocqueville criticizes the well-wrought, grand systems for flattering the vanity of their authors, he admits that “nothing is left to chance when prepared in advance.”1For an unorthodox version of Tocqueville’s analyses, see Aurelian Craiutu and Jeremy Jennings, “The Third Democracy: Tocqueville’s Views of America after 1840,”American Political Science Review, 98 (3), 2004, pp. 391-404. His comments could almost be directly applied to the interpretations of the November 2005 “urban riots” in France. Specialists of the “social question” crowded the screens, airwaves and newspapers to describe the scope of the “suburban crisis” for journalists concerned with presenting “in-depth analyses.” Several politicians placed the blame on the provocations of Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy and his speeches on the “scum” or “rabble” (racaille) who “lit the fuse.” Some of the sociologists with experience working in these neighborhoods, however, spoke with a different voice, one that had success more or less piercing the “media veil.” The question here is less of synthesis than of raising questions concerning the conditions under which sociological discourse was received as an immediate reaction to events of this kind and the type of explanation this discourse entails. These considerations will call into question the political function of the sociological discourse dedicated to “urban poverty” in all of the structures that deal with suffering and the recent changes they have undergone.
The reception of sociological discourse
Only a few weeks after the beginning of the November 2005 “urban riots” in France there are already several articles weighing in on the events, most of which are based on earlier research and books.2There are too many to cite them all. I can nonetheless refer to the (very good) synthesis on the topic prepared by the Copernic Foundation: “Les Significations de la révolte des jeunes des quartiers défavorisés,” Group “Territoires et nouvelles formes de contrôle social,” Foundation Copernic, November 2005 (on line). A book deals directly with the subject: Stéphane Beaud and Michel Pialoux, Violences urbaines, violence sociale, Paris: Fayard, 2003. Finally, Loic Wacquant has synthesized all of the factors involved in “L’Etat incendiaire face aux banlieues en feu,” Combats face au sida: Santé drogue société, 42, 2005. All of these texts, many of them written by the preeminent specialists in the field, weave a complex network of interpretations that can be summarized as follows: first, there is the reference to structural factors, with the destructuration of popular and specifically working-class environments, massive unemployment concentrated in marginalized areas, increases in forms of socio-spatial segregation that urban planning policies have failed to prevent, the tightening of immigration and security laws that further stigmatize those living in difficult neighborhoods and the various forms of discrimination experienced daily (access to work, housing, repeated police checks). Other, more situational factors are also highlighted with decreases in spending by the recent governments on the Right (for associations, for social assistance.) Security policies have also hardened all the more because the two most recent Interior Ministers—Dominique de Villepin and Nicolas Sarkozy—made security results a primary impetus for their campaigns to become President of the Republic in 2007. Nicolas Sarkozy’s declarations are thus recognized as, if not a “trigger,” then at least a verbal provocation that aggravated an already tense situation. The media even goes so far as to question its own role in displaying shocking images and their effects in the “competition” between neighborhoods to burn more cars than the others.
Certain factors are less mentioned but seem just as pertinent: forms of academic segregation affecting the youth in these neighborhoods, but also the importance of street culture and gangs in triggering specifically masculine forms of action.3Stéphane Beaud and Gerard Mauger respectively in interviews with the L’Humanité newspaper on November 21 and 22, 2005. Finally, a fairly common type of explanation for economists and sociologists of the “alter-globalization” movement highlights the tight connections between free-market and security policies; the extension of repression against the poor is interpreted as a further response to the crisis of the free-market model when faced with the social effects of its policies—ghettoization, social apartheid, and all the figures of exclusion are mentioned without distinction. Other researchers place the emphasis more specifically on the crisis of the French social model now caught in the vise of European constraints that have caused the State to retreat from the neighborhoods. Differences in political opinion also separate the authors. Sociologists Didier Lapeyronnie and Laurent Muchielli emphasize the failure of French integration and the forsaking of immigrants by a Republic that is hostage to the selfishness of privileged civil servants, while members of The Scientific Council of Attac, Alain Lecourieux and Christophe Ramaux, take a stand against this “sociological radicalism.” For the latter, critique would only paradoxically strengthen the delegitimization of the social State, with the true crisis being the crisis of the French social model under attack by neo-liberalism.4See in particular the “Rebonds” pages in Libération on November 9 and 15, 2005.
All of these interpretations have their pertinence and shed varying amounts of light on the recent events. They provide an understanding of the profound causes and situate both the global and immediate context, especially in contrast to discourses that increasingly tend to occlude any social dimension—discourses that go hand in hand with the return of a thinly veiled racism. Thus one could read one of France’s most visible essayists,5He has a weekly show on the national radio station France Culture, as well as his regular columns and editorials in the most influential periodicals for forming “French opinion.” Alain Finkielkraut, who writes,
In France, some would like to reduce the riots to their sociological level. To see them as a revolt of suburban youth against their situation, against the discrimination from which they suffer and against unemployment. The problem is that most of these young people are Black or Arab and identify themselves as Muslim. There are in fact in France other immigrants in a difficult position—Chinese, Vietnamese, Portuguese—and they did not take part in the riots. It is therefore clear that this revolt has an ethnic-religious character (Haaretz, 11/14/2005).
His rejection of the sociological explanation causes him to add that there is “something in France, a kind of denial coming from the ‘Bobos,’ the sociologists and the social workers, and no one has the courage to say anything else.” While the discourses reducing the “urban riots” to an “Islamic threat” were challenged by the police authorities, who were supposed to be better informed on the subject,6The General Director of the intelligence services (Renseignements généraux), Pascal Mailhos declared, “Radical Islam played no role in the violence. There are multiple factors in the return to calm. The first is the constant action of the police. The second is the role played by institutional or association leaders, including leaders from the Muslim community. The youths acted out of imitation and competition between projects without significant organization. Moreover, the calls to gather in symbolic places made on some troubling blogs were not followed” (Le Monde, 11/24/2005). these statements would not deserve a second thought if they did not express, in a particularly brutal form, other, more diffuse types of reactions—ones that led the media to emphasize ironically the 11-point rise in poll numbers for the Interior Minister because of his strong reactions to the “riots.”
Alain Finkielkraut’s murky statements are troubling on another level: endowed with all of the appearances of good sense, he seems to refer to a vox populi that sociology constantly betrays. Indeed, he plays on this ambiguity to denounce any claim to explain social facts. He nonetheless has nothing to do with what could be called a “popular refusal” of sociology. I speak here not only as a researcher in the social sciences, but as a practitioner, a philosophy teacher in a “suburban” neighborhood, in a high school categorized as a ZEP,7Priority Education Zone, which means that because of difficulties recognized to be greater than elsewhere, it benefits from positive discrimination in terms of resources (essentially money for classes with fewer students). and therefore as someone engaged in the recent events. From the residential point of view, this high school is primarily composed of students living in pavilion zones a few kilometers from Clichy-sous-Bois, where the two young boys considered to be the “trigger event”8The idea of a “trigger event” is dangerous, as Sylvie Tissot has shown for the riots in Vaux-en-Velin. This notion leads to a banalization of events, to the extent that it reduces the initial drama to one among many possibilities and contributes to hiding, through this generalization, the police’s responsibility (in “Vaux-en-Velin, octobre 1990: retour sur une émeute. A propos de la construction politique et médiatique du ‘problème des quartiers sensibles,’” online at http://www.lmsi.org. of the riots died. In discussions with my students, they said they were frustrated by the so-called “sociological” explanations they heard in every news program. For them, these explanations were less elements of understanding than justifications for the exactions committed by some of the youths in the neighborhoods where they lived. In their eyes, it was not enough to give meaning to these “useless acts.” Their rejection of the ambient sociologism because of their proximity in social space (or even residential space for some students) to the events has nothing to do, as you can see, with the a priori obscurantist refusal of any sociological explanation.
There are two possible reactions to this rejection of sociology. One could say that it is merely the result of highly reactionary people who are far too steeped in the dominant ideology to be sensible to these analyses, too threatened in their interests and lives by recent events to be able to reach a global viewpoint that would go beyond their own point of view. And we have heard enough sociologists spout banalities in the media to understand that there may be a negative reaction from those most concerned by the subject. Didn’t we see a university professor (for generosity’s sake I will not mention his name) speak extensively in news programs over several evenings about how the youths were burning cars because they were symbols of prosperity to which they had no access? Setting aside these sociological farces, one could also try to take this rejection seriously and concentrate on what Pierre Bourdieu called the “sources of petit bourgeois misery,” in this case the working class populations living in the pavilion zones of towns on the periphery of large cities near more or less sensitive housing projects. It would be regrettable if the sociologists concerned with making sense of recent events only sought to explain what led some youths to burn cars without paying attention to the young—and less young—people who live in the same neighborhoods and did not participate in the “riots.”
The hypothesis I would like to develop here is that this rejection does not only question the conditions of reception of sociological discourse but also the very type of explanation that sociology contributed in spreading. From this point of view, the question is the direct connection established between certain social factors (or “general causes”) and the events to be explained. More precisely, the causal nature of the connection established between “urban poverty” and the “riots.” I will not revisit the classic debates on explanation and interpretation in sociology, or try to resolve the problem of “historical causality” raised by Tocqueville. My intention here is different. Starting with this rejection of sociology, I will examine, from a reflexive perspective, the political function filled by a certain sociological discourse that has become doxa and the schemas of analysis used by sociologists for these questions.
Sense and nonsense: What politicization?
The connection spontaneously established between “urban poverty” and “riots” that most observers presented as a foregone conclusion is far from self-evident, first and foremost because even though the events were the most spatially extensive and temporally durable case of “unrest” in decades, they did not occur in every sensitive and impoverished area. The data on the unemployment rates of 15-24 year-olds in the neighborhoods that “erupted” are indeed impressive: 41.1% in the Grande Borne neighborhood in Grigny, 54.4% in La Revnerie and Bellefontaine in Toulouse, 31.7% in L’Ousse de bois in Pau, 37.1% in the Grand ensemble of Clichy-sous-bois/Montfermeil, 42.1% for Bellevue in Nantes/Saint Herblain.9Data provided by Laurent Bonelli, “Les Raisons d’une colère,” Le Monde diplomatique, December 2005, pp. 1 & 22-23. But other areas have similar unemployment levels and did not “burn.”
There are some mediations missing in the analysis to make the connection between “urban poverty” and “riots.” “Mediations” is used here to refer to the set of social institutions, organizations and movements that can define the structures framing a given social group.10When these mediations are composed of agents or institutions with sufficient relations to generate common norms and interests, they form fields in the sense defined by Pierre Bourdieu. Some have already been mentioned: the existence of “gangs” and dropout rates, even though the data gathered during the arraignments of the arrested youths may add more nuance to these interpretations.113,101 people were detained by the police during the 22 days of riots. 422 were sentenced to serve prison terms. The median length of these terms was between 6 months and 1 year. Among those sentenced were 118 minors, but 60% of the latter had no prior police record. In the same way, references to the absence of structures for activism on the local level tend to link the riots to a “political void” in the “suburbs.” Abdellali Hajjat has thoroughly deconstructed the logic behind this way of thinking.12Abdellali Hajjat, “Les quartiers populaires ne sont pas un ‘désert politique,’” online at http://www.oumma.com, November 30, 2005. According to this logic, the workers’ movement was able to structure its actions in terms of revolutionary politics, but the urban sub-proletariat of the 21st century, supposedly coming primarily from so-called “post-colonial”13Which remains to be confirmed. See below: a presupposition shared by almost all French sociologists is that the so-called “sensitive” areas are populated exclusively by post-colonial immigrants, which excludes not only contemporary or prior European immigration but also the working class populations that, for lack of a better word, one could call the “pavilion Whites.” This may be where sociology reveals itself to be most dominated by the dominant discourse, in its inability to move beyond the dominant categories with their ethnic connotations that assimilate “suburbs” and “immigrant populations.” For analyses that escape this bias, see Gabrielle Balazs, Jean-Pierre Figuer and Pierre Rimbert, Compétition généralisée, “déclassement” et conversions politiques:les effets differentiels de la crise dans la sidérurgie et dans les hautes technologies, Research Report, Centre d’études de l’emploi, September 2004; Nicolas Renahy, Les gars du coin. Enquête sur la jeunesse rurale, Paris: La Découverte, 2005. immigration, can only erupt in somewhat irrational explosions of violence, that only get their meaning from the comments of specialists nostalgic for the workers’ movement. There is no doubt that this schema of explanation has nothing to do with the security discourse on the “suburban crisis.” Yet it shares with the dominant discourse the idea that these revolts are not political, that they are meaningless. The idea would then be to locate the obstacles to politicization:
From the Movement of Arab Workers (1970-76) to the Movement of Immigration and Suburbs (created in 1995), including Divercité and the Muslim associations on the Left (like the Muslim Youth Union, UJM) there were many attempts to organize post-colonial immigration in France politically. The activism of immigrants or their descendants formed around a series of political figures that corresponded to the economic, political and urban transformations of French society: the “wretched of the Earth” anti-colonialist before 1962, the “migrant worker,” the “illegal worker,” the “beur,” the “Muslim,” etc. Contrary to the visions of suffering portrayed by some sociologists, suburban upheaval has a rich history of more than twenty political experiences.14Abdellali Hajjat, “Les quartiers populaires français ne sont pas un ‘désert politique,’” November 20, 2005, online at http://www.oumma.com.
This historical reminder notably refers to the annexation of any political movement, to the lack of support given to political associations by (national and municipal) public authorities in favor of socio-cultural associations, and to a more general context of repression towards immigration activists that increases the individual cost of political action and favors individual flight towards the “middle class” lifestyle.
The keys to interpreting these “urban riots” may be found in these processes of depoliticization. This does not mean they have no political meaning but that politicization of “suburban violence” has taken place in a particular direction, one that often has no connection to the “general causes” pointed to by outside observers. As Patrick Champagne remarked several years ago, the interpretation of “urban violence” was slowly established in the 1990s as a resolutely desociologized discourse. Until then, the riots were seen by the media as exceptional and spectacular events, identified and circumscribed as the revolt of the Children of the Harkis (Algerians who fought on the French side in Algeria’s war of independence—ed.) lodged in transitory projects “against the injustice done to their parents and themselves.” This violence was progressively depoliticized starting with the incidents in Vaux-en-Velin (in 1991) and “increasingly presented as gratuitous, as a challenge to the order of the Republic (they speak of “lawless zones”), as acts tied to drug trafficking, in short as any kind of inexcusable or criminal behavior that only deserves increased police and judicial repression.”15Patrick Champagne, “Violence visible, violence invisible,” in Thomas Ferenczi (dir.) Faut-il s’accommoder de la violence?, Editions Complexe, 2000, pp. 235-246.
Detached from its social conditions, this violence was combined with the characteristics of young immigrants or the children of immigrants, classified as “unable to be assimilated.” Patrick Champagne retraced the social logic of this political construction:
For the media and the politicians, there was no problem as long as the Harkis remained calm in their suburbs with their problems, without causing concern for those who had no worries. Progressively, in part thanks to the media, these categorical problems left their strictly circumscribed zones and began to pose problems for nearby inhabitants and then elected officials. Standards of living in these areas declined, making neighborhood relations increasingly difficult. And because local populations turned to their elected officials, demanding that they take care of these new problems (in other words, by removing the “undesirable” families or groups), we observed a politicization that was ideal for attracting, in a circular process, political journalists who, more often than not incompetently, took over from reporters in the field who at least met the people about whom they wrote. The problem therefore progressively changed in nature. It entered the political arena, became an election issue (cf. the omnipresent “security” discourse in party platforms on both the Right and the Left). Parliamentary delegations took tours of foreign experiments, American ones in particular, seeking solutions that were politically, if not concretely, effective (for example the “zero tolerance” principle imported from the United States is mostly ideologically important because it strongly reaffirms the authority of the state).16Patrick Champagne, op. cit.
This is a formidable challenge for sociology: when confronting the discourse that tends to pass over the social causes of the riots, it is important not to fall into a kind of sociologism that reduces everything to a vague “social” and ends up turning into its opposite—the sociologism in the media as the best justification for rejecting sociology. Patrick Champagne’s analysis can help us make a first shift in perspective: the politicization of “urban violence” did not come from the point of view of the people involved (they were instead depoliticized) but from the point of view of the people living nearby—the “little Whites” of the pavilion areas that no one talks about but to whom all politicians speak more or less explicitly. The population that the anti-capitalist Left in all its forms scorns for its conformism, that the Socialist Left accused of voting poorly in 2002 and 2005, but that politicians of every strain make every effort to conquer at election time. And while the Left missed its chance with the housing projects, to use Olivier Masclet’s expression,17Olivier Masclet, La gauche et les cités. Histoire d’un rendez-vous manqué, Paris: La Dispute, 2003. the protest against neo-liberal policies was unable to provide a political response to the demands of the “little Whites” of the pavilions, which allowed security issues to have free rein. By contrast, this politicization of security has had very real effects on living conditions and the monitoring of neighborhoods done mostly by the police. If we can say with Loïc Wacquant that one of the questions to ask is not why these “urban riots” happen but why they do not happen more often (why those who live under conditions relatively similar to those of the “rioters” do not revolt more often), then we should start to seek an explanation in this institutional mediation.
The effects of security themes
This type of question is the equivalent of posing the problem of the forms of domination created by the penal State, in particular in the mediations that occur between “urban poverty” and “riots” and that explain the relative absence of lasting mobilization in these neighborhoods. In fact, few observers have produced a precise analysis of the changes in police institutions in France like the one Loïc Wacquant did for the “penalization of poverty” in the United States.18Loïc Wacquant, Punir les pauvres, Marseille: Agone, 2004. This institutional mediation was examined by Laurent Bonelli who showed how the spread of vandalism against cars (more than 20,000 cars burned in 2003 for example) became a common mode of protest in recent years that is immediately qualified and disqualified as delinquent. In a political context of “taking back neighborhoods,” the institutional response has been to promote an “interventionist police” whose actions comprise “repression without crime, stops without infractions that create tension. At that point, interactions with groups of young people were often reduced to systematic gatherings during sweeps and even “stonings” that were met with useless, repetitive identity checks, humiliation, sometimes blows and frequent arrests for ‘insults’ and ‘resistance.’” These changes have obvious statistical results:
Whereas the infractions identified by the police and gendarmes doubled between 1874 and 2004, the number of people stopped for infractions of drug legislation was 39 times greater and 8.5 times greater for infractions of legislation concerning foreigners. At the same time, the rates of resolution (cases solved/infractions listed) dropped steeply from 43.3% to 31.8%. In other words, this means that police activity concentrated on small crimes that result from police presence in the streets as well as the increase in monitoring of certain social groups. This intensification is largely responsible for the deterioration of the relationship between institutions and these groups, feeding so-called “urban” violence.19Laurent Bonelli, op. cit.
Put differently, this change in the modes of intervention had a function: it created the conditions of apenalization of poverty with daily effects in the so-called “sensitive” neighborhoods. No one can claim to understand the reaction of the youths in Clichy-sous-Bois and the rather rapid propagation of the “riots” to other neighborhoods without taking into account these changes in the police production of working-class illegality. These changes add “the petty daily violence that only affects this ethnically marked population, these police sweeps, the worried glances they receive, in short the treatment that sets them apart and marginalizes marginal youth even more”20Patrick Champagne, op. cit. to the invisible violence of failure in school, a closed job market and residential segregation. No one can understand the connection between “urban poverty” and “riots” without placing them in the larger framework of changes in institutional mediations for managing the populations most affected by the deconstruction of the social State. If the “urban violence” of November 2005 “expressed” something, as the consecrated formula would have it (probably the one the most used by politicians and sociologists), then it was less poverty than a change in the way poverty is dealt with. The move to a penal State is all the more surprising in a Europe most believed anchored in the social State. Minister Sarkozy’s accusations only add to the confusion surrounding this issue by making recent changes appear to be the result of one minister’s electoral ambitions. In this perspective, “urban violence” is less “the expression of a crisis” (the crisis of “urban poverty”) than the phenomenon resulting from the start of a new regime of control for sectors of the population—institutional mediations that easily accommodate a global discourse on “general social causes.” We would have to do a more systematic analysis of the political use of the events-that-express-a-crisis terminology in relation to the development of groups of “professional meaning providers” as François Athané calls them: politicians and experts in social problems. With the lack of research on the subject, one could question the ideological function of sociologists in structures for managing poverty. By monopolizing the discourse on the profound meaning of the “urban riots,” the senseless revolts that only the social sciences could decrypt, don’t they also contribute to the depoliticization of the social groups that security discourses are so good at creating?
Under fire: Sociological and political perspectives
When confronted with the changes in modes of control in working-class neighborhoods, the role of sociology remains to explain the social by the social. But providing an explanation becomes all the more delicate when the encompassing discourse on “urban poverty,” a veritable sociological doxa, paradoxically tends to de-sociologize social facts by draining them of all political meaning. Insurrections that are a priori denied meaning other than the one provided by the “professional meaning providers”21On the attribution of a political or apolitical meaning to the burning cars, see François Athané, “Ne laissons pas punir les pauvres,” November 2005, online at http://www.lmsi.org. are hard to interpret from a collective point of view. One could therefore ask whether the multiple public appearances by sociologists do not contribute to or increase this depoliticization, especially to the extent that the explanations provided, more often than not, cannot move beyond the level of direct ties between “poverty” and “riots.” These ties are so simplistic that they are exposed to quick rejection in the name of an appeal to individual responsibility—and the defense of private property.
The events of November 2005 therefore place sociology under fire. Should it assume the expert role that many members of the profession would like it to have, or should it take on an active public role that breaks with dominant discourses on the social world? If this question could be openly asked in France, the test of the car fires would at least have some positive effect on a discipline that is increasingly invoked as a scientific alibi for politicians and journalists who lack both diagnoses and remedies. We are not only at the level of the conditions of reception of sociology but at the level of explanation schemas as well: what more does a sociologist offer when he or she simply says, like most politicians and journalists, that the youths revolted because they are in “marginalized neighborhoods?”
These questions focus on the problem of the current function of this kind of sociological discourse: this test of fire is also a test of powerlessness, of the “impotence of power” to use François Athané’s terms. The vast consensus that the riots had social causes could be considered a “victory” for sociological thought in general; however, it has had no effect on government practices, on the social reality it diagnosed. This is the paradox of this sociological doxa. It does not mean that the diagnosis is wrong but that nothing has changed because the conditions of reception of sociological discourse neutralize its potentially politically subversive effects. Isn’t it time to engage in a collective consideration of the political function of sociology and the political interventions it can accomplish? I do not claim to have a definitive solution; I would just like to suggest that a function of political intervention would break with overly obvious discourses on the social world. More than just a critique of the media, we need a critique of the position of sociology itself as an expert discourse.
Pierre Bourdieu suggested that the political intervention of sociologists is always based on a high degree of scientificness.22Pierre Bourdieu, Interventions (1961-2001). Science sociale et action politique. Texts edited and presented by Thierry Discepolo and Franck Poupeau, Marseille: Agone, 2002. In the moment, one would therefore have to stop speaking as a sociologist, which could even be a general rule: do not speak as a sociologist until research has been done on the subject in question. A sociologist could only intervene in the moment by assuming a political position, not shrouded in the “axiological neutrality” claimed by the expert.23For a critique of the denied political uses of “axiological neutrality,” see Pierre Bourdieu, Contrefeux 2, Paris: Raisons d’agir, 2001. He or she would then be free to carry out research afterwards as a sociologist. Through problems of reception of sociological discourse, under media conditions that favor simple explanations, the critique of establishing a direct relationship between “urban poverty” and the “riots” gives rise to a slightly different view of the sociologist’s role. Indeed, any rigorous sociological study of these “riots”24Considering that a study of these events is most urgent, and not a broader study of the forms of domination that affect all working class categories that come or do not come from post-colonial immigration. would require a reconstruction of the institutional mediations mentioned above as well as the development of indicators that could measure the degree of correlation between “urban poverty” and “riots.” A cartography of facts would then be needed to correlate the intensity of events in each locality with a set of socio-demographic and institutional variables: socio-economic indicators relative to residential space (socio-professional categories, tax rates, unemployment rates, social assistance as well as the changes over recent years); indicators for the tone of municipal policies and the subventions allocated for each neighborhood; indicators for the development of structures for children and youths, from socio-cultural centers to schools, within the context of the residential space; indicators for the forms of police intervention in these neighborhoods. Interviews in these and the surrounding areas would then follow to bring out, beyond the moment of objectification, the meaning of events for different categories of residents. The obligation to engage in an inquiry like the one briefly described here would prohibit any “immediate reaction” from an expert on social problems. We can only hope, on the contrary, that it will encourage sociology to return to its burning issues.
Franck Poupeau is a researcher with the Centre de sociologie européenne, philosophy teacher in a Priority Education Zone (ZEP) in the Paris suburbs, and author of articles and books on teaching conditions in suburban establishments. His current research involves socio-spatial inequalities in access to public services.25My thanks to François Athané, Laurent Bonelli and Pierre Rimbert for their comments and suggestions.