Ghettos and Anti-Ghettos: An Anatomy of the New Urban Poverty

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Caroline Keve: In
Los Condenados de la Ciudad, you draw a methodical comparison between the evolution of the black American ghetto and
the French popular periphery or
banlieue over the past three decades. Why did you undertake this comparison and what does it reveal about the changing face of poverty in the city?

Loïc Wacquant: This book was born of the confluence of two shocks, the first personal and the second political. The personal shock was the first-hand discovery of the black American ghetto –or what remains of it – when I moved to Chicago and lived for six years on the edge of the city’s South Side. Coming from France, I was appalled by the intensity of the urban desolation, racial segregation, social deprivation, and street violence concentrated in this terra non grata that was universally feared, shunned, and denigrated by outsiders, including by many scholars.

The political shock was the diffusion of a moral panic about ghetto-isation in France and through much of Western Europe. In the 1990s, the media, politicians, and even some researchers came to believe that working-class neighbourhoods at the periphery of European cities were turning into ‘ghettos’ based on the pattern of the United States. And so public debate and state policy were reoriented toward fighting the growth of these so-called ghettos, based on the premise that urban poverty was being ‘Americanized,’ that is, stamped by deepening ethnic division, rising segregation and rampant criminality.

Bring these two shocks together and you have the question that animated a decade of research: are the US ghetto and the European lower-class districts converging and, if not, what is happening to them? And what is driving their transformation? To answer these questions, I gathered statistical data and carried out field observation in a dilapidated section of Chicago’s ‘Black Belt’ and in a de-industrialising suburb of the ‘Red Belt’ of Paris. I also reconstructed their historical trajectory, because you cannot understand what happened to these declining neighbourhoods in the 1990s without considering the full sweep of the twentieth century, marked by the boom and then the demise of Fordist industrialism and the Keynesian welfare state.

So what happened to the American Black Belt and the French Red Belt? Are they converging?
On the American side, I show that, after the riots of the 1960s, the black ghetto imploded, or collapsed onto itself, due to the concurrent retraction of the market economy and retrenchment of the social state. The result was a new urban form that I call the hyperghetto, characterized by double exclusion based on race and class and reinforced by a state policy of welfare withdrawal and urban abandonment. So when we speak about the American ghetto we must imperatively historicise it and not confound the ‘communal ghetto’ of the 1950s with its fin-de-siècle descendant. The communal ghetto was a parallel world, a “black city inside the white,” as the African-American sociologists St. Clair Drake and Horace Cayton put it in their master-book Black Metropolis. It served as reservoir of unskilled labour for factories and its dense web of organisations offered a buffer against white domination. With de-industrialisation and the shift to financial capitalism, the hyperghetto does not have an economic function and it is stripped of communal organisations, which have been replaced by state institutions of social control. It is an instrument of naked exclusion, a mere receptacle for the stigmatised and superfluous fractions of the black proletariat: the unemployed, welfare recipients, criminals and participants in the booming informal economy.

On the French side, the reigning media and policy perception turns out to be dead wrong: lower-class boroughs have undergone a process of pauperization and gradual decomposition that has taken them away from the pattern of the ghetto. A ghetto is an ethnically homogenous enclave that contains all the members of a subordinate category and their institutions, and prevents them from fanning into the city. Now, declining banlieues are very mixed and have become more diverse in terms of ethnic recruitment over the past three decades; they typically contain a majority of French citizens and immigrants from two to three dozen nationalities. The growing presence of these postcolonial migrants results from a decrease in their spatial separation: they used to be barred from public housing and thus more segregated. And the residents who rise in the class structure through the school, the labour market or entrepreneurship quickly leave these degraded areas.

The Red Belt banlieues have also lost most of the local institutions tied to the Communist Party (to which they owed their moniker) that used to organise life around the triad of factory, union, and neighbourhood, and give people collective pride in their class and city. Their ethnic heterogeneity, porous boundaries, decreasing institutional density and incapacity to create a shared cultural identity make these areas the opposite of ghettos: they are anti-ghettos.

This goes against the grain of the image painted by the French media, politicians of both Right and Left, and activists mobilised around issues of immigration, race and citizenship.

This is a good illustration of a key contribution of sociology to civic debate: through precise conceptualisation and systematic observation, it discloses the huge gaps – in this case a total contradiction – between public perception and social reality. Immigrants and their children in the French city have become more mixed, not more separated; their social profile and opportunities are becoming more similar to those of native French people, not more different. They are becoming more diffused in space, not more concentrated. It is precisely because they are now more ‘integrated’ in the mainstream of national life and compete for collective goods that they are seen as a menace, and that xenophobia has surged forth among the native fractions of the working class threatened by downward mobility.

What the urban peripheries of Western Europe suffer from is not ghetto-isation but the dissolution of the traditional working class caused by the normalization of mass unemployment and the spread of unstable and part-time jobs, as well as vilification in public debate. In effect, the discourse of 'ghetto-isation' partakes of the symbolic demonisation of lower-class districts which weakens them socially and marginalises them politically.

Los Condenados demonstrates that the thesis of ‘convergence’ between Europe and America on the model of the black ghetto is wrong empirically and misleading policy-wise. Then it goes on to reveal the ‘emergence’ of a new regime of urban poverty on both sides of the Atlantic, distinct from the regime of the preceding half-century anchored in stable industrial work and the safety net of the Keynesian state. This advanced marginality is fed by the fragmentation of wage labour, the reorientation of state policy away from social protection and in favour of market compulsion, and the generalised resurgence of inequality – that is, it is marginality spawned by the neoliberal revolution. This means that it is not behind us, but ahead of us. It is bound to persist and grow as governments implement policies of economic deregulation and commodification of public goods. But this new social reality, spawned by the scarcity and instability of work and the changing role of the state, is obfuscated by the ethnicised idiom of immigration, discrimination, and “diversity.” The latter are real issues, to be sure, but they are not the driving force behind the marginalization of Europe’s urban periphery. Worse, they serve to hide the new social question of insecure work and its consequences for the formation of the new urban proletariat of the twenty-first century.

In the book, you stress the collective indignity felt by people stuck in the hyperghetto and the de-industrialised banlieue. The residents of the Black Belt have lost race pride and their counterparts of the Red Belt have lost class pride. You argue that “territorial stigmatization” is a novel dimension of urban marginality in both America and Europe on the brink of the new century.

Indeed, one of the distinctive feature of advanced marginality is the suffusive spatial stigma that discredits people trapped in neighbourhoods of relegation. In every advanced society, a number of urban districts or towns have become national symbols and namesakes for all the ills of the city. This growing defamation of the bottom districts of the metropolis is a direct consequence of the political weakening of African Americans on the US political scene and of the working class on the European political scene.

When a district is widely perceived as an urban ‘hellhole’ where only the detritus of society would tolerate living, when its name is synonymous of vice and violence in journalistic and political discussion, a taint of place becomes superimposed onto the stigmata of poverty and ethnicity (meaning “race” in the United State and colonial origin in Europe). Here I draw on the theories of Erving Goffman and of my teacher Pierre Bourdieu to highlight how the public disgrace afflicting these areas devalues the sense of self of their residents and corrodes their social ties. In response to spatial defamation, residents engage in strategies of mutual distancing and lateral denigration; they retreat into the private sphere of the family; and they exit from the neighbourhood (whenever they have the option). These practices of symbolic self-protection set off a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby negative representations of the place end up producing in it the very cultural anomie and social atomism that these representations claim were already there.

Territorial stigmatisation not only undermines the capacity for collective identification and action of lower-class families; it also triggers prejudice and discrimination among outsiders such as employers and public bureaucracies. The young men from La Courneuve, the stigmatized Red Belt town outside of Paris I studied, constantly complained that they must hide their address when they apply for jobs, meet girls or attend the university outside their city, to avoid negative reactions of fear and rejection. The police are particularly susceptible to treating them more severely when officers find out that they come from this tainted town widely seen as a fearsome ‘ghetto.’ Territorial stigma is one more obstacle on the path to socioeconomic integration and civic participation.

Note that the same phenomenon is observed in Latin America, among dwellers of the ill-reputed favelas of Brazil, the poblaciones of Chile, and the villas miserias of Argentina. I suspect that the residents of Villa del Bajo Flores, La Cava or Villa de Retiro in Buenos Aires know too well what ‘address discrimination’ is. This territorial stigma attaches to these lower districts of the Argentine city for the same reason that it coalesces around the hyperghetto of the United States and the anti-ghettos of Europe: the concentration in them of the jobless, the homeless, and paperless migrants, as well the lower fractions of the new urban proletariat employed in the deregulated service economy. And the tendency of state elites to use space as a ‘screen’ to avoid facing problems rooted in the transformation of work.

Does not this territorial stigma facilitate the turn to the penal state and the implementation of the policy of 'zero tolerance', whose global spread you analysed in your previous book
Carceles de la miseria (Manantial, 2000)?
Spatial taint grants the state increased latitude to engage in aggressive policies of control of the new marginality that can take the form of dispersal or containment, or better yet combine the two approaches. Dispersal aims at scattering the poor in space and recapturing the territories that they traditionally occupy, under the pretext that their neighbourhoods are devilish “no-go areas” that simply cannot be salvaged. It is currently at work in the mass demolition of public housing at the heart of the historic ghetto of the US metropolis and in the pauperized peripheries of many European cities. Thousands of housing units are destroyed overnight and their occupants are disseminated in adjacent areas or poor districts further out, creating the appearance that “the problem has been resolved.” But dispersing the urban poor only makes them less visible and less disruptive politically; it does not give them work and grant them a viable social status.

The second technique for dealing with the rise of advanced marginality takes the opposite tack: it seeks to concentrate and contain the disorders generated by the fragmentation of work by throwing a tight police dragnet around neighbourhood of relegation and by expanding the jails and prisons in which their more unruly elements are chronically exiled. This punitive containment is typically accompanied on the social welfare front by measures designed to force recipients of public aid into the substandard slots of the deregulated service economy, under the name of “workfare.” (I describe the invention in the United States of this new politics of poverty wedding restrictive “workfare” and expansive “prisonfare” in my next book, Castigar a los pobres). But the policy of mano dura or zero tolerance is also self-defeating. Throwing the jobless, the marginally employed and petty criminals behind bars makes them even less employable and further destabilizes lower-class families and neighbourhoods. Deploying the police, the courts, and the prison to curb marginality is not only enormously costly and inefficient; its aggravates the very ills it is supposed to cure. And thus we re-enter the vicious circle pointed out long ago by Michel Foucault: the very failure of the prison to solve the problem of marginality serves as justification for its continued expansion.

Moreover, in Argentina and neighbouring countries that went through decades of authoritarian rule in the twentieth century, the police are a vector of violence and the judicial apparatus is rife with inequity. So rolling out the penal state at the bottom of the order of classes and places is tantamount to re-establishing a dictatorship over the marginal fractions of the working class. It violates in practice the ideal of democratic citizenship that theoretically guides the authorities. What the state needs to fight is not the symptom, criminal insecurity, but the cause of urban disorder: namely, the social insecurity that the state itself has spawned by becoming the diligent handmaiden to the despotism of the market.


The Nature of the French Riots
By Olivier Roy
Published on: Nov 18, 2005
Olivier Roy is research director at the CNRS (French National Center for Scientific Research). He currently lectures at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) and the Institut d'Etudes Politiques (IEP) in Paris. His most recent book is Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah (Columbia University Press, 2004).
Intifada of the suburbs, revolt of the immigrants, youth movement, uprising of the underclass, jihad of Muslims against Europe? There have been many explanations for the riots that have struck France’s suburbs in November 2005.

1. A ghetto youth revolt

These riots came as no surprise, they have been recurrent since the early 1980’s. What is new is the extension in space and time: it is due both to the accumulation of discontent and tensions, and to the clumsy management of the crisis by the government and specifically the Minister of Interior, Nicolas Sarkozy.

The movement is first of all a youth underclass uprising from destitute neighbourhoods. Rioters are youngsters (and males), between 12 to 25 years old; roughly half of the arrested people are under 18. The adult population keeps away from the demonstrations and shows an ambivalent attitude: in fact they are the first victims of the violence (the cars that are burning are theirs); they want security and social services to be restored. But on the other hand many resent the uneven-handedness of the police towards their kids, the merry-go-round of officials making immediately forgotten promises and the demonization of their living environment by the media.

The riots are geographically and socially very circumscribed: the suburbs, or more precisely a number of destitute neighbourhoods known as “cités” or “quartiers difficiles.” About a hundred fifty of such places were identified by the police some fifteen years ago all around France: these are precisely the spots that are burning now. In these estates, rioters operate in groups of 20 to 200, consisting of boys living in the same quarters. The bulk of the rioters are second generation migrants, but, if we consider the names of the arrested people, it is more ethnically mixed than one could have expected (beyond the second generation with a Muslim background—mainly North Africans, plus some Turks and Africans—there are also many non-Muslim Africans as well as people with French, Spanish or Portuguese names). The rioters are French citizens (only around 7% of the arrested people are foreigners, usually residents).

What coalesced the rioters is first of all a “neighbourhood identity.” They are known by the name of the estates: “Cité des 4000” at la Courneuve; “La Madeleine” at Evreux; “Val Fourré” at Mantes la Jolie; “Les Minguettes” at Vénissieux, near Lyon. Usually groups of youth stroll together in the neighbourhood streets, squares and buildings’ entrances. They “hold the wall” (an expression borrowed from the Franco-Algerian slang, “hittist,” referring to idle young males in the streets). These “bandes” or “groups” are not really gangs like Los Angeles types. They are based on neighbourhood identity and a loose affiliation with a hard core nucleus of local “caïds” or leaders; they don’t recruit beyond the neighbourhood. The hard core is often involved in drug dealing and petty delinquency. The others are often school drop-outs and unemployed youth. The whole group will join to protect the territory from intruders, whoever they are: a rival gang, police but also journalists. The suburbs have been marred by inter-“cités” feuds during the recent years (infightings between groups with knives, baseball bats and more rarely guns, resulting in around a half-dozen dead a year for all France). Many youngsters are not affiliated with these gangs, go to school, may have occasional jobs, but keep in contact and could be mobilized in case of an external threat. Many families are living on a mix of welfare and underground “business.” With broken families, early retirement, single mothers, it is often the young boys who bring in the money, from petty traffic. Fathers have lost social control because they don’t work, may be absent, or just bring in less money than the youngsters. Thus poverty should not be exaggerated: these young guys have often expensive clothing, iPods, and sometimes new cars. The street is thus more or less under the control of the youth, who settle their feuds through a “coded” violence (fist fighting followed by the mediation of local “caïds”); girls are usually excluded from the street. “Attitude,” aggressive manhood, “rites of passage” based on violence and infightings with the police are the basis of the local social order. Sometimes they make looting forays in off-limits commercial malls or even in the centers of big cities (calls for raiding the Champs-Elysées were often to be found on the web during the first week of riots).

Riots are usually triggered by an incident with the police; whoever is to be blamed, the youth accuses the police for harassment, racism and often for being directly responsible for the death of a local youngster (a typical incident is a youngster being killed while chased by the police).

One should not nevertheless exaggerate the situation: some “cités” are more mixed, with people working and many youth going to school. Socialization is not only made through the mediation of the “bandes”: social workers and associations (depending on subsidies from the government or the municipalities) do exist, as well as religious groups (usually Islamic, but some evangelicals are to be found). But there are no “community leaders,” either traditional or appointed by the community, which means that the “caïds,” often local drug-dealers, have a lot of influence.

Nevertheless there is a sense of belonging to an underclass, despised, excluded and ignored. It is a classic phenomenon in France, but also in Western Europe. The industrial working class, to whom their fathers belonged and who used to inhabit these estates, has almost disappeared. The industrial sector has been replaced by the new economy of services and Ebusiness. But that does not work very well for the inhabitants of these neighbourhoods. Poor schooling (schools do exist and are usually better funded by the government in these places, but the turnover of the teachers and the recurrent violence prevent them from being effective) but also a self fulfilling sense of exclusion prevent many of the youngsters from entering into the new economy. One should add the negative side effects of the welfare state (why look for a job if one can make enough money) and the lack of geographical mobility. They complain about racism on the job market, which is true. But beyond skin colour, there are also the stigmas of the “suburbs”: a specific slang and accent, a way to behave and to dress identify immediately a ghetto inhabitant, while somebody with the same dark skin but mastering the dominant social codes would achieve better. In fact the successful people tend to leave the neighbourhood (a move that the riots will accelerate), hardening the ghetto effect.

In these ghettos, and contrary to what is often said about multiculturalism, the youth share a common Western urban street culture. They wear expensive sneakers and track suits with designer logos. Street wear and hoods are the common fashion patterns of the youth underclass all over the West. They listen to hip-hop and rap, eat fast-food, hallal or not. They want to be part of the consumer society, even as predators.

All that might sound familiar to experts on ghettos in the USA (it is not by chance that, in French-dubbed Hollywood films, African-Americans speak with the typical French suburb accent). The suburban riots in France have more to do with the inability to cope with a ghettoized young generation underclass than with Islam.

2. Under which flag? Islam, ethnicity and politicization

The fact that a majority of the rioters have a Muslim background has raised the concern that they might rally around some sort of an Islamic green flag. But in fact, for the moment, the religious dimension is conspicuously absent from the riots. This is not a revolt of the Muslims. The riots did not extend among Muslims living outside the banlieues. It is of course obvious for the Muslim middle class: they watch with horror cars, estates and schools burning. They left the “cités” and live in mixed neighbourhoods; there is a rather high rate of intermarriages. They don’t identify with the rioters, even if they may resent in their own professional and daily life the growing islamophobia of the media and of a part of the political establishment.

But more interestingly, the tens of thousands Muslim students in the universities did not engage with the riots at all, although many of them come from the banlieues and have good reasons to feel frustrated too: their so-called “parking-universities” (where students spend years without achieving a master level) do not offer the same opportunities of upward mobility as the very French and select system of “grandes écoles” (higher schools), where they are underrepresented. Giving the French tradition of highly politicized universities, the absence of any student support for the riots clearly indicates the lack of politicization of these riots.

Conversely, the mainstream Islamic organizations, like UOIF and JMF, are recruiting more among students and middle class educated people than among the school drop-outs. In fact the more politically minded religious movements are not so well rooted in the “cités.” This does not mean that militant Islam is absent from these neighbourhoods, but it has taken other forms. Neo-fundamentalist movements are thriving in the banlieues, namely the Tabligh (a pietist and predicative organization) as well as the salafis. Both play on the deculturation of the youth, and provide a substitute religious identity, close to the model of the “born again,” which means they do not promote a return to traditional Islamic customs, but on the contrary, a “global” Islam (see my book Globalized Islam). But these groups advocate living aloof from mainstream society, and precisely reject the main motivations of the young rioters (they don’t push for full citizenship, they don’t support claims like non-discriminatory access to night-clubs and they request youth to reject Western “street culture”). In fact all the movements pushing for islamization present Islam as an alternative to the failure of the second generation Muslims; they differ in either promoting a model of integration through citizenship (UOIF) or through multi-culturalism (Tabligh: keeping aloof from mainstream society, but respecting law and order). In both cases, during the riots, they endeavoured with little success to act as mediators, and thus to gain legitimacy and respectability in the eyes of the authorities as well as the local population.

There are also some radical militants, close to Al Qaeda, who recruit for jihad and possibly terrorism. But, apart from the fact that the latter are a tiny minority, it appears that the social background of the true radicals is not the clue to their engagement (see Marc Sageman, Understanding Terrorist Networks, Penn UP, 2004).

There was nothing Islamic or Arab in the riots. Strangely enough, Palestinian or Algerian flags as well as Arafat-style keffyehs (a must in leftist demonstrations in France) have been totally absent. The “allah akbar” were shouted by the would-be mediators, not the rioters. Attacks on churches and synagogues have been almost absent.

This lack of religious dimension contrasts with the ongoing debate among the establishment in France, where Islam has systematically been the analytical grid through which the problems of the “banlieues” have been debated. In fact, in public debates, the socio-economic dimension has been ignored in favor of a purely ideological polemic. Right and Left used to complain about the supposed “communatarisation” of the banlieues (meaning that Islamic norms of behaviour are imposed through social pressure by militant groups); multi-culturalism is a bad name and seen by Left and Right as some sort of Anglo-Saxon plot to undermine the French identity1; radical imams are seen as the key actors in community buildings (while their influence on the youth is marginal). A movement called “Ni Putes ni Soumises” (Neither Whores nor Slaves) made a breakthrough from the banlieue to the establishment by defining the male domination of women in the name of Islam the central issue in the banlieues. This domination does exist, but 1) machismo is common to any ethnic ghetto, whatever the religious background, 2) girls usually express solidarity with the males in any crisis, and particularly when the police are accused of racism; in a word the “neighbourhood identity” transcends gender. The ban of the veil in schools has largely been enforced because the veil was seen as a symbol of the growing social pressure on girls (the fact that most of the veiled girls used to be among the most successful and the best integrated has been systematically dismissed.2 The debate on Islam has helped to ignore or discard the socio-economic dimension—hence the backlash of the recent riots.


1 I don’t buy multiculturalism but for another reason: there are no more “cultures” involved, only differential markers (usually religious or ethnic) used to define neo-communities.
2 This does not mean that I am in favour of wearing the veil, but even if one disagrees, one has to carefully study the fact before taking an ideological attitude.

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Urban Geography, 2010, 31, 2, pp. 144–147. DOI: 10.2747/0272-3638.31.2.144
Copyright © 2010 by Bellwether Publishing, Ltd. All rights reserved.


Department of Geography
University of California, Los Angeles

Abstract: Following the riots of 2005, many commentators were drawn to a comparison of
Paris’s “problem areas” with the U.S. urban ghetto. But are the poor suburbs of Paris truly akin
to the Black ghetto of Chicago, the quintessential American city of sociological lore? Urban
Outcasts makes a powerful case against the efficacy of the comparison. In so doing, however, the
role of federal housing and highway policies is probably overstated relative to the War on Drugs,
the South Side of Chicago may not be the epitome of the American ghetto that it perhaps once
was, and the French banlieues may be more troubled by unemployment and social marginalization
than this book makes them appear. Ghettos, then—like slums more generally—may not be all
alike. But why they are not alike should be subject to considerable debate. This book provides a
lively starting point.

[Key words: slums, ghettos, banlieues, marginality.]

Is it true that “once you’ve seen one slum you’ve seen them all”?

This notorious comment (often attributed to former U.S. Vice President Spiro Agnew) does have the virtue of getting to a central issue: the extent to which areas of poor housing and poor services
and their inhabitants are more or less the same everywhere in terms of how they are organized
geographically. In his recent opus, Planet of Slums (2007), Mike Davis sees the
homogenizing impulse of global capitalism at work worldwide in producing an apocalyptic
geography of pauper neighborhoods and, in some places, almost entire cities. One of
the merits of Loïc Wacquant’s (2008) book is to say, hey, wait a minute. Let us be careful
about the words we use, in his case specifically ghetto, before jumping on the globalizing
bandwagon. More specifically, the book has as its central theme the limits of seeing the
social life and problems of the poor banlieues of Paris in terms of the Black ghetto of the
U.S. city, characteristically that of Chicago. In the aftermath of the 2005 Paris riots, the
fruitfulness of this comparison seems to have captured the Parisian imagination in particular
and the claims of pundits and academics alike more generally. The book is mainly taken
up with showing two things. First, how a poverty-stricken hyperghetto, now missing the
cross-class population that once characterized the Black communal ghetto, has grown up
on Chicago’s South Side since the 1960s with increasing social and economic isolation,
due in large part to local and federal government policies that encouraged the siting of public
housing in all-Black areas, stimulated private disinvestment and the loss of jobs, and
encouraged out-migration by those able to move as a consequence of improved incomes
and increased access to housing outside the boundaries of the ghetto. And second, how the
1This article is part of a review symposium on Loïc Wacquant’s Urban Outcasts: A Comparative Sociology of
Advanced Marginality.

2Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to John A. Agnew, Department of Geography,
UCLA, 1255 Bunche Hall, Los Angeles, California 90095-1524; telephone: 310-825-1071; fax: 310-206-5976;
email: [email protected]

French banlieues are absolutely nothing like this at all. Residential segregation by race and
religion is of a much lesser magnitude, social isolation is far less, and many government
policies have tended to mitigate rather than encourage the creation of ghetto-like areas.
I cannot possibly cite chapter and verse about the details of the argument, which rests
to a considerable degree on empirical information and an interpretation that emphasizes
above all the role of the “state” in creating and, possibly, limiting the creation of hyperghettos
such as that which is said to characterize contemporary Chicago—and by extension,
I think, other U.S. cities. The political inspiration behind the book lies in the fear that
states have begun, under the influence of neoliberal nostrums, to deny that they can do
anything about the forms of urban marginality which, according to the book, they have, at
least in the U.S. case, done so much to create. I detect a certain worrying about the Sarkozy
phenomenon and the possibilities that an Americanization of the French banlieues could
follow from the adoption of policies in the American style. Be this as it may, I do not want
to dispute much about the general picture that is painted in the book.

I do worry, however (after all I am from Los Angeles), that the focus on Chicago does
give a very particular picture of the process of hyperghettoization. In L.A., for instance,
the massive Latino immigration and the absence of the big housing projects have jointly
produced a very different spatial pattern of residential segregation. For example, even
some very poor Blacks have moved out to peripheral as well as inner suburbs and live in
somewhat ethnically mixed neighborhoods in places like Victorville and Lancaster (Ong
and McConville, 2003). The recent subprime mortgage lending fiasco, however, may have
taken a particular toll on the sustainability of this process. Moreover, in south-central Los
Angeles, rather than the total drop in density seen in Chicago, density was low to start with
and has remained much the same with massive waves of immigrants from Latin America
replacing Blacks who have moved out. In Chicago itself, recent research suggests that
poverty is also on the move, away from the South Side, increasingly abandoned or undergoing
spotty gentrification, towards the inner ring of suburbs. Across the United States,
and in absolute terms, poverty in the suburbs now exceeds that in cities. Of recipients of
the earned income tax credit (available only to the working poor) in the 100 largest metropolitan
areas, fully 59% (8 million people) live in inner suburbs compared to only 41%
in cities proper (Berube, 2006). If Chicago is not the U.S. city in miniature, then neither is
the image of the hyperghetto painted by Wacquant necessarily in tune with the changing
times. Veritable banlieues may well be under construction in the United States. Of course,
that would reverse the logic of comparison on which the book is based.

My more specific criticisms relate to some broader questions about interpretation on
both U.S. and French fronts. The first one is an absence from much of the discussion of
the hyperghetto of the role of the drug economy and the rise of the carceral or penal state
in the United States as twin political forces behind the emergence of the Dark Ghetto, as
Wacquant sometimes calls it, at the close of the 20th century. I wonder if too much emphasis
is placed on the direct role of the state, particularly the U.S. federal government, in
relation to housing and welfare policies, when the real culprit is in fact the so-called War
on Drugs and the devastation it has wrought inside as well as outside the United States.
Gangs competing to control the illicit trade and police heavily involved in violently challenging
their efforts have turned wide swathes of American cities into the front lines of this
War. Overwhelmingly, the negative effects, from draconian sentencing laws for possession
of crack cocaine (as opposed to much lower sentences for the powder cocaine preferred

by middle-class drug users) to the stress on military-style policing, are concentrated
in poor African American neighborhoods (Gottschalk, 2006). The U.S. incarceration rate
exploded from 1.39 per 1000 in 1980 to 7.5 in 2006, driven largely by the impact of the
War on Drugs. The country now has one of the highest rates of imprisonment in the world
with 5.6 million Americans (1 out of every 37 adults) having spent time behind bars. Needless
to say, African Americans are disproportionately represented in prison populations,
with literally one in four adult Black males imprisoned on average per year in the early
2000s. An ironic sidebar to all this is that Ice T, the rap singer of “Cop Killer,” mentioned
by Wacquant when the sense of the police as an alien force is raised on page 33, now
plays an ex-narcotics cop involved in investigating sex crimes on the TV series “Law and
Order: SVU.” So even when the cops may look different, as in today’s LAPD, they often
still behave the same way. Structural effects continue in the face of affirmative action

Second, the use of the term “place” across the book seems more than a little confused
and confusing. Of course, the term can be used in a normative sense, conjuring up some
idyllic, typically past, world in which everything comes together as in an idealized “community.”
But this usage has to be distinguished from an analytic emphasis on a structured
and meaningful milieu (Agnew, 1987). In the transition from a communal ghetto to a
hyperghetto, the character of the place is obviously transformed. But does this mean that
the latter is somehow “placeless”? I would have thought not. Indeed, this would imply the
presence of an anomie and social disorganization that Wacquant wishes to deny. Yet, on
pages 241–242, the normative sense is invoked, thoroughly confusing me as to what has
happened in the pages in between. A hyperghetto is still a ghetto place, even if not the
seemingly idyllic communal one that presumably has been lost.

Third, the projection of some or other U.S. experience onto the rest of the world as
an interpretive device is by no means unique to the question at hand. Typically this is of
the form—what happens here first, happens there later because the United States modernizes
first and then others follow along afterward. One of the strengths of this book
is precisely its desire to politicize knowledge and how it is achieved rather than to take
this naturalization of social processes at face value. Yet to what degree does the theme of
Americanization not have an importance in creating social situations elsewhere that mimic
the original? For example, what if the Paris riots, including the self-images of their protagonists,
did not reflect a degree of communicative transfer from prior U.S. experience:
a sense of analogous relations with police and government that belies the differences in
patterns of residential segregation upon which the book bestows so much importance? The
rap songs from the banlieues may tell us more.

Finally, an excellent recent book on the Parisian banlieues, Mustafa Dikeç’s Badlands
of the Republic (2007), suggests that the French Republic has been less mitigating and
more causal in its creation of massive unemployment and poor social prospects among
immigrants than one would detect from reading Urban Outcasts. From this viewpoint,
there is as serious a socioethnic polarization underway in Paris as has existed in Chicago
for a generation or more. In other words, the urban marginality in the two cases may be
becoming both more alike and equally intractable. By way of example, and as Wacquant
himself has sometimes emphasized, the republican penal state that has played such an
important role in the banlieues of late also has deep historic roots in France. Whether or
not we should use the term ghetto for any of the areas of minority-residential segregation,
American or French, may be the larger question. And let us not forget where the term first
originated: with the forced residential segregation of Jews in Venice and Rome. Except
as a problematic historical analogy, it never had anything to do with the infinitely more
complexn sociopolitical dynamics of Chicago or Paris. Perhaps it is time to abandon the
word all together rather than simply Americanize it?

As with recent usage of the word apartheid in settings at considerable distance from its
original South African context of use (e.g., global apartheid, Israeli apartheid), the word
“ghetto” has begun to travel. I agree with Wacquant that the term ghetto does not always
travel well. I actually like the word slum better when it comes to making global comparisons.

But for me that also means acknowledging, in the case made in this book for Wacquant’s
sense of the word ghetto, and against Mike Davis, that whatever else they may
be, not all slums are alike.

Agnew, J., 1987, Place and Politics: The Geographical Mediation of State and Society.
London, UK: Allen and Unwin.
Berube, A., 2006, Two Steps Back: City and Suburban Poverty Trends, 1999–2005.
DC: Brookings Institution.
Davis, M., 2007, Planet of Slums. London, UK: Verso.
Dikeç, M., 2007, Badlands of the Republic: Space, Politics and Urban Policy. Malden,
MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
Gottschalk, M., 2006, The Prison and the Gallows: The Politics of Mass Incarceration in
America. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Ong, P. and McConville, S., 2003, The Trajectory of Poor Neighborhoods in Southern
California, 1970–2000. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.
Wacquant, L., 2008, Urban Outcasts: A Comparative Sociology of Advanced Marginality.
Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

#4 ... umber=9619

France: Roots of a Revolt

Feature Article by Peter Fysh, December 2005
Peter Fysh argues the French riots had both political and economic causes.
The recent urban unrest in France has exposed the way in which social and economic marginalisation is overlaid by both an ethnic and a geopolitical dimension. Unemployed immigrant-origin youths have been engaged in an unwinnable but constantly reigniting war with the police since at least the early 1980s. After 11 September 2001 their situation worsened as the state colluded with employers in flushing Muslim workers out of their jobs at key employment centres like Charles de Gaulle airport in the Paris suburb of Roissy.

Stubborn belief

The overlapping of ethnic and social exclusion is far from unique to France. The recent explosions have highlighted once again the obvious fact that these tensions are present in all kinds of political systems, including the one inspired by the Republican principles enshrined in the landmark revolution of 1789 - universal suffrage, human rights and equality before the law. What is unique to France, however, is the way in which the stubborn belief in the state's role as guardian of abstract political rights has generated a kind of myopia about ethnic difference, and about the nature and dimensions of racism, which is present in both right and left political discourses. Thus it was that the justice minister, Jean Foyer, told the National Assembly in 1963 that France had 'reason to congratulate itself for the absence of acts of racial discrimination or segregation on its territory', less than two years after the 17 October 1961 police assault on unarmed Algerian demonstrators which cost the lives of upwards of 200 men, women and children, while the then prime minister, Jacques Chaban Delmas, told a Jewish newspaper in 1971, 'We are without doubt one of the least racist countries in the world... it would be counterproductive to campaign against what doesn't exist.'

Indisputably, French society has displayed a unique record in the assimilation of foreigners during the 150 years since industrialisation outran the local labour supply. The right likes to pretend that this was because of the nature of the immigrants themselves. In the 1980s, when North African origin youth began to stand up for themselves visibly and vocally for the first time, the extreme right and their sympathisers responded by pretending they had no problem with European immigration, because the Italians, Spanish and Belgians who had crossed the frontier in their hundreds of thousands were largely Catholic and shared the same peasant origins as the French, while post-war immigration from 'an Islamic world in the throes of a demographic, political and religious revival,' was condemned as 'inassimilable'.

The truth is that between the wars those very same European minorities, including the Jewish refugees from occupied Europe, were subjected to the same vitriolic abuse - identifying them as spongers, criminals and carriers of dirt and disease - by an extremist press which was every bit as vindictively racist as is that of today's Front National.

Nor did the French political system, despite its illustrious origins, offer immigrant workers a framework of social or political rights which was in any way better than that enjoyed by those in, for example, the US. Workers were routinely given work permits which restricted them to a particular industry and a particular region. They were not allowed to form independent associations. Although they could join trade unions, they were not allowed to stand for office until 1968 and in the 1930s thousands of Polish miners and their families were deported when they struck to defend working conditions. The French state was more generous than, say, the German, in granting citizenship at the age of majority to those born in France of foreign parents. But this was less generous than in the US, where you are American from birth, and was introduced in the mid-19th century essentially for military reasons - the Republic was concerned about the size of its army in relation to the burgeoning German Empire.

In fact both the Third and Fourth Republics, which ran from 1870 to 1958, interrupted only by the Nazi occupation and the Vichy regime, had never given full legislative form to the principles set out by their 18th century predecessors, living uneasily with a distinction between 'citizens' and 'subjects'. The Algerian statute of 1947 granted the three Algerian departments 30 seats in the National Assembly, to be chosen by two electoral colleges, in which one 'European' voter weighed the same as eight Algerians. And this was at a time when Algeria was regarded as being not a colony but an integral part of French territory. Only the war of liberation changed that.

High density housing

Today, thanks to the nationality laws, France has a very large population of young people with full citizenship rights who are the descendants of non-European primo-migrants. Their social exclusion is produced by the industrial and residential location processes inherent in all capitalist societies unless interventionist policies are put in place which remedy them. To give just one example, when high density housing was first developed in the 1960s and 1970s to cope with the urban explosion that accompanied the long post-war boom, it very soon produced record levels of divorce and nervous breakdowns, due to the uncomfortable isolation felt by the first (indigenous) residents who had moved from their homely but slummy city centre quartiers. 'White flight' occurred as those who could save up a deposit for their own house decamped to areas with a decent social infrastructure of bars, shops and schools. The estates then filled up disproportionately with poorer North African and Portuguese families. From the beginning of the 1980s they became trapped as the smokestack industries which provided their jobs in the urban periphery progressively folded. These are not 'ghettoes' in a proper sense, since there is no legal compulsion on anyone to live in them as was the case for the Jews in pre-war Europe. They have become the sites of the current outbursts of violence by individuals and groups from concentrated pools of young unemployed who see that they have in common their joblessness and their minority ethnic origins, even though within their groups their origins may be very diverse. It's for this reason that the explosions must be seen as socially produced, not examples of ethnic mobilisation.

Much of this pattern is familiar in Britain, but with a crucial difference. In Britain palliative measures developed early, with the Commission for Racial Equality, a battery of techniques such as ethnic monitoring, codes of practice for equal opportunities, and anti-racist training. Despite widespread cynicism about 'political correctness', the truth is that these policies have been relatively successful. In areas where key large-scale local employers developed equality policies, the 'ethnic' deficit in employment was reduced (although this is not to say that long-term issues such as the ethnic dimension in the distribution of higher-grade jobs has yet been resolved). On the other hand, when the Home Office carried out an investigation into factors which fuelled the riots in Oldham a few years ago, it was discovered that the local council and the local health authority, both in the grip of 'Old Labour' complacency, had an abysmal record both on equality training and ethnic employment, with the result that the local youth of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin could find no way out of their socially constructed ghetto.

In France, until relatively recently, ethnic monitoring and positive action were either unknown or, where they were known about, were decried as a dangerous 'Anglo-Saxon' invention which had obviously failed, given the existence of 'ghettoes' in Britain and the US. The rationale for these attitudes is directly linked to the Republican heritage. Having seized power in Paris and facing monarchist-inspired rebellion in the regions, the revolutionaries, and Napoleon after them, systematically constructed a model of state-society relations which left no room for intermediary organisations in which Catholics or monarchists might gain support (the loi Le Chapelier, banning trade union organisations, dates from this time). On the one side was the state, represented by the prefects who ran the specially constructed departments. On the other was an undifferentiated mass of citizens, all equally protected by the egalitarians laws of the Republic. It is to this tradition which contemporary politicians and intellectuals look when they decry what they call 'communautarisme'-the tendency for the British and American states to recognise ethnic mobilisation and to assign intermediary roles to 'community leaders'. Hence the French census carries no questions about ethnic origin, depriving the state of the means of developing any social policies which might be needed to address ethnic disadvantage.

Added to that is the special place of the French school system in the Republican tradition. Until the second half of the 19th century primary schooling was entirely in the hands of Catholic teaching orders or the village priest. When the Third Republic was set up in 1870, the Republican leaders sought to shore up their victory by displacing the religious orders (and in some cases banning them) with an ambitious programme of universal, free and compulsory education paid for by the state and staffed by graduates of specially designed teacher-training colleges, the �coles normales. The teachers were strictly enjoined to exclude any reference to Catholic teaching and inculcate the civic virtues of democracy, equality and uniformity. Neither staff nor students were permitted to show any sign of their religious affiliation. It was this principle of la�cit� that intellectuals of the left seized upon when they launched an attack in 1989, in no less a place than the Nouvel Observateur, beacon of the liberal left-on Muslim schoolgirls wearing a headscarf to cover their hair. In doing so they blithely ignored a political context in which the Front National had polled a record 14 percent in a presidential election the year before.

For the last quarter of a century, therefore, ethnic minorities have been on the receiving end of two assimilationist discourses. On the one hand the Front National say only those who are culturally like the French can be permitted to settle in France. On the other hand, the militants of la�cit� say that the state should not permit any signs of ethnic difference because this is corrosive of social cohesion based on Republican principles.

The first signs of a change in this depressing picture occurred only after 1997 when the so called 'plural left' coalition of Socialists, Communists and Greens won a surprise election victory. First, the state's own High Commission for Integration, charged with making suggestions to help the social integration of the marginalised, issued a report recommending its own replacement by a body more like the British CRE, which would have wider powers to conduct investigations into employment patterns, and issue equal opportunity guidelines and compliance orders. Second, the minister for social affairs publicly stigmatised 'racial discrimination', words which had never before formed part of political discourse, and launched some modest initiatives on anti-racist training in branches of the administration like the ANPE, which runs the equivalent of job centres. Other ministers openly called for a more ethnically balanced pattern of recruitment in areas like the police and the national railways. The measure which had the biggest public impact was the launch of a special anonymous telephone line via which those affected by racism, for example in the refusal of a job, a flat or a service, could denounce the perpetrators. These cases were supposed to be investigated by special Commissions for Access to Citizenship. Sadly they were understaffed, swamped by the number of calls they received, and the initiative misfired - raising expectations but failing to deliver on them.

The urban revolt of November 2005 is an expression of the frustration felt by those in the most impoverished areas of France, whose expectations have been dashed by a state which offers very few pathways out of lives distorted by poverty and discrimination. The government's response to the rioting, based on repression and half-measures, will do nothing to quell that frustration. Until practical political alternatives are developed which respond in a meaningful way to the anger and defiance shown by the youth of France's suburbs, their fight against racism and for equality will continue to take a variety of forms, rioting being the most visible.

hehe found somes article either comparing situation in the USA with black getho, and situation in europe, and about french riots =) pretty long but interesting :)

Re: Ghettos and Anti-Ghettos: An Anatomy of the New Urban Poverty

I posted this a while ago, after the riots in 2005 and when it started to get really crazy around paris =) It's analysis of how urban area works in paris vs in america, with the whole issue of segregation, and all the struggles and agitation around those place =) I Bumped it following the paris attack, still relevant today lol With all this issue with islam, and suburbs, and the districts, and all the problems.

Re: Ghettos and Anti-Ghettos: An Anatomy of the New Urban Poverty

But this place around paris is soo much under the radar for 40 year, it's kinda scary. I'm sure you do a survey in paris 75% of parisian are scared of their suburb. They never go there. I swear many time you say you come from suburb people look change directly in paris lol

This drift is so becoming bigger and bigger, and now we see we even have our own home breed terrorist, now they are all on syria , daesh & all, but those people they are still born at 15 km of paris or bruxelles, it become scary how people who grew up in the suburb at 15 km from paris can be turned into kamikaze bomber like this.

Now they are doing raids everywhere, i heard 150 since the attacks ..

As since the 90's all politics are all into their joke of integration and immigration and all, and that it's a complete failure due to all the corruption, and police behavior and all.

For the first time yesterday on the parlimentary channel i saw a show where they were showing all the form of police abuse and custodies and how nothing is normal in those suburb to begin with, and how they do all the time in sort that people are afraid of the police which is an important contact they have with the rest of society, and create this whole feeling of isolation and seggregation because police from paris and suburb they don't act the same manner at all. Even a german girl who came there she hallucinated at how the cops behave there.

It's like everything is done to alienate those population, and there is not a word about it in the media, and now with the attack that are obviously persons coming from this kind of place in paris & belgium, they are still on daesh and not even this problem of the suburb is mentioned at all.

But i think there is some conscious of this problem that is more & more growing, since the riot in 2005, then charlie, then now the attack, all the time from 'french muslim' coming from the sensitive places, i guess it will still drag the attention toward the problems in those place.

I don't understand why they put millions to enter a war in syria and zero budget to improve condition in suburb where the real problem is imo. All this because they don't want to admit the failure of their whole policy of integration, and i think it's something that is very painful also in some part of french politics with the defections of many people who turned their vest on the anti racism of the left to become anti semitic or in more virulent move, but basically all the integration policy for the past 30 year have still not really worked so well, and nobody want to admit this.
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