The Sans-papiers' struggle against exclusion : politics in the Parisian banlieue
This thesis addresses the way that 'politics' and 'ethnicity' appear to be mutually
exclusive in the French context, where the Republican ideal of citizenship
excludes ethnic identity. I investigate the concept of 'social exclusion' and its
application to the banlieues - built-up suburbs of major cities, in this case Paris,
where there is a concentration of non-white residents. The banlieues are seen
as areas of 'social exclusion' associated with restructuring and
deindustrialisation. I argue that 'colour-blind' policies aimed at combating
'social exclusion' ignore a significant part of the lives and identities of banlieue
residents by denying the enmeshing of 'culture' and 'structure', and disregarding
the history of colonialism and migration.
The existence of sans-papiers represents one of the omissions of 'social
exclusion' policies. They are immigrants, and frequently banlieue residents,
who have no legal right to be in France. The sans-papiers movement fights
against the bureaucratic barriers to regularisation that the sans-papiers have
encountered as individuals. My fieldwork with a sans-papiers organisation
enabled me to observe and to take part in the interaction between French
militants and immigrants from several different cultural backgrounds. The
organisation offered an apt site for studying how 'politics' and 'ethnicity' interact
in the French context. I give an account of the sans-papiers organisation during
a six month occupation of an old Gendarmerie.
My analysis of the sans-papiers movement draws on the theoretical models of
Agamben (1998,1999), Badiou (1988) and Zizek (1999). I discuss the
emergence of the movement in the context of French universalism. Using
interview material, I look at the experience of being a sans-papiers in France.
In relation to the events of the occupation, I consider the relationship between
the sans-papiers organisation and the authorities, and the relationship within the
organisation between sans-papiers and French militants. I investigate group
solidarity amongst the sans-papiers and the extent to which their voice was
heard in public space, particularly in relation to 'the list' of occupants for whom
they demanded regularisation.