Nicolas Sarkozy, with his reference to suburban French youth as “scum”, did more than anyone else to stoke the flames of the 2005 riots. Now, his presidential victory is likely to cause continuing resentment in France’s suburbs. In a discussion published at the time, French urban geographers, sociologists, and political scientists discuss the causes and effects of the rioting and offer solutions to the conditions responsible for it. While the unrest had precedents in the 1980s and 1990s, they argue, this time it involved new actors, new areas, and new targets. Unemployment, ghettoization, unsympathetic policing: the causes are familiar enough. Only this time, young people were unable to find any more political means of expression than violent implosion. What can policy offer? Social mixing looks good on paper but depends on people having control of the process; redistributive taxation can be equally self-defeating. Now that place struggle has replaced class struggle, can the riots be understood as a new attempt to force solidarity from the middle classes?
1 February 2006