France has an established reputation as a country of immigration and has received numerous waves of immigrants from the nineteenth century onwards. This book aims to focus on one of these immigrant groups or, rather, on the French-born descendants of North African immigrants of Muslim origin. It looks at three levels of discourse relating to North African immigrants and their descendants. First, the increasingly politicised issue of immigration in France since the 1980s can be seen as just one level of discourse concerning North African immigrants and their descendants. A second level of discourse can be found in the intellectual debates of the last twenty-five years, which have often taken on a rather ideological character. One of the central ideas underpinning the book is the notion of a disjuncture between the main preoccupations of the public and intellectual debates and the experiences of the people concerned. Therefore, by studying the construction of identity among young people of North African origin, the book aims to concentrate on the register of experience. That is, by adopting an empirical or a 'bottom-up' approach, the apparent disjuncture between the various discourses about young people of North African origin and their experiences can be addressed. The views expressed by the young people themselves can be regarded as the third layer of 'discourse' to be examined in the book.
Through its focus on secular Muslim public intellectuals in contemporary France,
this book challenges polarizing accounts of Islam and Muslims, which have been
ubiquitous in political and media debates for the last thirty years. The work of
these intellectuals is significant because it expresses, in diverse ways, an
‘internal’ vision of Islam that demonstrates how Muslim identification and
practices successfully engage with and are part of a culture of secularism
(laïcité). The study of individual secular Muslim intellectuals in contemporary
France thus gives credence to the claim that the categories of religion and the
secular are more closely intertwined than we might assume. This monograph is a
timely publication that makes a crucial contribution to academic and political
debates about the place of Islam and Muslims in contemporary France. The book
will focus on a discursive and contextualised analysis of the published works
and public interventions of Abdelwahab Meddeb, Malek Chebel, Leïla Babès, Dounia
Bouzar and Abdennour Bidar – intellectuals who have received little scholarly
attention despite being well-known figures in France.
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.
This chapter discusses a number of interviewees by way of a 'portrait'. It focuses on those interviewees who can be described as engaging in a process of subjectivity. The chapter also focuses on those interviewees whose experiences are characterised by a more fragmented or precarious subjectivity and considers those interviewees who demonstrate very little subjectivity at all. It argues that Myriam's subjectivity is expressed according to the first two axes of subjectivation (circulation around the three 'poles' of identity and bricolage identitaire). Discrimination is a recurrent theme during the interview with Mahmoud and when asked about the political claims he would make, racism is central in the formulation of his demands. Nabila's 'thwarted' subjectivity is expressed mostly in terms of an unquestioning reproduction of certain roles or models of behaviour. This becomes apparent through her interactions with peers who are also of North African origin.