Thursday, March 23, 2006


Some thoughts on inequality in France: One in three Frenchmen describe themselves to be a little racist or more, an increase from 24% the previous year. It shows the problems facing immigrants and people of non-European descent who wish to integrate. The large increase in one year reveals, however, a growing discourse around issues related to race, discrimination, and integration, and also a growing debate about whether integration is only a question of the right policy, or if grander reform (political and cultural) is necessary. The debate is not dividing between left and right, rather within them: factions within both the conservative and socialist parties think that the institutions of the republic are contributing to the problem. Other questions being raised: can public order be dealt with separately from integration? is adequate attention being given to the failures of past policies and their results?

Another dimension: is it just a matter of race, or of milieu as well? The riots turned the banlieux into center stage of French social problems, creating the sense of strips of hopelessness and claustrophobia surrounding major cities. This type of spatial stratification may be the most important dimension of inequality in France. "Territorial inequality is no longer mostly an interregional problem; it is unfortunately a major urban and local problem." Those are the results of fifty years ofaménagement du territoire (spatial planning, roughly translated) in France. Laurent Davezies and Pierre Veltz reported on social and demographic patterns in contemporary France. Regional diversity has declined. Cities have "metropolanized" their surrounds (spread out to overtake neighboring communities.) Inequality is present more within regions than between them. Mobility has increased dramatically, particularly within the intra-urban setting. Most important, la multi-appartenance territoriale (multiple-territorial belonging): because of increased mobility, individuals have fewer connections to the communities where they live or work. These multiple, overlapping memberships weaken urban democracy. Voting, based on place of domocile, has no impact on places of work or places of diversion. The price for high mobility (whether by choice or necessity) is a partial disenfranchisement.


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