10:36:58 amCategories: Fieldwork, Spaces

Back in the field

Yesterday brought me no less than two très belles coïncidences. First – as I told yesterday – the issue of Le Monde I got on the Air France flight had assigned a whole page to my research object, the very reason for which I was coming down to France again this week; the French slam scene. (Today it’s Libération’s turn). The second coincidence was almost as belle; as I strolled around in my beloved Belleville/Ménilmontant neighbourhood I spotted a poster in a window announcing that the historian Pascal Blanchard, coeditor of La fracture coloniale, was having at talk at the local library 2 hours later. La fracture coloniale was in fact the very book I decided at the last moment not to bring with me here, as I would have little time for reading, - but which I’ll have to read as soon as I get back, since I’m writing an essay on the current struggle over history going on here.

So, before I took the metro down to The Seine and the junk (i.e. boat), La Guinguette Pirate, for the weekly Wednesday slam session there, I went over to Bibliothèque Couronnes to listen to Blanchard. It was in fact the fourth time in 12 months that I heard him. It was however the first time that he came to a community library right in the neighbourhood where I carry out my fieldwork.

(At La Guinguette, by the way, one of the slammers managed to convince me that the Le Monde article I just had thought was quite well, was quite bad. “It just tells the same old story, and doesn’t even mention all the regular soirées going on, just the star appearance this week. It’s hardly based on any research other than reading the Internet. Your study, on the other hand…” It indeed pleased me to hear that my research is taken seriously, especially since my French obviously not yet is up to the whole complexity of the slam performance repertoire…)

Yesterday was thus packed with significant happenings, and it reminded me of how overwhelming this field often felt when I stayed here last time. In the local neighbourhood, the news, politics on all levels, and in the arts world: everywhere in France these days issues of the colonial past and the cosmopolitan (or lack of cosmopolitan) present are discussed, fought over, - and lived out.

When I come back for my last 8 months of fieldwork from December onwards, I think I have to shield myself from all this noise constantly diverting my attention, and keep the focus narrowly on my specific topic of research. It suits me well that the main topic – the (Parisian) slam poetry scene – almost exclusively is situated in popular neighbourhoods in the vicinity of my favourite boulevard where I’ve spent quite a lot of time studying the social geography, as well as out in two popular suburbs. (Then I can even do a tiny little bit of research in the infamous les banlieues, the gate-keeping concept (à la Arjun Appadurai) par excellence for this kind of research in France…).

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