(Dés)Intégration? the Sustainability of Integration Policies in the Twenty-First Century French Banlieue

Friday, July 14, 2017
Melville Room (University of Glasgow)
Jocelyn Asa Wright , French and Italian, The University of Texas at Austin
The riots that began in Clichy-sous-Bois and spread like wildfire through the rest of France in late 2005 led to an international conversation about the success or failure of France’s attempts at integrating its minority populations that continues to this day. Much of this rhetoric revolves around race and religion in France, with media pundits, politicians, non-profit associations, and scholars in disciplines ranging from political science to literature identifying racial and religious discrimination as the most influential factors in both the riots and, more broadly, the integration of banlieue youth into French society.

The focus of this paper, however, is the cultural counter-dicourse that emerged concurrently and proposed a different culprit: lack of economic opportunities. These narratives, which were set in the banlieue and often authored by its inhabitants, engaged directly with integration while refusing to emphasize either race or religion. Here, I analyze two examples of this phenomenon: Ahmed Djouder’s 2006 novel and Philippe Faucon’s 2011 film, both of which are provocatively titled Désintégration. Despite their very different backgrounds—Djouder is a young editor of Algerian origin and Faucon is an older filmmaker born and raised in a decolonizing North Africa—these works share the same thesis. I argue that these authors not only identify lack of economic opportunities as the primary factor in the (dés)intégration of youth residing in the banlieue, but also demonstrate how rhetoric about race and religion is being used to obfuscate the critical role access to capital—both economic and cultural—plays in integration.