Spatializing Practices

Chapter 3 brought up a lot of very interesting considerations around the idea of space and belonging, both from the domestic Kabyle perspective and the immigrant perspective in France. Silverstein highlights many important spatial aspects ranging from changes in traditional spatial organization to contemporary issues of immigration and belonging. We can see how they issues are interconnected in the ways that they affect the trajectories of individuals lives and collective ideas regarding cultural and national identity.

For me, the strongest passages in this book are the ones concerning contemporary (at the time of publication) events or ethnography. The description of the tensions between immigrants and the rest of French society show they ways that larger problems regarding segregation (intended or not) and areas of differing income can play out on the ground. I found the story about the gym particularly interesting because it showed the complicated ways in which these tensions can explode on a personal level, and the ways that racist or stereotypical perspectives can worsen or arise.

The connection that Silverstein draws between the colonial disruption of housing scenarios and how this further disrupts socio-economic and cultural practices was an interesting point. On page 65 he quotes another Anthropologist, El-Hadi Iguedelane, who says, “With the appearance of the ‘modern’ house, [the Kabyles] witness . . . the disintegration of their culture”. While this is, at first glance, rather bold statement, Silverstein paints a vivid picture throughout the chapter concerning the ways that the ideas of “home” both from the individual and the societal perspective dictate the trajectory of individuals identity. This is an important observation because of the implications of this within a global economy where immigration and movement is becoming more and more common place.

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Algeria in France 10/26

I have found Silverstein to be a hard author to follow and his chapters very dense so in this post I will focus mainly on chapter 3. In in this chapter of Algeria in France the focus is on the spaces people inhabit, the way these spaces are formed and the statements these spaces make. By this I mean the political statements that these spaces are seen to have and the parallel statements of identity these spaces form. In the opening story the reader is given a glimpse into the life of Mounir who lives in a cité in the banlieue (suburb) Northwestern of Paris. His account of his housing situation is given and one can see his frustration with the poor transportation to the city, the vandalism and crime and lack places to buy basic goods. In his home you can also see how in many ways he “inhabit(s) multiple spaces between Algeria and France simultaneously” in how his home is laid out and decorated.

The author describes some of the theories behind this type of housing in France focusing on the work of Bourdieu. Bourdieu describes the symbolism of these houses leaving two main motivations behind their construction. First is the “myth of return” or the attempt to keep a connection to their former villages with the plans to return one day and the second is the symbolism of success the axxam represents to their original communities. The most interesting theory behind why the home is taken to be so culturally important in retaining a connection to the village is because the lack of a unifying social institution in these new communities, such as the mosque.

This chapter was also very interesting and informative in the information it gave regarding the urban planning of Paris or more factually the lack of planning. I have studied this in relation to French populations  but the perspective of the immigrant was very fascinating to me. It is not so different from the rising population of the proletariat and the author hints at this in the text. To me this seems not only to be a problem of immigration but a problem of urbanization. We are still seeing this today in cities like Mexico City and Tashkent. What was interesting though in this perspective was the way that the housing crisis allowed villages to be recreated in hotels and bidonvilles with communal kitchens and cafes. The nostalgia of this period is not surprising to me even though it is for a time of severe hardship. I wonder though what form this nostalgia takes.

Ethnic Bodily Practices

The manner by which post-colonial French society sees its immigrant body oscillates between, on one hand, condemning Islamic practices as fanatical and non-secular and, on the other hand, glorifying achievements of immigrant-descent athletes. As Silverstein explains, the latter is part of a historical attempt of “train” natives in the ways of the colonist and to diffuse anger and rebellion tendencies. In a more global context, multi-million corporations claim their consumer allegiances through branding of ideological identities to consumerism-based belonging practices.

The prominence of athletes such as Zinedine Zidane in the 1998 FIFA World Cup winning French soccer team helped bring the idea of a national identity by means of individual skills and ethnic diversity – the “New France.” As a French-born to Kabyle parents, Zidane became a poster child for the idealized integrated France of the new millennium. However, the celebrations of this World Cup victory has existed hand in hand with suppression of internal differences considered detrimental to the formation of a national identity in France.

It was under this umbrella that Nike’s slogan There is not but one God, there are eleven led to the substitution of the religious shehada values (There is but one God and Mohammed is his prophet) for sports secularism. The French state has also attempted to utilize sports’ capacity to draw the youth in its favor: it has represented an alternative to fanatical religious practices, to government eyes. These same eyes have also seen the use of bodily adornments as “ostentatious” and sectarian, at times.

The year following the national soccer victory, in the suburbs of Paris, three girls were expelled from school for refusing to remove their respective headscarves for classes. This has cause a lot of controversy and international attention to the issue of use of outward signs of personal beliefs. Some governmental officials thought that, in order to preserve French national history and perpetuate it for future generations, the public use of headscarves in public educational institutions should be avoided. Thus, Silverstein tells us that in the 1994-1995 academic year, “more than 150 young women were legally expelled from public schools.”

In that regard, analogous to Nike’s appropriation of religious values in a twist towards capitalist consumerism, the French government sought to transcend from the ideology of religion to the pragmatism of the civic. Silverstein calls it the “sacralization of the state.” Thus, the French school system was used as a common ground for the propagation of France as a secular nation-state under the allegiance to all things civic.

Immigration and Emigration

It is interesting how Silverstein brings about the difference between immigration countries and emigration countries. Classifying Great Britain and Germany under immigration countries (which, you could also classify Albania under an immigration country) and Spain (as well as Libya) as an emigration country. However in Germany and even Great Britain, immigrants were seen as the “other” and made distinct among the “ethnic” populace of that country of origin.

This could also be noted as that of the United States as well. The idea that it could be considered an immigration state where individuals from different countries (currently Syria, Iraq, Somalia, etc…) would immigrate here to seek a new realm of life. However, even in the United States, there is still an “othering” that happens much like that of the countries of the Mediterranean with immigration and emigration.

Algeria in France- ‘An Immigration Problem’

This ethnography is taking a while to get into because of the way that the discussion is laid out.  Silverstein is focusing on Europe as a whole for many parts of the text, however, this lends a lot of weight into the the debate of migration as a whole throughout Europe, including many parts of the Mediterranean.  Silverstein originally states that some countries are “countries of immigration,” like Great Britain and Germany, and others were originally viewed as “countries of emigration,” such as Spain.  However, these lines began to blur Post-WWII because of the mass immigration of people throughout Europe due to the Nazi regime collapse and the increased presence of Russia in Germany with the East-West Germany divide.  This circumstance led to an increase of immigration to other areas of Europe that were originally primarily emigrant countries.

However, immigrants weren’t always a favored bunch in Europe.  In Germany, for example, immigrants that did come to Germany for work were called numerous names, including Gastarbeiter (Guest-worker), Arbeitnehmer (literally Work-taker, colloquially “employee”), Ausländer (literally Outsider, colloquially “foreigner”), Migranten (Migrant), and Asylanten (Refugee).  All of these are names of people that immigrated to Germany for work.  This is a major distinction laid out between the foreigners and the “ethnic Germans” or Volksdeutsch.  What this distinction does is to support the idea of an “immigration problem” and reinforces the stigmatization of these individuals in other countries.

We can see this in what is happening today.  Refugees are fleeing east because of fear for their lives or the lives of their families, but the places that they are fleeing to aren’t exactly always accepting of refugees.  They have fled to places like Greece who is having enough problems supporting their own country and citizens, Germany who began to cut off refugees completely from entering their country, Italy who like Greece is having economic problems, all through through France and the UK.  But these refugees are looked down on because of the economic status of the individual or of the country itself.  So it is evident that the ideas of an “immigration problem” has been around for more than 70 years and will probably prevail into the next century because of the lack of concern that many citizens have for the other areas of the world.

One major note that I found intriguing in the text was the idea of many sociologists and political scientists on the solution of citizenship for immigrants.  On pages 30 and 31, Silverstein makes not that many scholars argue that there should be a united Europe, like the United States, where all citizens would be equal because they are all citizens.  This would break down the country borders and would in effect, make Europe a country instead of a continent.  I’m not sure how exactly this would work in the real world but in theory it sounds like it would be a great program.  But this could also harm all of the countries involved because of the potential loss of their individual cultures and customs.  These countries are known for their cultural norms and the breaking of national borders would harm the potentiality of all citizens in Europe.

Algeria in France Reading

The book “Algeria in France” by Paul Silverstein gives the reader a very detailed and multifaceted understanding of the various discourses and ethnic voices within French society and identity. Chapter two explains how colonist’ views of Berbers and Arabs helped create ambivalent modern ideas around ethnicity, race, religion, and belonging.

Before French uptake, Algeria was composed of Ottoman provinces, with its “janissaries” overseeing facets of economic development and its diverse populations. As French colonists set their eyes on reconquering the Mediterranean as a crossroads toward the trade-prone East Indies, imperialistic ruling was noticeable, as Muslim “subject” influences were downplayed (e.g. Arab taxation, territory redistribution, etc.) Categorizations of the colonial “other” were stratified against what was acceptable or savage-like when compared with France’s national make-up. The utilization of sub nationalities as identifiers, especially between the Arab’s and Kabyle’s way of living, promoted what was coined “The Kabyle Myth.”

The latter myth has been created in search of the “naive” North African culture; as it would be more receptive of and similar to the colonist’s assimilatory endeavors. Thus, the Kabyle was often depicted as agricultural, sedentary, monogamous, and hard-working. In contrast, Arab populations were approached as lazier and more prone to fanaticism. Thus, the French ideals would be more likely to be implemented among the non-Arabs of Africa. Algerian Muslims were, then, divided ideologically by the colonist as natural enemies, and not a people sharing the same religious background. The Kabyles were the likely recipients of French’s civilizing efforts and economic goals.

This served as a tool for the justification of a “trans-Mediterranean unit” and warranted the opportunity for a new “Crusade” into a territory prone to cross-cultural communication.  Claiming this affinity with the southern Mediterranean meant a distancing from the Germanic north and a pull towards the Latin Mediterranean.

Chapter one focus more on immigration and political will within French culture and national identity. The latter oscillates between the idea of a nation for its citizens or an ethnic nation. The understanding of the Algerian place in a “unified” Europe has to be conceptualized within Europe’s historical transformations regards what constitutes identity when it comes to immigration and the changes it brings. Discussions around the theme of the place of ethnic groups in Europe have intertwined  realities pertaining many societal levels, from housing to education and racism. Essentially, ethnicity has many times been dealt with as a “problem” that needs to be solved. The author addresses what our TV screens and newspapers have witnessed: the often use of physical enforcement of ideological views on the role of ethnic minorities within the larger scheme of societal functioning.  More specifically there are major “glitches” that have stemmed from diverging views of the Muslim population – and more specifically, Islam – within French nation.

Historically, German and Switzerland, Britain and Sweden, and France, have composed the three main models for the “European nation-state.” German and Switzerland have adapted the policy of treating all foreign-born worker on national soil as temporary workers who are not part of the population as citizens. The Britain and Sweden have been historically more leniently welcoming to the incoming foreign-born population on national soil. The latter has been less true recently, as more tools promoting a national ideology based on race has sparked more racial conflicts from right extremists, mostly.

The French model has also seen a shift in requirements for “belonging” standards in French society, as the oscillation between the “true French” and the “republican French” in relation to civil rights and empowerment as citizenship flags. As Silverstein reiterates, concepts of what forms a particular national identity have often caused policy changes that support minority cultural and political diversities as “universal human rights.” But, of course, the book has been edited over a decade ago, and changes in neighboring identities and affiliations (e.g. Turks) have sifted through these dichotomies and ambiguities between being human and being a national citizen.

Chapter 2 and 3

Chapter 3 brought up a lot of interesting points regarding identity and place that reflect some of the same ideas brought up in Braudel regarding how physical location plays a role in the identity of individuals both from an insider’s and an outsider’s perspective. While the physical geography and climate certainly plays a large role in the opportunities and lifestyles available to the people who inhabit a region, the “Montesquieu tautology” seems like an oversimplification, as well as, poor link to causality. I wonder if this kind of thinking relates back to the ideas of mystery surrounding Corsica brought up in Chapter 2 as a crude form of understanding the island.

I thought that the author’s discussion of the “mystery” surrounding Corsica was very interesting. It seemed to be a way of idealizing what Corsica meant to the French and as a way to keep Corsica as a place in the national eye. The Corsica Problem Reports describe two main issues that define the “Corsican Problem”, 1. Why is Corsica not productive? and 2. Why does Corsica resist French laws and traditions? Both of these “problems” relate back to ideas of colonialism and nationalism which demand that colonies provide stable output for the colonizers and adopt the colonizers traditions and culture. The fact that their is resistance to seems to be at the root of the “Corsican Problem” and may explain some of the perceived mystery surrounding Corsica.