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(Writing is progressing so fast now, that I’m not able to keep up here. This post I wrote several weeks ago, but haven’t found a free moment to post it before now. I’ll try to find some more time to keep up the blog in this final stage, as it would be good to document this part of the project as well. I’ll see what I can manage.)
Smaller and larger parts of the puzzle find their place at the moment. Phenomena that have only flickered past my attention in a superficial, disconnected manner suddenly add up to a larger picture.
The last of these epiphanies was triggered by a request to hold a seminar at National Institute of Consumer Research (SIFO). They asked me because they’ve a project running on migration and consumption, and certainly, migration is relevant in my research on Paris as postcolonial. On consumption on the other hand, I wasn’t so sure what I could come up with. When I discussed some bland idea I’d got with a fellow anthropologist, he said right away that it’s exactly the lack of consumption in one of the large consumer countries of the west that it interesting here. Of course! One of the definitions of French slam is that it should be for free.
About the same time, a Norwegian journal published an article on the French Décroissance (Degrowth) movement. Although I had noticed the thought-provoking term around, for instance in demonstrations, I wasn’t aware that it concerned a socio-political movement. I started wondering if parts of the slam milieu was inspired by this movement, as several texts make similar statements to their “live better consume less” ideas, as well as mocking contradiction in terms like a “fair trade” (J’aime ma planète, j’achète, “I love my planet, so I buy it” by Zéor, for instance).
I had also noticed the relatively low material standard of living (without going into detail) many slammers lived under. These observations had made an impression on me, but they didn’t start to make sense before I read Sociologie de Paris (Pinçon and Pinçon-Charlot) and connected them to the brute reality of the cost of life in Paris proper compared to the poorer suburbs: Even in the cheapest arrondissments in the north and east of the city is the price per square metre double compared to in the suburban towns in Seine-Saint-Denis.
But the observations still weren’t more than signs of relative poverty in an affluent society, added perhaps some traits of degrowth-ideas present in some texts. Until I was told (by a man almost double my age, what a humiliation!) that I had to free my analysis because what I was observing seems much more radical than old ways of thinking about politics. He commented on another part of the thesis (republicanism and cosmopolitanism), but it’s pertinent in relation to the question of consumption as well. From this perspective, all these disparate observations click together in the puzzle to such a degree that it all seems utterly banal, and how come I haven’t seen it before? Maybe particularly since I’ve even proclaimed here before that I recognise in the slam scene something of Foucault’s dictum (1982) to refuse what we are and find new subjectivities liberated from the state and its individualisation.
A life with less material goods is certainly not only “relative poverty”, it is also part of larger ethical questions on local and global solidarity, ecology, how to lead the good life and so on. The Décroissance movement and the slam phenomenon are probably just different expressions of larger currents in French and western society. Suddenly, I see the slam scene as even deeper situated within a long and broad history of poetic and eventful rebellion. And the great thing for the progress of my thesis is that all these recent epiphanies don’t seem to broaden the scope of my work, spreading it out in unmanageable directions. Quite the contrary, they tie the loose ends into a nuanced and detailed tapestry and click seemingly unfitting pieces into the puzzle.
Good to hear that you are having a working-flow at the moment. Wish you good luck.
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