The Making of the Banlieue: An Ethnography of Space, Identity and Violence

Research output: ThesisDoctoral thesis 1 (Research UU / Graduation UU)


This book ethnographically explores the making of the French ‘banlieue crisis’, viewed both from the outside perspective of the state and from within through the eyes of the young inhabitants of 4000sud, a suburban neighbourhood north of Paris. The aim is not so much to define what the banlieue is or who its young residents are, but to understand the process of becoming: the constitution, transformation and contestation of these places, the dialectics between the categorizations and identifications of its young inhabitants, and the role that violence plays in these processes. The book can be read as a journey in time and space: a journey through the decades, and a journey from the city centre of Paris to the heart of the suburbs.
By drawing on a Foulcaudian governmentality approach, the first chapter studies the ‘outside’ construction of difference. It discusses how the state’s spatial reading of three iconic violent events (in 1981, 1990 and 2005) and the subsequent technologies of governance have contributed to the making of the banlieues and the categorizations of its young inhabitants. These state readings and practices have included and excluded, contributed to the drawing of boundaries between ‘here’ and ‘there’, between ‘us’ and ‘them’. They produced, intentionally or unintentionally, particular places and subjects that can be governed.
The subsequent chapters explore, mainly from the ‘inside’, how young residents react to the place-making processes, identity categorizations and readings of violence that are imposed on them from the ‘outside’. The chapters demonstrate how especially boys and young males on the street corner developed their own governmentality at the neighbourhood level. These ‘outside’ and ‘inside’ projects of governing feed into each other, they contest but also mimic each other.
Chapter 3 disaggregates the place-making process and shows how space is not only claimed, appropriated and transformed by state actors, but also ‘on the ground’ by young residents on the street corner. Youngsters delineate, order, give meaning and organize their neighbourhood through three routines embedded in everyday life: (1) naming and narratives; (2) hanging out at the street corner; and (3) surveillance to determine who is ‘in’ and ‘out’ of place.
Chapter 4 deals with social identity dynamics ‘on the ground’. It criticizes approaches that take ‘youngsters from the banlieue’ as a fixed and homogenous group. Instead, by drawing on Wimmer’s taxonomy of boundary-making strategies, it focuses on three sets of strategies in which young residents avoid, try to transform, or embrace the negative stereotyped images that are imposed on them. While navigating life through these strategies, they need to take into account simultaneously external and internal projects of governing and (self)disciplining. Both sides provide feelings of belonging, but simultaneously the danger of becoming an ‘outsider’.
Chapter 5 seeks to situate and understand violence in the local setting in which it unfolds. It disaggregates violence both theoretically and empirically and avoids the frequent tendency in academia to treat incidents of suburban violence as single and monolithic outcomes or results. Instead, it stresses the need to study and distinguish various repertoires, meanings and functions, and to analyze violence as part of a dialectic process of state and neighbourhood projects of governing. Violence committed by youngsters on the street corner both critiques the state’s governmentality and contributes to the ‘internal’ construction and disciplining of place and people.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Utrecht University
  • Frerks, Georg, Primary supervisor
  • Wieviorka, M., Supervisor, External person
  • Demmers, Jolle, Co-supervisor
Award date11 Dec 2015
Publication statusPublished - 11 Dec 2015


  • Urban Violence
  • France
  • Banlieue
  • Social Identity
  • Space
  • Place-making
  • Suburban Crisis


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