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160 Working Paper

"French Suburbs": A New Problem or a New Approach to Social Exclusion?

2008 – Sylvie Tissot


At the end of 1980s, the question of « quartiers sensibles » (at-risk neighborhoods) started to be very publicized in France. It was not only the subject of many front-page articles, but also the target of a new public policy aimed at promoting urban and social development in about 500 neighborhoods (Politique de la ville). I argue that such a focus on « quartiers sensibles » does not only result from increasing problems such as unemployment, poverty or juvenile delinquency ; it also represents a major change in public policy. Focusing on « quartiers sensibles » directly contributed to the restructuring of the French welfare state by centering its action on specific urban spaces rather than national territory, and on social links rather than economic reality, contrary to what the welfate state claimed to do during the Fordist period. The outbreak of riots in November 2005 is inextricably bound up with the way some problems (like lack of communication and weakening social links) have been associated with the question of « quartiers sensibles » whereas the French model of integration, based on equality among abstract citizens, left some others (like ethnic discrimination) unquestioned.