04:09:43 pmCategories: Fieldwork, Politics

My blog, my project and I, part 3 – I and Politics

Another warm night, and it seems like insomnia strikes again despite however little storm and poèsie infused sleep I had last night. I’ve been too snotty to go to the jazz concert in Parc Floral and hang around somewhere in East Paris until the early hours, as would have been suitable for this hot Saturday. And I regret it a lot, especially since it’s my second last weekend here (and only three more jazz concerts to go, amongst all the other things I’ll be missing...). Instead I make use of my sleeplessness to finish a blog post I’ve been planning for months.

As my fieldwork is soon coming to an end, it’s time to take a step back and look at what I’ve been doing here, and why I’ve been doing these things and not others. It’s been a lot of politics, in my blog as well as in my experiences here.

As I’ve mentioned before, my initial intention to study peaceful and harmonious cosmopolitanism as it is played out in people’s everyday life, quickly faded into the background since I had been fortunate to step right into the largest revolts and demonstrations in the time of the Fifth Republic (1958-). (And probably, simple harmony sans rebellion would have made a poor representation of French society, anyway. Apropos, the almost free jazz concerts in Parc Floral constitute exactly such a harmonious cosmopolitan space. There is every colour on the planet present, and the number of mixed couples, babies and circles of friends equals Marseille ☺. The styles of dress vary from the banlieusard’s trainers, tracksuit bottoms and t-shirt to chic west end babes with sunglasses and expensive skirt and top, via almost everything else. And, as I’ve noticed to my delight at an east Paris hub like Place de Ménilmontant as well, all colours/ethnic backgrounds are represented – though not equally numerous – in all styles and functions. Thus, no multiculturalist neat little boxes to put the people inside. Though, I should add that this mix might have decreased with the summer reaching its zenith, as more and more Parisians are leaving for vacation and being replaced by more and more groups of tourists and foreign western students).

Besides, as more than one post on this blog have tried to show, it doesn’t take long to start sensing the reasons behind people’s frustration and anger. Policing and security is one such issue. After a quiet week in Corsica, it took one night out in Marseille for my Norwegian company not yet accustomed to the present government’s “securitarian” measures to get a feel of this situation. We watched the world cup football semi-final Portugal-France in the Vieux Port. After the match we stuck around for a while with a few thousand others, sharing our last can of beer while watching the celebrations. Teenagers on scooters drove around in corteges waving flags and hooting. Kids were running around while their parents were chatting. - I saw a brother yelling at his little sister for walking around alone shooting pictures of the crowd with the family’s digital camera, while their mother just laughed at it. There were firecrackers and drums, and a little (very little compared to where I come from) drinking and a little (much more than where I come from) cannabis smoking. A group of thirty-something were just about to light their joint next to us, and I was just about to say to my company that sooner or later someone will throw something in the direction of the Robocop-looking CRS police who are never far away on such occasions, who will in turn start charging, which again will provoke more projectiles from the crowd… when a group of CRS suddenly ran up right behind us with all their riot gear. So less than 45 minutes after France had beat Portugal, the CRS found it opportune to start clearing the Vieux Port. There were still children there, I even saw a father carrying his 3 months old baby away from the tear gas… A large section of the crowd had involuntarily been trapped on the opposite side of the port of their way home, but I also think some families with older children stuck around for their kids to see what France is like these days. My company, who had not yet become used to see the police in action on almost every night out, was surprised and a little bit upset and angry: It was utterly incomprehensible to us why we couldn’t go on with our little celebratory street party a little longer…

So, all this writing on politics of resistance has come naturally, from the circumstances. In addition, of course, it’s due to my own social and political concerns and interests. It’s not the first time I become politicised when I leave the peripheral Norway and go to Europe. (This has got more to do with Norway than with Britain and France, “remember, it’s Norway that is exotic,” my old French teacher used to say when we were surprised by some strange ways of the French). It happened on my previous fieldwork as well, in London in 1999, although then overt politics didn’t make its way into my final texts the same way as it undoubtedly will this time.

My fieldwork (amongst British Asians) and my life in our communal house was so far apart when it came to political activism, that on a demonstration where I went with one of my flatmates (a British Pakistani), he was so excited about seeing one other South Asian looking guy there, that he wanted to go straight over to him and try to get him to be my informant. This was on the great Carnival against capitalism, at the day of the G8 meeting on June 18, 1999, which together with the Seattle meeting in November the same year, marked the beginning of a new era of anti-capitalist and anti-(economic) globalisation protest. It was inspired by the anarchic street party approach of the Reclaim the streets anti-capitalist, anti-corporation, anti-car phenomenon in Britain from the mid 1990s, and it was to become increasingly transnationalised, – epitomised by the slogan “Our Resistance is as Transnational as Capital”. For me, the experience of spending a whole day in the enjoyable, but conscious, atmosphere at this do-it-yourself street party right between the corporate giants in City, woke up my old anarchist political consciousness that had been slumbering ever since my teenage years of naïve reveries had ended. After that moment, I understood perfectly well Durkheim’s analysis of how participating in rituals make individuals feel that they are part of something bigger, which can give them a certain sense of meaning in their lives.

In London, I met loads of people who believed it was worthwhile making the world – as well as the local community – a better place to live. In my ears, it sounded like people were discussing things that mattered, things worth living and fighting for – and they often tried to live accordingly, not just exist to consume… Well, what happened when I got back to Norway after my previous fieldwork? We all seem so bourgeois there, caught in our narrow, bourgeois lives, - to put it with an everyday French term. But perhaps it’s just got to be like that, in a society without foreign debt, where the buying power is just rising and rising and where we seem to be so comfortably far away from the misery of the world.

Here, the world is on our doorsteps – if not in our own house: the misery of it as well as its diversity, its resistance, its hopes… The cosmopolitanism, the transnational connections, the creativity, the political consciousness, the sociability, the poetics – all this constitute for me sensations, emotions, atmospheres and everyday routines – as I wrote in this blog some days ago – which I’ll miss immensely when I leave. Because I know, as I also wrote, that it takes no time at all for this state of mind to be replaced, as soon as I step back into my Oslo way of life, to such an extent that my Paris experience – as with London some years ago – appears as a parallel but distinctly separate universe.


Comment from: [Member]

Cicilie, it was really great adventure to read about your fieldwork adventure! We’ll be missing that! Hope you will keep on writing sometimes about how your work is going. Good luck with the next part of your project. Enjoy your last days in Paris. See you in exotic Norway!:) (Been admitted to MA! Jippi!)

23/07/06 @ 22:18
Comment from: [Member]

Hi Antropyton,

Thanks alot for your comment, and congratulations with the MA admittance! I’m looking forward to reading your research blog from fieldwork in the spring :-) Probably, we’ll both be writing fieldwork blogs at the time, as I hope to return to France for part 2 of my fieldwork. Until then, I’ll try to keep on posting as my analysis - hopefully - progresses. See you in O!

24/07/06 @ 03:13

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