04:32:29 pmCategories: Fieldwork, Politics, Riots

Now what?

Two weeks ago, at the time I finished my French lessons, I had planned to quietly sit down and rethink my research project. The goals of the project still seemed justified, but I was not sure about the approach; I felt I was about to suffer from a severe information overload.

The evening 16 days ago, the 28th of October, I watch the news as usual. In addition to a reportage about an amateur theatre group for youth in a banlieue, two episodes catch my attention. The Interior Minister’s seems unreserved in his backing of the police version of events when two young boys were accidentally electrocuted in a transformer station the previous evening. I note down my surprise. No investigation is yet concluded, and both the two TV channels I watch take care to mention that two versions of the event still exist. (Since then, we’ve learnt that Sarkozy’s version was not the true one. The police had been physically pursuing the boys, whereas they had not been involved in any break-in but were running from an identity control.)

The second brief note I make from the news concerns the attacks on police and fire fighters in Clichy-sous-bois the night before. It calms down almost immediately in Clichy-sous-bois, but the apparently self-destructive rioting spreads to “sensitive areas” (“quartiers sensibles”) all over France. The unrest has been on the wane for several days now. But we are only starting to see the political repercussions. As I read on a chat forum on Beur FM (=French Arab radio): “In the presidential election in 2007, who will you vote for; Sarkozy or Le Pen?” And political populism and the Front National are only some of the possible political consequences I have in mind.

So, if I thought the research approach needed a rethink two weeks ago, the Clichy-sous-bois event has not made me change my mind. The research question is more justified than ever, in my opinion: what influences senses of belonging and community making in a cosmopolitan city like Paris? But how can I best study it? So far, I’ve considered, and rejected, three possible approaches: 1) Hanging around in a (multi ethnic) music or artist collective, preferably with political objectives. 2) A neighbourhood study in the cosmopolitan area Belleville. 3) Participating in two (multi ethnic) political groups working towards recognition of the colonial era in France. Yesterday, when I asked to local (Maghrebi) baker if he would help me with my research, I messed it up a bit and confused my three approaches. It was easier when I just asked the greengrocer what he thought about the present situation… Anyway, now it seems to me that I just have to live with the information overload some more time, to see what will happen.
To be continued...

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