De- and Re-Territorialization in Metropolitan France (Session at AAA-CASCA)

De- and Re-Territorialization in Metropolitan France (Session at AAA-CASCA)

Alexander Thomson, University of California, Los Angeles; Ellen Badone, McMaster University
From - Until
20.11.2019 - 24.11.2019
Alexander Thomson

In keeping with the Canadian Anthropology Society and American Anthropological Association (AAA-CASCA) conference theme “Changing Climates: Struggle, Collaboration and Justice,” this session brings together anthropologists who work with diverse ethnic, linguistic, religious and regional communities located in metropolitan France. We seek to foster an exchange of ethnographic knowledge related to: the organizational structures of these communities, their present and historical formations, their tactical and strategic manœuvres vis-à-vis the state, their modes of social relation (including the interrelation of communities), and their modes of relating to the political economy. Through this exchange, we hope to develop a richer understanding of how new and classical liberalism have impacted France’s sub-national communities. Crucially, we treat the term “community” – used in the conference theme – as part of our problematic. We do this because we are aware of the controversies that this term has sparked within the French context (e.g. the various accusations of communautarisme that French parliamentarians have leveled against cultural and religious organizations).

The French state has long refused to recognize sub-national communities as legal entities lest they insinuate themselves between the state and the citizen, arrogate rights that are (ideologically) ascribed to one of these parties, or claim to derive specific rights from their entity-status (cf. Colosimo 2016, Spinoza 1670[2007]). One notable example of this policy of non-recognition is the government’s refusal to ratify the European Charter for Minority Languages on the grounds that it contravenes the French constitution and threatens the “unity and indivisibility of the Republic.”

Beyond policy decisions of this sort, which work against the recognition of sub-national communities directly, the state apparatus (SA) also undermines the cohesion of sub-national communities through a set of mundane bureaucratic mechanisms (e.g. bank accounts, competitive exams, identification cards). These mechanisms work to undermine community by individuating, mobilizing and re-arranging elements of the population. Nonetheless, it must be recognized that the French state has on other occasions and in other ways reinforced sub-national communities. For example, it tried to attenuate the phenomenon of urbanization during the 19th century through the veneration of rural communities and corresponding vilification of urban life in its scholastic manuals (Thiesse 1996, 2014). Clearly, we are not dealing with an “absolute deterritorialization” here, but rather one that is always partial and prone to relapse, one which forever takes with one hand what it gives with the other (Deleuze and Guattari 1980). In light of this recognition, we encourage our panelists to reflect on the concrete ways that their research “communities” have been made, unmade and re-made over time through their engagement with the state, the global and national economies, and other segments of French society.

If interested, send us your paper abstracts via e-mail by March 24th.


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Alexander Thomson
University of California Los Angeles

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