This chapter examines the published works of Abdelwahab Meddeb. Of specific
significance is Meddeb’s foregrounding of a language of Islamic secularism,
which can be interpreted as an attempt to transform perceptions of Islam and
thus to intervene in the symbolic power relations between the Republican
state and France’s Muslim citizens. This chapter also poses questions about
the consequences of deploying certain forms of discursive agency for secular
Muslim intellectuals. What are the outcomes of their interventions in the
public arena? What are the possible effets pervers (unintended consequences)
of their interventions, if any? It is arguable that the work of Meddeb
embodies most explicitly some of the tensions and paradoxes that can emerge
when intellectuals speak for and on behalf of a ‘minority community’, or if
we want to avoid that problematic term due to its suggestion of a hermetic
and homogenous group, on behalf of a religious/cultural minority
This chapter explores the work of French philosopher Abdennour Bidar. Via his
publications, scholarly articles and media interventions, Bidar attempts to
sketch out the contours of what he calls a twenty-first century Muslim
existentialism. Muslim existentialism emerges from what Bidar calls un islam
sans soumission. Islam or Islamic belief without submission is premised on a
profound desire for freedom of conscience, expression and dissent. Prior to
his work on the notion of Islam without submission, Bidar also developed the
term self Islam with reference to European citizens of Muslim heritage, the
majority of whom choose to define their own diverse relationships to Islam
on their own terms. Bidar’s approach can be described as a project of
cultural translation, whereby he can be regarded as a cultural mediator who
seeks to productively confront non-Western and Western concepts of religion,
spirituality, modernity and humanism. His work, which places him at the
intersections of the academic world, the media and the political arena,
makes him a particularly interesting figure through which to investigate the
circulation of narratives concerning French Muslims and their diverse
relationships to secularism.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book focuses on the register of experience by studying the construction of identity among young people of North African origin. It describes the politicisation of immigration as a process which was initially illustrated by the debates about the parameters of the French nation and the reform of the Code de la nationalité. The book considers how the young people of North African origin who took part in interviews articulate subjective identities, by dealing with the parameters of individualism and community in original ways. It also focuses on both collective and community identity and how this can be understood in relation to both cultural and socio-economic experience. The book discusses the themes and various narrative 'clusters' arising out of the interviewees' stories.
The public debates of the 1980s, 1990s and twenty-first century
This chapter examines the emergence of immigration as the subject of public debate in France from the 1980s onwards. It discusses the concept of nation, nationalism, nationality, the State and citizenship. The chapter presents an overview of the different ways in which these concepts have been defined historically and their relevance within the post-revolutionary French context. In order to understand why the question of immigration became increasingly politicised, it is first of all necessary to return to the mid-1970s. The chapter focuses on the debates of the last thirty years, starting with the 1980s and 1990s and the context of the emerging far Right. It also presents the debates on nationality and integration; the recurring linkages made between immigration and law and order; the 'headscarf affairs'; the notion of selective immigration policy; and issues around discrimination and inequality.
This chapter focuses on the 'ideological' or 'normative' debate, which is essentially centred on the question of cultural difference in democratic societies. 'Anglo-Saxon-style multiculturalism' has been caricatured by the républicaniste camp, which has argued that the recognition of cultural difference would lead to the increasing fragmentation or 'ghettoisation' of French society. The chapter discusses the contours of the academic debates which are concerned with collective mobilisation among immigrant populations and their descendants. It presents the main parameters of research on young people of 'immigrant origin'. A critical evaluation of intellectual discourse on immigration can point towards alternative perspectives for intellectual engagement with the topics of immigration, integration and citizenship in culturally diverse societies. The intellectual debate tends to concentrate on individuals aged between twelve and twenty-five and themes such as the banlieue, the family, juvenile delinquency/urban violence, unemployment and discrimination are central.
This chapter provides a brief overview of the 'decline' of classical sociology and the resulting re-emergence of the subject as a way of renewing social enquiry in a post-industrial context. It focuses on the themes of subjectivity and the sociology of experience. Classical sociology was at its height in the 1940s and 1950s, reflected by the dominance of Talcott Parsons' functionalist social theories. The relevance of the theme of subjectivity to young people of immigrant origin emerges from the idea of a 'decomposition' of modernity. The chapter further considers ways in which the notion of the subject and the sociology of experience can be used in empirical research on identity, ethnicity and subjectivity. Michel Wieviorka identifies the three poles of the triangle as follows: individual identity and universal values; community identity; and subjective identity.
This chapter discusses the findings of the empirical study carried out with young people of North African origin from Seine-Saint-Denis. It focuses on the notion of individual identity. The chapter shows that some young people of North African origin clearly strive to distance themselves from their cultural background and presents their life experience in terms of an 'assimilated' 'Français de souche' citizen of the Republic. Cultural dimension concerns issues such as self-perception or cultural positioning, language, marriage and religion. A small number of interviewees situate themselves on the 'individualism pole' of the 'triangle of identity' with regard to cultural positioning. Religion is often portrayed in the social sciences as being an expression of 'tradition' or traditional values and hence it can be conceptualised as existing antagonistically with modernity and universalist 'reason'.
This chapter looks more closely at how the same interviewees can construct their experiences in more collective terms. It discusses how interviewees see and present themselves; their relationship to the country 'of origin'; language; attitudes to Islam and religiosity; and attitudes towards marriage and future marriage partners. The chapter focuses on a more cultural definition of community. All the interviewees acknowledge to varying degrees their cultural and/or linguistic 'heritage'. Language, that is, the mother tongues spoken by the interviewees' parents, informs a sense of collective cultural experience for several young people in the sample. Once again, the ways in which these interviewees discursively express their experiences of languages is heterogeneous. The chapter is concerned with the 'communautaire' pole of the 'triangle of identity,' focuses on the relationship between Islam, community and group unity.
This chapter focuses on three aspects of collective experience among young French-North Africans in Seine-Saint-Denis: the banlieue, the quartier and racial discrimination. While the banlieue and the quartier are often considered as predominantly socio-economic categories, the chapter argues that they can be seen as representing an interface between social and more cultural forms of identity. The chapter discusses interface between the socio-economic and the cultural in relation to the interviewees' narratives of racial discrimination. The notion of belonging to a community which is primarily defined in terms of an antagonistic relationship between Paris and la banlieue is a fairly prevalent phenomenon among the young people who took part in the fieldwork. In addition to a strong sense of identity with regard to the banlieue, which is simultaneously conceived as a socio-economic and cultural 'imagined community', some interviewees reveal that they enjoy close ties with their immediate quartier.