Johanna Gullberg, PhD student, Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University

The Republic of Difference. Feminism and Anti-racism in the Parisian Banlieue

This study is an ethnographic comparison of three activist groups: AFRICA, Ni putes ni soumises (NPNS), and Mouvement des indigènes de la République (MIR). The three groups cross each other’s political paths through their engagement with the question of the rights of women with an immigrant background in the banlieues populaires or the quartiers populaires,[1] which designates the socially and economically marginalized suburban areas of major cities in France. The immigrant woman stands at the centre of the groups’ political projects as a figure simultaneously marginalized and silenced – often veiled and Muslim – and talked about and made visible in a particular form, as someone in need of care or even rescue due to the oppressive cultural background she is subjected to (Brah and Phoenix 2004: 83).

Even if AFRICA, NPNS and MIR all agree that gender, race, class and sexuality play a part in this particular woman’s subject formation, the ways they relate to these differences vary significantly and generate alternative worldviews and politics, thus placing them in conflict with one another. The conflict concerns the possibility of an antiracist feminism bringing about tensions between feminist/antisexist and antiracist perspectives. It is these different political trajectories emanating from the same object of concern that my work tries to understand, by attempting to “do justice to the way they experience the world, and whatever is at stake for them” (Jackson 2005: 153). The study thus takes these tensions as a starting point for understanding a broader social and political field that extends far beyond the localities and individuals with which these politics explicitly engage as France and Europe are transformed by migration. The comparison of these three groups and the inquiry into the specific tensions between feminist and antiracist politics thus speaks to how social space transforms, opens up, or forecloses political intervention and changes of meaning in dominant discourses (de Certeau 1984; Aretxaga 1997). More concretely the analytical focus of this study is on the concerns, anxieties and struggles over notions of difference, namely, how and what differences matter in the figure of the immigrant woman, the banlieue, and French society: more generally, that is, how difference is produced and maintained (Gupta and Ferguson 1997). This is done through an ethnographic inquiry into the groups’ continuous and ongoing political formation in relation to social space, or, more specifically, through a focus on the groups’ political practices, ideological formations and intentionalities, and networking.

[1] The literal translation of banlieues populaires and quartiers populaires are popular suburbs and popular neighbourhoods, and designates working class suburbs.

Examiner: Renita Thedvall, Associate Professor, Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University

NB seminar will be held in Swedish.

All seminars in the series.