1Recent studies on the residents of working-class neighborhoods  and their relationship to politics all affirm a tendency towards the ethnicization of identities and social relations, with ethnic categorizations becoming central to the outlook of these residents, whether or not they belong to minority groups.  The ways in which ethnicity influences the relationship to politics, however, remain unclear and will be examined in this article, drawing upon a study being conducted in Vaulx-en-Velin that investigates the political stance of youth in working-class neighborhoods.
2I use the concept of ethnicity as conceived by Frederik Barth  to refer to a process of social organization based on the assigning and/or self-assigning of individuals to ethnic categories, with ethnic identification referring specifically to belief in a common origin.  As such, recourse to the notion of ethnicity evidently does not assume an essentialist conception of identity. To use the typology offered by Danielle Juteau-Lee with regard to studies of ethnicity, I employ a constructivist perspective that also takes into account the fact that “subjective perceptions crystallize around objective traits that then become criteria of inclusion and exclusion”.  Emphasis on the constructed aspect of ethnicity, however, better lends itself to study of the construction and evolution of boundaries between ethnic groups than to consideration of the effects of ethnicity on other phenomena, such as the relationship to politics. This difficulty is aptly expressed by Marco Martiniello and Patrick Simon:
“Several studies have addressed the issue of the responsibility of researchers regarding the propagation of stereotypes forged by common understanding or by validation of reifying categories […]. Noiriel, De Rudder, and Brubaker  all insist on the role played by the social sciences in the institutionalization of identities via analytic categories that are often too close to categories used in practice. The problem is that while these scholars point out the abuses and uncritical uses of identity categories, the only alternative they propose is to study the formation of boundaries or processes of identification. While this research agenda constitutes one of the most fertile axes of investigation, it leaves pending the issue of descriptive categories of the social world.” 
4These authors thus suggest using, at least temporarily, a form of reification of ethnic identity. In their view, this is necessary in order to make ethnic identity an explanatory variable.
5In political science, this approach consists of analyzing as data both the ethnic categories and the position that individuals occupy as a result of their ethnic belonging; the correlation of this ethnic belonging to individual political attitudes is subsequently assessed. This approach has produced significant results. Notably, it has enabled the identification of consistent patterns in the political behavior of immigrants-turned-citizens and their descendants in France: a weaker level of voter registration and a more pronounced left-wing orientation and vote, as compared to the population at large. Jean-Luc Richard thus notes that the rate of voter registration of young French people, aged 18-25, of immigrant background  is lower than that of other young French people. He also observes that this outcome varies according to immigrant origin, with a lower rate among youth of North African and Portuguese origin than among children of Spanish and Italian immigrants. Richard stresses, however, that once these youth are registered to vote, their voter turnout rate is comparable to that of the population at large.  Other studies – whether they focus on a sample of the national population  or on a more circumscribed region (often corresponding to a zone containing a high concentration of people of immigrant descent);  whether they use data from quantitative studies, from polls, or from qualitative analyses;  or whether they concentrate exclusively on younger generations or not – all show a systematic left-wing orientation, a partisan leaning toward left-wing parties (notably the Socialist Party [PS]), and a larger left-wing vote compared to the population at large. Finally, several of these studies report greater turnout on the part of the immigrant-descended population at moments when the local or national political context appears particularly threatening to foreigners. 
6Some of these studies, however, pose methodological problems with regard to the issue addressed in this article. The actual effect of one’s migratory trajectory and ethnicity is often difficult to evaluate, either because there is no control group, as in some studies that focus on a particular region,  or because the size of the population samples in certain quantitative studies makes it difficult to sort the results by socio-professional or by educational levels.  Moreover, by making ethnicity a “descriptive category of the social world”, to use Martinello and Simon’s expression, these studies aim primarily to highlight a correlation between a given political stance and an ethnic affiliation, without seeking to understand the process by which such a correlation operates. And when theories are ventured, they sometimes fall into culturalism or partake in identity designation; with researchers linking observed political behavior to collective cultural values that are attributed to individuals according to their origins, without verifying whether such individuals actually recognize these values as their own. 
7It is necessary, therefore, to investigate the manner and the conditions in which ethnicity influences the relationship to politics, without taking ethnicity as a given and without limiting such investigation to individuals from ethnic minorities. In order to do this, I propose an approach that takes as its object the categorizations produced by individuals themselves, the ways in which they perceive the social world, and the social and symbolic boundaries they carve out in order to situate themselves within it. Such an approach is located in a line of studies that have, over the past twenty years, paid renewed attention to the ways in which actors give meaning to their actions, examined variously through cultural, discursive, or cognitive frameworks.  This turn has been equally operative, but less explicit, in studies of ethnicity. In addition, while empirical studies that analyze processes of ethnic categorization and classification have developed in two directions – towards study of official and of everyday practices of categorization – it is above all the former that have preoccupied scholars.  In this article, I focus on the latter. Following the work of Clifford Geertz, for whom culture is simultaneously a “model of” – a map for locating, identifying, and defining social situations – and a “model for” – a compass to orient us in social situations so that we can participate in and transform them  – I hold that categories are not just cognitive schemas resulting from a need to understand the world. Rather, they have a practical aim, enabling individuals to situate themselves in the world. Categories, moreover, do not convey only knowledge but also emotions and value judgments.  Finally, we are dealing here with speech acts and not with pure thought patterns; with categories that are – or are not – publicly available, and that are – or are not – triggered via interaction.  I thus examine the perceptual maps that enable individuals to situate themselves in the world, the symbolic boundaries that they delineate,  and the groups with which they identify – in the particular context of an interview in which they are asked to adopt a reflexive stance and to discuss politics.  I focus specifically on the ways in which individuals mobilize – or not – territorial, ethnic, and social boundaries to do so. Subsequently, I analyze how such mobilization of boundaries influences their relationship to politics.
8To undertake this analysis, I draw upon a study-in-progress on the political stance of youth in working-class neighborhoods,  which I am conducting in the Mas-du-Taureau and la Grappinière neighborhoods of Vaulx-en-Velin, a suburb of Lyon.  I have used an approach that is simultaneously local and generational so as to assess the effects on people’s relationship to politics of migratory trajectories and feelings of ethnic belonging, of shared experiences of geographic exclusion, and of similar social and generational characteristics.  In this way, I aim to grasp the ways in which social, ethnic, and local identities interact and structure the relationship to politics. I have focused specifically on the 18-35 age group, according to an expansive conception of youth, in order to understand how paths of entry into the workforce and social and professional mobility affect people’s relationship to politics. Since entry into the workforce is occurring later – even more so for children of immigrants  – it is necessary to define the category “youth” in an expansive manner.  Finally, to avoid limiting the investigation of ethnicity to those of immigrant background, my study incorporates all of the following groups: those born in France to parents themselves born in France, those born in France to parents born abroad, and those who are first-generation immigrants, as soon as they are registered to vote. At this stage of research, however, I have unfortunately had to exclude from this article material collected from non-immigrant populations. 
Social conditions, perceptual maps, and self-identification 
9I will first consider the various factors that shape the ways in which individuals perceive the world and identify with it through their mobilization – or not – of territorial, ethnic, and social boundaries. In addition to the predictable effects of educational level, social origin, and socio-professional status, I wish to stress the role of two other processes: residential mobility and social mobility. These processes are especially apparent when working with a population that is relatively homogeneous in its social origins (despite differences that I will discuss below). I will then examine the ways in which these factors interact and structure individuals ’ perceptual maps and self-identification; outlining, in the process, three different profiles within this category of the population.
10As researchers have established, people’s relationship to their place of residence differs based on whether they live there voluntarily or are constrained to be there despite a desire to leave. It also depends on whether their arrival in the neighborhood is part of a strategy of social ascent or a result of social demotion.  Furthermore, the relationship varies with regard to the age at which one enters a neighborhood and as a result of whether one’s primary and secondary socialization took place there. The centrality of place of residence in determining one’s perception of the world thus varies according to these factors, as does the nature of an individual’s identification with a place of residence.
11In addition, residential and social mobility affect the level of development of people’s perceptual maps. Those who have experienced life outside their neighborhood (whether through placement in a school in another area or as a result of one’s higher education or career) seem to have more complex perceptual maps than those who never left. Whereas the former seem more aware of the workings of society and of social position, the latter view society as an ethno-territorial dichotomy of neighborhood/external world.  Moreover, the interviews conducted reveal that processes of self-identification are shaped far more by experiences of social mobility than by objectively occupied social positions. In effect, those in objectively similar social positions (as defined by statistical categories), can identify with very different social groups depending on whether or not they themselves are experiencing a path of upward social mobility.
12This helps to explain the diversity of individual configurations observed within a single locale. At present, I have identified in this study’s sample population three types of perceptual maps and forms of self-identification with French society. In the first, the perceptual map is structured exclusively around an opposition between outer neighborhoods and city center, with an emphasis on territory that includes an ethnic understanding. The social question is thus entirely overtaken by the ethno-territorial divide. The second case is defined in opposition to the first: while the perceptual map of these individuals is also firmly structured by an ethno-territorial understanding, they view themselves as a contrast to the disadvantaged neighborhoods. Their perceptual map is more complex, giving an autonomous place to the social issue. Finally, the perceptual map of the third observable group is less structured by the ethno-territorial framework of the previous two groups. Those in the third group thus demonstrate a more acute awareness of the social question.
13The perceptual map structured around the ethno-territorial divide, characteristic of the first group, is evident in youth of very modest social background (whose mothers are often housewives and whose fathers are either unemployed or work in bottom-tier unskilled occupations). These young people have obtained very few educational qualifications and their professional future seems highly uncertain. They live in a fatalistic mode, they view themselves on a predictable path to failure, and they appear unable to leave the neighborhoods.
14This is the case of Ahmed, age 20 at the time of our interview. Born in Algeria, he arrived in France at age 10. His father is a maintenance officer and his mother a housewife. Having obtained a vocational high school diploma [un bac professionel], he has done some temporary work while waiting and hoping for admission into an advanced vocational degree program (BTS). This is also the case of Farid, age 19 at the time of our interview. Born in France to an Algerian father and a mother from the settler community of former French Algeria, he had a chaotic childhood and adolescence. Upon his parents ’ separation and his father’s deportation from France as a result of the “double sanction”,  Farid was placed with a foster family, and subsequently in a foster care center, from the age of two. He was regularly expelled from schools he attended as a result of altercations with staff members, and he was homeless for a time, until his mother agreed to have him live with her again. Lacking a high school diploma [a baccalaureate] (he has a junior high school [collège] education), he has had some odd jobs and has also worked as a waiter. He is now employed by a youth and family support and mentoring association to watch over the cleanliness of the neighborhood. He explains:
“Since I was very young, I’ve known in my mind, OK, it’s not a good start to life, but I’ve told myself, ‘since I’ve started badly, I’ll finish badly, so why try to finish well? ’”
16The neighborhood occupies a central place in the daily life, affective universe, and selfidentification of such young people. When asked to describe what “Vaulx-en-Velin” evokes for him, Farid responds:
“Vaulx-en-Velin is everything for me. I’m 100% from Vaulx-en-Velin. I’m from Département 69,  not from Lyon, not from the suburbs. I’m from Vaulx-en-Velin. For me, it’s another country. You enter into Vaulx-en-Velin, and you enter another country.”
18He says he would not be able to live anywhere else:
“And if you had the choice, would you live here?
Honestly? Me, I’m just too rooted in this place. Even when I went to live in Villeurbanne, even when I was in the foster care center, I came here all the time, I missed it…
Because you know people here?
Yeah, I grew up here, I know everyone. Life here is not the same as in the city, eh! Here, there are things that happen that are normal for us, but in the city they think these things are unbelievable…”
20Having had professional experiences outside Vaulx-en-Velin, Farid seems relieved to be back working in his neighborhood, even though he only has a part-time contract with comparatively little job security: 
“I work in the neighborhood. I tell myself that at least here, I work for neighbors or parents who are out and about, so that makes me feel great. When they see me, they tell me that what I’m doing is good, which feels great!”
22The above remarks reveal strong feelings of belonging and attachment to one’s locality and to neighborhood relations and relationships. As Richard Hoggart has pointed out, such sentiments are common among working-class populations.  The young people interviewed also express a kind of pride in assuming and claiming their neighborhood’s bad reputation, as illustrated by Farid’s statement about “unbelievable” occurrences being viewed as “normal” in his neighborhood. To this end, they like to emphasize in interviews that although Vaulxen-Velin did not really participate in the national wave of rioting of November 2005, it did experience riots a few weeks prior to the national events, after some young people on a scooter were knocked over by a police car, and has had riots since. 
23The territorial element occupies a central place in their vision of society. The structuring symbolic boundary that these young people use to comprehend French society is based upon an opposition between “the neighborhoods [les quartiers]” and everywhere else, the latter referring indiscriminately to both the city center and the countryside. This territorial opposition incorporates within it the ethnic issue as well as the social issue – those interviewed speak as if all the residents of working-class or disadvantaged neighborhoods were North Africans; as if all North Africans were poor (or “ordinary”, in Farid’s expression);  and as if all “rich” (Farid’s term) or “bourgeois” (A?ssa’s term) people were white.  In their view, people who are disadvantaged or of modest means do not exist outside of the minority ethnic groups who live in the working-class neighborhoods.
24A?ssa, age 27 at the time of our interview, was born in Vaulx-en-Velin to Tunisian parents who themselves came to France as children. Her father is a store clerk, and her mother is a secretary in a high school [lycée]. A?ssa has a CAP qualification [a professional vocational qualification] in horticulture (but emphasized that she did not choose this professional orientation). She worked as a children’s activity supervisor and in food service before training to become a child care provider. She lives with her partner, also from Tunisia and a store clerk, who recently immigrated to France. A?ssa describes the encounter between the residents of Lyon and those of her neighborhood:
“People here and in Lyon are not the same. They’re just not !… I think people in Lyon are more reserved, they are more, er… I don’t know, they look at us as if we were… I don’t know, it’s not the same… It’s as if those from Lyon, I don’t think they would come and live in Vaulx-en-Velin, eh?
Yes […]. So when you say you’re not the same, what is that in relation to?
I don’t know… I find we don’t live the same way… we are not the same… they’re more bourgeois… and, er…
And what does bourgeois mean for you?
I don’t know, I don’t think that those people would speak to us, we see them sometimes in town, some of them look us up and down as if, er… we were strange… so to live with them ! [laughs]. They’re bourgeois people. […] For them, in my opinion, we are not good people, we are savages…”
26Unlike the territorial issue, the ethnic dimension is not spontaneously mentioned here (the opposition remains mostly pronominal, contrasting “us” and “them”).  When asked to be more specific, however, the ethnic dimension can become more explicit, as when Farid describes his years as a boarder:
“And during those two years, did you really feel like yourself and the other boarders were treated differently, like people who were kept apart and excluded from the other students?
Honestly, when people don’t live like us, I don’t know, they can say ‘All they see is racism, exclusion’, when they don’t live like us. But when we’re together, it shows. At high school, in the boarding house. Only in the foster center it wasn’t like that, because there were all types there and we were all in the same hell, so er… But everywhere else, I only found this… […]. So I just say, ‘French people are like that…’, I’m French too, it’s not that I don’t want to be, it’s that they don’t want me.”
28Finally, when asked in interviews if they think there are problems in society, the realities that these young people spontaneously evoke are almost exclusively based on their personal experiences, which they view through the prism of the ethno-territorial divide. The issue of the discrimination directed at them thus occupies a central place in their outlook, serving as the principle that explains the trajectories of their lives. 
29The individuals in the second group define themselves in contrast to those in the first. They are also of modest social background, but their parents hold jobs requiring greater qualifications than those of the first group. Notably, their mothers practice a profession. They themselves have a high school baccalaureate-level education or beyond, but often one that has not necessarily satisfied their expectations. Some of them would have liked to have continued their studies but could not, due to limited means. Others have had a string of odd jobs. These individuals moved to Vaulx-en-Velin as adults, due to financial constraints. Their perceptual map is also deeply structured by the ethno-territorial issue, but they present themselves in opposition to the world of the disadvantaged neighborhoods. Moreover, their perceptual map is more complex than that of those in the first group; the social dimension occupies an autonomous place within it and is given some importance in their self-identification process.
30This is the case, for example, of Antonin, originally from Benin and age 35 at the time of our interview. Antonin immigrated to France at age 30 and has French citizenship by descent (his maternal grandfather served in the French army and became a naturalized citizen). His father is retired and lives in Benin; while his mother, born in Togo, lives in France and works for the local administration. Antonin received a baccalaureate high school degree in Benin, but he subsequently had to stop his training in interior design there due to financial hardship. He then worked as a substitute teacher, giving evening classes. Upon arrival in France, he had hoped to resume interior design studies. Lacking funding, however, he instead pursued fire safety training and became a security guard. This is likewise the case of Juliette, age 30 at the time of our interview. Also from Benin, she settled with her family in France at age four, in a small city in the Drôme region. Her parents both work for a company that makes mortuary objects; her father as a figure caster, her mother as an office employee. After receiving an advanced vocational degree (BTS) in accounting administration, she had a series of odd jobs for some years, in fast food, seasonal work, etc. Active in several associations that provide assistance to Benin, she went to work for a cooperative project there, but returned to France when the project failed. She then settled in Vaulx-en-Velin, doing temporary work before passing the national exam to become a nursing auxiliary.
31The neighborhood occupies an important place in the perceptual maps of these individuals, but it is seen in a very negative light. In interviews, they highlight the vandalism that they have directly witnessed and note that Vaulx-en-Velin’s poor reputation is not undeserved.
32As Juliette explains:
“I remember, I knew Vaulx by name because we had family who lived here for many years, and we would come to visit from time to time, and we knew of its bad reputation at that time […]. When I told my mom I was going to live in an apartment in Vaulx, she said, ‘What? Vaulx-en-Velin ! My God, my daughter, you’re going to die ! ’ [laughs]. That was her reaction, but for me, the main thing was to find an apartment… And then people told me it’s actually Mas du Taureau where there are more problems at the moment, so where we are is some distance from all that, in other words, it’s calm here. But ‘calm ’ has to be said in quotation marks! I remember, the second thing I saw upon moving here was a burning car, I had never before seen that in my life… In our small town, such things didn’t exist…”
34Likewise, Antonin evokes in his interview the break-in of his car, the robbery of a supermarket, and the drug dealing that he has witnessed.
35These individuals present themselves as exterior to the neighborhood. They spend little time there on a daily basis and stay away as much as possible. Some seek to leave; Antonin finally managed to move to another town in the Lyon suburban region.
36In contrast to the discourse of those in the previous group, who emphasize the discrimination they face, these individuals stress that the young people of the neighborhood are themselves responsible for its bad reputation and for the difficulties they encounter. Moreover, they systematically refer to these young people in explicitly ethnic or ethno-religious terms. Antonin, for example, remarks:
“Vaulx-en-Velin… It has to be said, in the end, that it’s a tough area… let’s say that it’s not absolutely terrible, but really, living here is not easy. In terms of architecture, it’s perfect. In terms of housing, it’s perfect. Frankly, however, it’s a tough, tough neighborhood… with regard to crime, vandalism, it sets the standard. […] It’s a neighborhood that really… that somewhat traumatized me. Traumatized, because I’ve seen incredible things. Incredible. They destroyed… Honestly, the authorities do their best to make it work, but the residents don’t want it to work. In other words, they break everything immediately, then the authorities repair it, etc. So there you have it. It’s the concentration of foreigners, of North Africans, of blacks… It’s not, it’s really not… it’s almost a catastrophe. That’s what I can say about Vaulx-en-Velin.”
38For her part, Juliette says she has become “racist” as a result of living among North African Muslims in Vaulx-en-Velin:
“It’s very odd because my opinion has changed. Before coming to Lyon, I would tell myself, I don’t know, there were a lot of North Africans in school […], I had contact with them, no problem, so I was less afraid and all that… so that’s how it was… when I came to Lyon, there were a lot of aggressive acts and all that, which I couldn’t really wrap my head around… and er… in fact, we conflate North Africans and religion, we always associate one with the other… Previously, I would not say this… especially since in Benin, there are Muslims… It’s above all a host of problems that I’ve had in this city that have made me today a racist. There it is, I’ll say it.”
40Although the individuals in this group self-identify in ethnic terms (in the two interviews cited above, Antonin and Juliette refer to themselves as “African”), it is important to note that their ethnic identity is not locally situated. These individuals also maintain the ethnoterritorial divide, through which they define themselves as external to the neighborhood.
41I venture that the still fragile social position of these individuals – evidenced by their feeling of being unable to leave this neighborhood – explains in part their desire to distinguish themselves from the area and its residents. In this regard, they differ from those in the first group, for whom an affective attachment to the neighborhood goes hand in hand with the social and geographical marginalization of the area.  This assessment of the individuals in the second group enables us to see, moreover, that they invest the ethno-territorial divide with social meaning. They oppose those who “work hard” (as they do) to those who take advantage of the system, the latter most often being, in their eyes, the neighborhood youth of foreign origin (although the sentiment is occasionally directed at recent immigrants).
42In contrast to the first group, the perceptual map of those in the second group speaks also to a social divide that is independent of the neighborhoods, one that separates the “big people” from the “little people”. Thus Juliette distinguishes between “bosses” and “the population”, associating herself with the latter. She also bases her evaluation of the political world on this reality. But the generative capacity of the ethno-territorial theme plays an important role in these individuals ’ relationship to politics. These two lines of cleavage and of selfidentification – the social and the ethno-territorial – sometimes find themselves in tension with one another, as will be seen below.
43Finally, the third group that can be identified contains young people who are experiencing rising social mobility as well as residential mobility, and who maintain a relationship of distant affection for the neighborhoods. Their perceptual map is less structured by the territorial issue than that of the previous two groups. They display a more acute awareness of the social issue, and they frequently identify themselves by their profession.
44This is the case, for instance, of Karim, age 30 at the time of our interview and the son of Algerian parents. His father, now retired, was a road repairman and his mother a housewife. Throughout the interview, he recounts his social ascent. He stresses that although an error of academic guidance led him to a low-level technical field of study in high school, he still successfully managed to pursue university studies in history, obtaining an undergraduate degree [licence]. While working each year to pay for his studies, he also took the national exams required to become a tax agent and a tax inspector. Whereas the first group experienced obstacles as insurmountable, the interviews with these individuals are often marked by a narrative of obstacles overcome and of social ascent in progress, a narrative that is sometimes presented as genuine destiny. This is also the case of Anita, age 23 at the time of our interview, who immigrated to France from the Comoros Islands at age four. With a master’s degree in international relations, she works as a freelancer for a local newspaper. Her mother raised her alone and works as an attendant in a retirement home. This is likewise the case, finally, of Amina, age 20. Born in Libya and raised as a child in Tunisia, she arrived in France at age eleven. After receiving her baccalaureate degree in applied arts, Amina began studying for an advanced vocational degree (BTS) in design. Her father is a tailor born in Tunisia; her mother a stay-at-home housewife, born in France. The mobility experienced by these individuals is clearly a far more significant factor in placing them in this group than are their family’s social origins, given that the professions of the parents in this group are comparable to those of the previous group.
45The individuals in this third group exhibit a relationship to the neighborhoods that is distant. It is not, however, one of “disowning” (to use Karim’s expression). Most of them were born in Vaulx-en-Velin or settled there as children, and they say they are attached to the city. Unlike those in the other groups, they generally explain that the city’s bad reputation is not merited and that they are thrilled to see the urban transformations that have taken place in the city since their childhood. As Karim reacts:
“Vaulx-en-Velin is my city. I like saying that I was born in Vaulx-en-Velin, I don’t hide it. I remember that I told people in Paris, ‘I was born in Vaulx-en-Velin ’, and they asked, ‘You were born in Vaulxen-Velin? ’ and I replied, ‘Yeah, yeah, but it’s not the Bronx, eh! ’ […] It’s my city and I don’t disown it. I know others who disown it, but not me. You have to know how to come to terms with it. If you don’t accept what you are, it’s difficult to look at yourself in the mirror, to evolve in society, if you don’t even recognize yourself as such, as someone from Vaulx-en-Velin.”
47For university studies, however, or sometimes even for their high school education, such individuals were often taken out of Vaulx-en-Velin and sent to private schools or to schools in the city center. This choice attests to a parental desire to monitor their children’s education and social life and helps to explain the specificity of the trajectories in this group. Their professional lives also led them outside Vaulx-en-Velin, as did the decision taken by some of them to move elsewhere (as with Anita and with Karim). Although these individuals claim attachment to the neighborhood, they do not identify with it on a daily basis according to a territorially-based logic.
48In contrast to the first group, the social and residential mobility of the individuals in the third group has stimulated their social reflexivity, by bringing them into contact with very different social milieus. Compared with the other two groups, the perceptual map of this group gives considerably more place to the social issue, using categories that are often more sophisticated. Anita, for example, refers to “the middle and the most disadvantaged classes” that were both hurt by the tax measures instituted by Nicolas Sarkozy. Another interviewee speaks of “modest people like us or even poorer”. And when asked to comment on the reasons for Sarkozy’s success, Karim offers a map of society that opposes poor people with workers and rich people:
“A lot of poor people voted for Sarkozy.
People from modest milieus?
Yeah. I didn’t understand it! […] I mean, in France there are in fact more poor people than rich ones. So I don’t understand why the left is never in power.
Maybe because people from modest milieus more frequently abstain from voting?
Yeah, and when they vote, they vote for the right! There are a lot of workers who voted for the right.”
50Finally, when these individuals identify with groups so as to situate themselves within society and to analyze the political context, they do so with social groups (modest people), generational groups (youth, students), and professional groups (civil servants, journalists) – far more often than with ethnic or ethno-territorial groups, as will be seen below.
Thin versus thick identities:  effects on the relationship to politics
51The way in which individuals situate themselves with regard to the issue of discrimination sheds light on the link between self-identification and the relationship to politics. There appear to be, in effect, two paths open to the young residents of the working-class neighborhoods.  They can take on a collective ethno-territorial identity, based largely on shared experiences of discrimination and injustice, which risks permanently assigning them to outcast social and residential spaces. Alternatively, they can, when possible, adopt strategies of mobility that involve suppressing ethnic identity and proceeding via individual initiative rather than collective transformation. Whereas the first option is characteristic of the individuals in the first group, the second option corresponds to those in the second and third groups.
52Those in the latter two groups share an aversion to interpreting their situations in terms of discrimination, and they refuse to dwell on the subject. In interviews and in their daily lives, they enact various strategies to minimize experiences of discrimination, which they do, nonetheless, refer to. They employ minimizing expressions in interviews, evoking quickly “a few small problems” (Antonin). They also use expressions that aim to de-problematize the issues at stake, presenting them as a universal, timeless, and thus inevitable reality: “nothing is perfect, that’s for sure, eh, it’s like this everywhere” (Antonin) or “in any case, discrimination always exists” (Amina).
53These individuals do not easily bring up situations in which they personally faced discrimination. Antonin and Amina, for example, both wrote in their questionnaires that they had never experienced discrimination; yet in their interviews, they ended up evoking such experiences. Likewise, when asked if she had experienced discrimination, Juliette initially responded that she had been “fortunate” and “spared” in this regard. At the end of the interview, however, she related several occasions in which she had the feeling that she was a victim of discrimination.
54When they recount such situations, these individuals put the emphasis on the pride they feel as a result of having surmounted such obstacles. Amina recalls that when she wanted to register at a lycée in the city center of Lyon to pursue applied arts, the principal of her junior high school [college] tried to dissuade her, saying that she would not meet the required standards. Upon admission to the high school, she went back to see the principal, so as to make the point that the latter was wrong to have sought to restrict her to less prestigious academic tracks. As she relates:
“For example, the principal of my junior high school, when I asked her [about the high school]… the first thing that she told me was, ‘That’s not for you. ’ [laughs] […] So when I returned to see her with my acceptance letter… to show off to her, it was clear! [laughs] And the worst thing was that afterwards, when she saw my progress [at the high school], she started calling me back often to give speeches […] to the junior high school students.”
56Finally, several interviewees, notably young women, discuss the individual strategies they adopt in their daily lives in order to defuse tensions and be accepted by society. As Amina remarks:
“I tend to joke about all that… maybe because when one imposes oneself like that, it’s not easy. But for me, for instance, to be accepted, I know that I try hard to make it easier for others. For example… it gives us a special aspect too. Like in my class at school, they know very well, for example, the festival of Eid, I don’t know how they do it, but they figure out the dates, and each time at the festival of Eid, they say, ‘So, did you bring us any cakes? ’ [laughs]. Stuff like that.”
58These individuals thus refuse to be characterized by the experience of ethnic discrimination. If they acknowledge that such realities exist in society and that they affect other young people of immigrant background, they also underscore the responsibility of such people for their own situations. Anita, for instance, refers to her academic path and considers the reasons why she succeeded while some of her classmates failed:
“One day, I even participated in a debate […] on the suburb of Vaulx-en-Velin, they asked me to participate precisely to say that, in fact, young people from Vaulx-en-Velin can succeed… and er… paradoxically in my case, I never had problems in Vaulx-en-Velin, and this is exactly what I said at the debate, that I don’t know why, but that in my case, I never had problems… to say, therefore, that one can come from Vaulx-en-Velin, that one can be of immigrant background, and that one can still… succeed… But I also don’t want to say that… some people don’t give themselves the means to succeed. Because that would be condescending, but… I also unfortunately had a lot of classmates in junior high and high school who did nothing afterwards, and who today are unemployed or in prison… so two outcomes exist… The classmates with whom I was closest did succeed, they went to university, they work and they are doing very, very well. And then there are those… on the other side, for whom things didn’t work out… there are both cases… so what is it that makes it work for some and not for others…”
60She highlights the role of one’s family circle as an explanatory hypothesis ( “I also think that the fact that I have a solid family structure, and that despite the fact that my mother raised us alone for part of our childhood, she monitored us, she was present, and I think that that plays a big role.”) Others, however, emphasize instead the fact that some young people “do not want to integrate”. When discussing the 2005 urban riots, for example, Antonin asserts:
“They think they are wrongfully treated, but that’s not where the problem is. The problem is that they themselves don’t want, honestly, I know this, they really don’t want to integrate. I don’t get it. And these are people who are born here. Not people who came here like me, they are born here. I don’t understand how they manage not to get out of their situation. Because I was not born here, I came here at age 30, and I’ve managed to get out of it. I don’t get it. They don’t want to get out of it. Honestly.”
62In this way, and in contrast to those in the first group, the individuals in the latter two groups reject collective forms of identification based on shared experiences of discrimination and injustice – the ready-made “thin identities” that risk relegating them permanently to outcast social and residential spaces. Instead, they privilege strategies of individual mobility – which raises the issue of the political consequences of such a choice. I will now examine, for each of the three groups, the political translation of their perceptual maps and mobilization of their identities. The category “youth of immigrant background from the workingclass neighborhoods” is neither a homogeneous entity nor perceived as such by those it incorporates. Consequently, it does not have a unified relationship to politics, and it is difficult to structure politically.
63The individuals in the first group are those with the most distant relationship to politics. While they voted in the presidential election of 2007, they abstained during the legislative and municipal elections that followed. They have few political reference points, whether in terms of partisan politics or with regard to the left –right divide, at either the national or the local level. 
64When asked about her participation in various elections, A?ssa replies:
“And what elections do you generally vote in? The presidential election… and not in others?
And why don’t you vote… or… Why do you vote in the presidential election and not in others?
Because the presidential election is important, yes, it’s important.
And the local elections, because they have to do with the city, they don’t interest you?
And, for instance, do you know who the mayor of Vaulx-en-Velin is and the like?
Yes, of course!
And do you know his political affiliation?
Look, I just know that he’s the mayor of Vaulx-en-Velin and that when he no longer runs for mayor, someone else will be mayor.”
66They have difficulty situating political candidates on the left-right spectrum (as Ahmed admits, “Honestly, I ’ll tell you that I don ’t even know what left and right mean”). They also have a hard time situating themselves politically. For some, this distance is tinged with indifference, as in the case of A?ssa, who had a lot of trouble responding to questions in the course of her interview (she repeated “I don ’t know” 48 times in a one-hour interview). For others, this distance is accompanied by a very critical and virulent discourse towards politicians. Whatever the topic, their commentaries are marked by deep cynicism, and they see selfishness and the pursuit of individual interests as the driving force behind human actions. They apply this interpretive framework to the political world, thus viewing politicians as motivated by the pursuit of power and money. As Farid remarks:
“[Politicians] think that everything is for personal gain, or that they themselves should have the most power and money possible. They’re supposedly at our service, but they’re actually there for themselves… My ass, they’re at our service!” 
68We know that the voters least invested in the political process tend to draw on their daily life experiences when asked to respond to political questions – rather than on abstract ideological principles or on specifically political criteria. Likewise, these voters focus principally on the political questions that affect them most obviously and most directly.  Thus, during the 2007 presidential election, ethno-territorial identification served as the reference point in the political world of the individuals in this first group, while the social issue was largely absent for them. In the questionnaires they were asked to complete for this study, they say that they voted for Ségolène Royal or for François Bayrou in order “to prevent the election of another candidate”, generally Sarkozy, but sometimes also Jean-Marie Le Pen.  In interviews, they bring up Sarkozy’s 2005 statements that the youth of the disadvantaged neighborhoods were “scum” whose neighborhoods should be cleaned out with a “Kärcher”.  The National Front (far right) political party continues to serve as a signpost in their political world, and they evaluate the other presidential candidates according to each candidate’s distance from the National Front. As Farid comments:
“Yeah, I know Sarkozy’s on the right, that he’s almost like the National Front on the far right, and that Ségolène is on the left.
Does that mean anything for you?
Honestly, it means nothing at all!
Right, so you don’t distinguish between them?
The left and the right, I don’t even know what they are, what they do.
Right, you don’t see…
Yeah, they each take half the cake!”
70Since their vote is highly conditioned by the ethno-territorial issue, the individuals in this group tend to abstain from voting during presidential elections in which this issue is not stoked by candidates. In addition, their vote is strongly personalized; in this case, in the form of opposition to the person of Nicolas Sarkozy. When asked if he thinks he will vote in the next presidential election, Farid thus responds: “Well, that depends on who the candidates are. If Sarko is still around, I ’ll vote for sure”.
71In their relationship to politics, the two other groups share norms that are more civic-minded and “participatory”.  The individuals in these groups affirm that they regularly vote, and that they value the practice of voting. As Antonin expresses:
“In any case, politics is a thing that… you have to do, because as a citizen of a country, you have to express yourself, otherwise, well, there it is… I don’t know how to explain it to you. It’s as if otherwise you renounce… your own destiny. At present, excluding yourself doesn’t solve the problem. You have to immerse yourself, you have to express yourself. You have to take hold of your destiny, of your civil rights… That’s what I think. There it is.”
73While some of them contest the relevance of the left-right divide, they can nonetheless situate themselves along this spectrum. All of them describe themselves as left-leaning, generally in accordance with family tradition. Finally, almost all of them voted for the various left-wing candidates in the first round of the 2007 presidential election; most cast a ballot for Ségolène Royal.  In contrast to the previous group, these individuals state in their questionnaires that they made their decisions based on ideas put forth by the candidates or the political parties. While they may also have voted to prevent the election of Sarkozy, this was not their only motivation.
74In interviews, however, those in the second group express rather ambivalent political views. This can be explained by the tensions contained within their forms of self-identification and depending on whether their particular reflections evoke the social or the ethno-territorial divide. When their social form of identification takes precedence, they issue a negative assessment of Sarkozy’s first years in office. As Juliette remarks:
“[Sarkozy] is, in the end, more aligned with business leaders, for instance… […] And, for example, with all the protests going on, I have the impression that he doesn’t listen to the general public. […] I think he listens instead to employers, who say ‘no concessions ’.”
76Yet when they discuss the problems of the working-class neighborhoods, the ethno-territorial dimension is central to their statements, and their assessment of Sarkozy’s presidency becomes more positive. As Antonin asserts:
“Given that we are foreign, even if we have French citizenship, we are of foreign origin, and we’re in a country where, in my view, the law has to be respected. Period. You cannot disobey the laws of a country that you adopted… I’m not ok with that. And on this point I fully agree with Sarkozy. It is necessary to be somewhat firm, resolute.”
78If, for the time being, they are tied to the political socialization they obtained from their family milieu (a socialization itself associated with being of foreign origin), some of these individuals say they can now envision voting for the right. As Juliette explains:
“Today, I no longer go with the left-right split, I don’t know what my position is, so today if someone tells me to go and vote, I couldn’t say how I’d vote… Plus, there is no candidate […] who gives me hope, I don’t know, they are too radical… Previously, it was easy, I didn’t even ask myself the question, I was on the left… But today, honestly, I can say that I might vote right, while three or four years ago, I wouldn’t even have raised the question.”
80For their part, those in the third group frequently position themselves with regard to issues tied to their professional occupation, whether discussing the reasons for their vote or their assessment of Sarkozy’s first two years in office. Anita responds that “as a journalist”, she is worried about the future of “the freedom of the press”. Karim emphatically praises government services, linking his attachment to them to his profession and to the entire arc of his educational and career trajectory:
“I came to understand not too long ago why I was attached to government services, it’s because I went to public [state] school, I have a degree from public higher education, I paid for my studies thanks to the state, working as a student monitor… The state hired me, enabled me to finance my studies and not to have to ask my parents to do so. […] I took a national competitive exam [to become a tax inspector], thus the state hired me and the state is my employer. The state has hugely helped me, virtually from the beginning!”
82They also turn to social categories as a basis for their political views. When asked what “being left-wing” means today, for example, Anita replies:
“Good question [laughs]… what does it mean? Frankly, I don’t know if today there is any point in looking for… underlying values and core principles, but… I feel, in any case, that given what underlies Sarkozy’s policies today, I don’t recognize myself in them at all… His tax measures, for example, instead of easing the tax burden of the middle classes and of the most disadvantaged classes […] When…I don’t know… he came up with a stimulus plan focused more on investment and assistance to firms and it took him a lot longer to think about the wallets of French people, there too, it makes me wonder about a lot of things…”
84Their foreign origin is not absent from their remarks, but it is evoked quickly  and is far from being their only reference point in the political world. After discussing other aspects of her assessment of the early years of Sarkozy’s presidency, Anita adds that “his whole discourse […] on security, er… and on immigration” makes her feel “a bit afraid”. She then explicitly links this concern to her own past: “… and in addition, as myself a former illegal alien, in quotation marks… because I became a French citizen only recently… I am sensitive, let’s say, to such questions…”. For his part, Karim briefly raises the issue at the end of his interview, with regard to the left-wing politicians who accepted an invitation to join the cabinet of Sarkozy’s Prime Minister, François Fillon. Without making explicit his reasoning, he remarks, “I could not join a government that includes a Ministry of Immigration and National Identity!  No, I could not.”
85Thus, while ethno-territorial identification constitutes the “compass” that enables individuals in the first group to situate themselves in a political world that they navigate with difficulty, it is less significant for the two other groups. For the latter, foreign origin is an important marker, but not one associated with belonging to a specific territorial space. They have other points of reference available to them; notably, they mobilize symbolic boundaries defined in social terms as well as specifically political categories. Yet the ethno-territorial issue can become more salient for those in the second group. While it is not an element that, at present, is directly reflected in their voting behavior, it nonetheless occupies a place in their perception of the political world.
86Finally, when the hypothesis of a potential vote for co-ethnic candidates is examined, an important observation can be made: none of the individuals interviewed give central consideration to the ethnic issue. In this respect, they differ from the activist political organizations and academic researchers who lend it so much significance.  The individuals who deplore the lack of diversity among politicians do not stress ethnic diversity, but rather the social divide that separates those who hold electoral office from the rest of the population. Even those in the first group, who sometimes rather vaguely mention differences between politicians and the population at large, likewise do not depict such differences in ethnic terms. Farid, for instance, comments:
88The French national political model, which refuses recognition of ethnic belonging in the public sphere, thus seems to exercise a powerful effect on determining what political categories are thinkable, speakable, and considered legitimate by voters of immigrant origin. According to Jocelyne Streiff-Fénart:
“The values of immigrants are […] not simply already there, ready to be recorded. Rather, they are filtered and channeled by institutional arrangements that tend to promote in the public sphere […] the values that best correspond to the expectations of the society into which immigrants are asked to integrate.” 
90This phenomenon is illustrated by interviewees ’ reactions to a question about political candidates from ethnic minorities – a topic broached only at the initiative of the interviewer.  While they react favorably to the election of Obama in the United States, they stress that it is Obama’s political ideas that matter, not his skin color or ethnic origin. As Samir puts it:
“I didn’t follow the elections too closely […]. Well, from what I know, McCain was a bit […] of a continuity of Bush, so yeah… Given the two candidates, er, and remaining in a continuity of the Bush regime… You have to choose something different, something different without necessarily looking at origin, skin color, whatever, but by looking at politics. Because McCain, er… having the same thing for five more years, that would be a bit much.”
92Asked about the possibility of such a candidate in France in the future, they all reply that this would only be in a very distant future. They do not, however, give this issue any special importance. Juliette’s response is representative:
“We want to know what [the candidate] has in his mind; whether he’s black, white, handicapped, or whatever else, we don’t care.”
94If they view positively the candidacy and election of individuals from ethnic minorities, this is not due to an essentialist conception of ethnicity that assumes that candidates from ethnic minorities would necessarily support the interests of minorities, or that political representatives must ethnically resemble their constituents. Their arguments are made in a different register. They situate the issue of political representatives of ethnic background within a more general discussion of discrimination, asserting that all obstacles to entry into the political world should be removed – as they should be in any and all sectors of social life.  Anita thus wonders whether France would be capable of electing as president an individual of immigrant background:
“Well, it won’t be tomorrow that this happens! [laughs]. No, but this is because even a woman, who rose high… had a hard time… […] We always say, ‘the French are ready, but the political parties are not ’… But this remains to be seen… I think it’s a bit of both, it’s a bit too soon to say that the French are ready… […] So without saying that there is still racism at all levels… the question is still open because there are no… People of immigrant origin have a difficult time climbing the ranks in all areas of social and economic life, so given this, er… it seems to suggest that maybe the French are still not fully ready… given that discrimination is still visible and experienced… there is still work to be done… both with regard to elites and maybe also at the other end of society, there is still education to be done and awareness to be raised…”
96Juliette’s reasoning is similar to Anita ’s:
“Yes, and still more when I see the lessons of the United States, I tell myself that that cannot happen in France, that the French are not mature enough for such a change…
Ah, is that true?
Yes, abroad it can happen, but in France, no. I don’t know, there’s a kind of hypocrisy on the part of the French, in fact, that one doesn’t really see in other countries. They are not ready, for instance in the employment sphere, we may say that there is no discrimination… But in the top jobs, are there any minorities? No, even when equal in terms of degrees, minorities must work twice as hard, must prove themselves twice as much. Simple things, for example, at the bank, if you quickly look around, it is very rare to see African bankers, or Arabs, or others… It’s so rare that as a client adviser in a bank branch, I don’t think I’ve ever seen any. And don’t tell me that there are no minority students who did banking…”
98According to their logic, the obstacles that ethnic minorities encounter in politics result from discrimination at the level of the elite (what Juliette calls “the top jobs”), which is akin to the discrimination directed at other segments of minority populations. If minority political candidates could win elections, therefore, they could then serve as role models for minority groups. As Samir remarks:
“Yeah… it’s certain that… when you’re of immigrant origin, er… [Obama] is of immigrant origin and that he was able to obtain a job like that, it makes you imagine anything and everything… So there’s… something beneficial that comes out of it, for everyone.”
100In a similar manner, Juliette asserts:
“[Obama’s election] is a symbol that shows that blacks are capable of doing this type of profession: ‘It’s possible! ’ I think that the knowledge lies there, that it’s possible…”
102They apply this anticipated domino effect also to the attitudes of the rest of the French population. According to karim, for instance, “the fact of seeing a black president governing the most powerful country in the world is, I think, good… it will open people’s minds a little bit more. I ’d say, eh, naturally, it will open people’s minds a little bit more”. The only exceptions to this discourse come from young people in the first group. They seem less influenced by the terms of the debate as structured by the French republican model. Without framing the issue in purely ethnic terms, they take up an ethno-territorial line of thinking: they say they would be ready to vote for a candidate from the neighborhoods who would stand up for their interests, the latter being defined in ethno-territorial terms. Yet these are also the individuals least interested in political life, who have least adopted the norms of political participation. They are, therefore, the most likely to abstain during local elections, in which candidates from minority groups run for office. As Ahmed’s interview demonstrates:
“[Ahmed evokes the legislative elections and the candidacy of Abdel Mokadem, whom he knows a little as a result of an internship in Mokadem’s firm].
So did you vote for Mokadem in the legislative elections? No, I actually didn’t vote in the elections.
You didn’t vote?
So you voted in both rounds of the presidential election but not in the legislative elections?
Yeah, I don’t even know what the point of the legislative elections is. […] I mean, I know what they are, but I don’t know what the point of them is, why to vote for him, why not to vote for him…
You didn’t know how to choose between the candidates or you thought the vote itself would be useless?
Nah, it’s that I didn’t know who to vote for. I didn’t know how to tell the difference between this one or that one, so I didn’t vote.
Right, you didn’t know whom to choose. And the fact that the candidate is from the neighborhood, this didn’t help?
Yeah, I wanted Abdel Mokadem, in fact, but he perhaps proposed things that wouldn’t be good for
So you weren’t able to choose?
Yeah, it’s not because I knew him…”
104These are also the individuals likely to be most critical towards elected minority politicians. As previously discussed, their view of politicians in general can be very negative. In the case of elected minority politicians, however, their critique can become even more virulent – as they accuse such politicians of betraying their base. Farid’s interview provides an example of this critique:
“But did people from the neighborhood run for office?
In the legislative elections.
No idea. I know that all the North Africans in politics, they are all… I’m not going to say it because…
Just say it!
This is your impression?
It’s not an impression, I’m sure of it! To show that they’ve made it, they’re worse than…”
106Those most able to recognize themselves in political representation that is structured on an ethno-territorial basis, one with which they themselves identify, are thus also those most inclined to point out the risks of betrayal inherent in the mechanism of delegation. 
109The scholarship produced in other countries on this subject identifies three possible modes of political integration for people of immigrant origin and emphasizes the structuring effects of the political “offer”. Voters of immigrant origin can join traditional class-based political parties; those who take this path see their problems redefined in social, rather than ethnic, terms. Alternatively, they can organize themselves on an ethnic basis and vote for co-ethnic candidates (who run for office either with traditional political parties or independently). Finally, ethnic groups can organize collectively around a single racial line and adopt a unified strategy, as in the case of the black movement in Britain or of various anti-racist groupings.  In the French case, which is marked by the republican model, the latter two options do not have a precise equivalent. Two strategies in France, however, come close to the last option, but via a mode of action that euphemizes the ethnic dimension. One strategy involves presenting electoral candidates of various ethnic backgrounds as candidates “from the neighborhoods” and seems to match the processes of territorialization advanced by government action.  The other strategy is formulated in terms of “diversity” and spread by the business world and the media; its success, at least in the public discourse, attests likewise to the euphemization of ethnic categories. 
110In this article, I have shifted the focus to the other side, examining everyday ethnic categorizations and their influence on the relationship to politics. I have shown that only the individuals in the first group employ an ethno-territorial perceptual map to situate themselves politically; that only they seem likely to identify with political representatives defined on an ethno-territorial basis. These individuals, however, are also those least interested in politics and most inclined to critique their representatives for betrayal. For the individuals in the two other groups, foreign origin is an important marker, but not one that is associated with a feeling of territorial belonging (on the contrary, those in the second group define themselves in opposition to the world of the neighborhoods). In addition, those in the latter two groups are able to situate themselves politically by drawing on more than one reference point. They make use, notably, of symbolic boundaries defined in social terms and in specifically political categories. This helps to explain the persistent difficulties encountered by those who attempt to organize durable forms of political mobilization structured around the neighborhoods. 
111This is the first version of a typology of the ways in which the triangle formed by social conditions, perceptual maps, and individuals ’ self-identification structures the relationship to politics. It necessitates completion by including populations left aside here (people with immigrant origins in other European countries, people from the French overseas départements and territories, people born in France of French metropolitan parents, and activists). It should also be refined and tested on a larger scale. Nonetheless, this study as it stands contributes to our understanding of the processes by which the ethnicization of identities and social relations takes place, processes frequently observed in these working-class neighborhoods. It also demonstrates the internal diversity of a group – young people of immigrant origin of the working-class neighborhoods – that has too often been presented as homogeneous in both scholarly and everyday representations. Finally, this examination of perceptual maps and of self-identification sheds light on the processes by which ethnicity influences the relationship to politics. Clearly revealed is the plurality of decision-making that exists within what has sometimes appeared to be a single vote or a single political orientation; thus enabling appreciation of the more of less robust nature of such decision-making.
112During the two rounds of the presidential election of 2007, we collected 320 “exit poll” questionnaires from the two polling stations that served the neighborhoods of Mas-du-Taureau and la Grappinière.  Thirty interviews were also conducted in two sittings: in summer 2007, in the midst of the presidential and legislative elections, and in spring-summer 2009, to account for developments subsequent to the period of electoral campaigning and intense politicization. A portion of the interviews were undertaken with people contacted during the distribution of the exit poll questionnaires (thus some people who voted in the polling stations involved in this study were no longer living in the neighborhood at the time of their interview); and another portion were obtained by the “snowballing” method.
113Since this article is focused on the representations of actors, I draw exclusively on interviews. I use twenty interviews conducted with people of non-European immigrant backgrounds: fifteen with individuals of North African origin (some born in France, some who came to France as children) and five with people who immigrated from the Comoros Islands, Benin, and, in one case, Argentina. The sample is balanced between men and women. With regard to the occupational status of the interviewees, those employed are, for the most part, workers, employees, and lower-level intermediary professionals such as child care provider, nursing auxiliary, electrician, security guard, ambulance driver, training manager at McDonald ’s, travel agent, and studio manager. There is also one freelance journalist, one head of a small business, and two civil servants (one a tax inspector, the other a teacher). Finally, two interviewees are still in high school, two are university students, two say they are waiting to pursue an educational program, and one has a government-assisted work contract.
114The interviews conducted examined interviewees ’ life trajectories (individual and family immigration, educational and career paths); their representations of society and of their urban environment; their relationship to politics; and their reaction to the 2005 riots. Each interviewee was asked at the end of the interview to respond to a series of words or expressions such as “Islam”, “Obama”, “Liberty, equality, fraternity”, etc. The duration of the interviews was one to two-and-a-half hours.
Translator’s note: In English, there is no single equivalent for the French term quartier populaire. I have selected “working-class neighborhood” for its ability to encompass the French term’s multiple inclusions: social (the poor, the blue-collar working class, the service working class); geographic (the projects, the working-class suburbs, the gentrified city centers of the former Red Belt); and ethnic (people of French and of immigrant descent).
See, for example, Florence Haegel, Henri Rey, and Yves Sintomer (eds), La xénophobie en banlieue: Effets et expression (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2000); Olivier Masclet, La gauche et les cités (Paris: La Dispute, 2003); Céline Braconnier and Jean-Yves Dormagen, La démocratie de l’abstention: Aux origines de la démobilisation électorale en milieu populaire (Paris: Gallimard, 2007); Marie Cartier, Isabelle Coutant, Olivier Masclet, and Yasmine Siblot, La France des petits-moyens: Enquête sur une banlieue pavillonnaire (Paris: La Découverte, 2008).
Frederik Barth, “Les groupes ethniques et leurs frontières”, in Théories de l’ethnicité, by Philippe Poutignat and Jocelyne Streiff-Fénart (Paris: PUF, 1995), 203-49.
This conception follows Max Weber’s thinking on ethnic groups; see Économie et Société (Paris: Pocket, 1995), 2: 124-45.Online
Danielle Juteau-Lee, “La production de l’ethnicité ou la part réelle de l’idéel”, Sociologie et sociétés, 15(2), 1983, 41.
Gérard Noiriel, État, nation et immigration: Vers une histoire du pouvoir (Paris: Belin, 2001); Véronique de Rudder, “Quelques problèmes épistémologiques liés aux définitions des populations immigrantes et de leurs descendants”, in France Aubert, Maryse Tripier, and François Vourc’h (eds), Jeunes issus de l’immigration: De l’école à l’emploi (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1997); and Rogers Brubaker, “Au-delà de ‘l’identité ’”, Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, 139, 2001, 66-85.
Marco Martiniello and Patrick Simon, “Les enjeux de la catégorisation: rapports de domination et luttes autour de la représentation dans les sociétés post-migratoires”, Revue européenne des migrations internationales, 21(2), 2005, 10.
Defined as those who have at least one immigrant parent.
Jean-Luc Richard, “Rester en France, devenir français, voter: trois étapes de l’intégration des enfants d’immigrés”, Economie et statistique, 316-17(6-7), 1998, 151-62 and Partir ou rester ? Destinées des jeunes issus de l’immigration étrangère en France (Paris: PUF, 2004). Richard’s data corresponds to the observations made by Nonna Mayer and Annick Percheron, “Les absents du jeu électoral”, Données sociales 1990 (Paris: Insee, 1990), 298-401 and by François Héran and Dominique Rouault, “La présidentielle à contre-jour: abstentionnistes et non inscrits”, Insee Première, 397, 1995, 37-42.
Sylvain Brouard and Vincent Tiberj, Français comme les autres ? Enquête sur les citoyens d’origine maghrébine, africaine et turque (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2005).
Such studies most often focus on the Paris region, Lille, or Marseille. See Anne Muxel, “Les attitudes sociopolitiques des jeunes issus de l’immigration maghrébine en région parisienne”, Revue française de science politique, 38(6), 1988, 925-40; Shérazade Kelfaoui, “Un ‘vote maghrébin ’ en France?”, Hérodote, 80, 1996, 130-55; and Jocelyne Cesari, “Citoyenneté et acte de vote des individus issus de l’immigration maghrébine: des stratégies politiques plurielles et contradictoires”, Politix, 22, 1993, 93-103.
See the polls discussed by Alec Hargreaves in “The political mobilization of the North African immigrant community in France”, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 14(3), 1991, 350-67. See also Jonathan Laurence and Justin Vaïsse, Intégrer l’islam: La France et ses musulmans, enjeux et résistances (Paris: Odile Jacob, 2007) and Rémy Leveau and Catherine Wihtol de Wenden, “Les beurs, nouveaux citoyens”, Cahiers de l’Orient, 11(3), 1988, 105-14. For an interview-based approach, see Camille Hamidi, “La spécificité du comportement politique des jeunes de la deuxième génération d’origine algérienne”, (DEA Thesis, Institut d’études politiques de Paris, 1997).
In his Partir ou rester ?, Richard thus observes that the rate of voter participation (registration and voting) of immigrant-descended youth is higher in the bastions of the National Front (far right) political party than in other cities. Cesari, “Citoyenneté et acte de vote”, likewise notes that French citizens of North African origin in Marseille turned out in large numbers for the presidential election of 1988, in a context of intense national political polarization over the issue of foreigners in French society.
Cesari, “Citoyenneté et acte de vote”, points out this limitation with regard to her own study.
For example, Muxel’s study of youth in the Paris region only includes 111 people in the group “young Muslim immigrants”, out of a total sample population of 4,300. See Muxel, “Les attitudes socio-politiques”. For quantitative studies undertaken in other countries, which seek to measure whether particular political preferences of ethnic minorities are tied to ethnicity or to more classic factors, such as educational or social level, see Sidney Verba, Kay Lehman Schlozman, Henry Brady, and Norman Nie, “Race, ethnicity and political resources: participation in the United States”, British Journal of Political Science, 23(4), 1993, 453-97; Jean Tillie, “Explaining migrant behavior in the Netherlands: combining the electoral research and ethnic studies perspectives”, Revue européenne des migrations internationales, 2(4), 1998, 71-95; and Andrea Rea, Dirk Jacobs, Céline Teney, and Pascal Delwit, “Les comportements électoraux des minorités ethniques à Bruxelles”, Revue française de science politique, 60(4), 2010, 691-717.
See, for example, certain analyses put forth in Muxel, “Les attitudes socio-politiques” and in Brouard and Tiberj, Français comme les autres ? In a review of the North American literature on the linkage between race and politics, Michael C. Dawson and Catherine Cohen likewise emphasize that such approaches ignore the processes of racialization that constrain the political behavior of individuals who are members of certain groups. See Dawson and Cohen, “Problems in the study of the politics of race”, in Ira Katznelson and Helen V. Milner (eds),Political Science: State of the Discipline (New York: W. W. Norton, 2002), 488-510.
See, respectively, Paul Di Maggio and Walter Powell (eds), The new Institutionalism in Organizational Analysis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991); Ann Swidler, “Culture in action: symbols and strategies”, American Sociological Review, 51(2), 1986, 273-86; Daniel Cefaï?, “L’invention d’une sociologie culturelle: reposer la question du sens”, in Pourquoi se mobilise-t-on ? Les théories de l’action collective (Paris: La Découverte, 2008), 466-545 (for a general overview); Vivien Schmidt, “Taking ideas and discourse seriously: explaining change through discursive institutionalism as the fourth ‘new institutionalism ’”, European Political Science Review, 2(1), 2010, 1-25; and Robert M. Axelrod, Framework for a General Theory of Cognition and Choice (Berkeley: Institute of International Studies, University of California, 1972). For reflections on the ways in which these various approaches can engage with each other, see Di Maggio, “Culture and cognition”, Annual Review of Sociology, 23, 1997, 263-87; Ann Swidler and Jorge Arditi, “The new sociology of knowledge”, Annual Review of Sociology, 20, 1994, 305-29; and Karen A. Cerulo, “Culture and cognition at the intersections”, Culture: American Sociological Association Section on the Sociology of Culture, 24(1), 2009, 1-11, available online at http://www.ibiblio.org/culture/newsletter-archive/cult241.pdf.
In the English-language literature, this point is emphasized in Rogers Brubaker, Mara Loveman, and Peter Stamatov, “Ethnicity as cognition”, Theory and Society, 33, 2004, 31-64. It is made from a different angle and with regard to the French-language literature in Martina Avanza and Gilles Laferté, “Dépasser la ‘construction des identités ’? Identification, image sociale, appartenance”, Genèses, 61, 2005, 154-67. There are, however, notable exceptions to this trend, for instance Michèle Lamont (ed.), The Cultural Territories of Race: Blacw and white Boundaries (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999); Lamont, La dignité des travailleurs (Paris: Métailié, 2002); Mary Waters, Black Identities: West Indian Immigrant Dreams and American Realities (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000); Mitchell Duneier, Sidewalk (New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1999); and Mary Pattillo-McCoy, Black Picket Fences: Privilege and Peril among the Black Middle Class (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999). For a French example, see “Ethnicisations ordinaires, voix minoritaires”, Nicolas Jounin, Élise Palomares, and Aude Rabaud (eds), special issue of Sociétés contemporaines, 70(2), 2008.
Clifford Geertz, “Religion as a cultural system”, in The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 2000 ), 93 and Cefaï, Pourqui se mobilise-t-on ?, 487.
On this point, see Lamont, “Meaning-making in cultural sociology: broadening our agenda”, Contemporary Sociology, 29(4), 2000, 602.
Here, I follow Geertz’s viewpoint, expressed in “Ideology as a cultural system”, in The Interpretation of Cultures, 193-233, and taken up, for example, in Nina Eliasoph and Paul Lichterman, “Culture in interaction”, American Journal of Sociology, 108(4), 2003, 735-94.
The expression “perceptual map” is used by Lamont in La morale et l’argent: Les valeurs des cadres en France et aux États-Unis (Paris: Métailié, 1995), 26. For recent syntheses of the notion of symbolic boundaries, see Michèle Lamont and Virag Molnar, “The studies of boundaries in social science”, Annual Review of Sociology, 28, 2002, 167-85 and Mark A. Pachucki, Sabrina Pendergrass, and Michèle Lamont, “Boundary processes: recent theoretical developments and new contributions”, Poetics, 35, 2007, 331-51. Following the work of Lamont, I use symbolic boundaries to describe the conceptual distinctions made by social actors to categorize objects, people, and practices. These are the instruments which individuals and groups use to struggle over and reach agreement about how to define reality. They separate individuals into different groups and create feelings of similarity and group belonging. Social boundaries are forms of objectified social difference, manifested in unequal access to and distribution of resources (material and intangible) and social opportunities. They appear in observable patterns, in the individual groupings that they structure. Symbolic boundaries only become social boundaries when they obtain consent and when they regularly structure social interactions.
Individual identification is, of course, multi-faceted and depends on the context and on the specific interactions involved in its formulation. Here, I aim to understand identification expressed with regard to one’s political world.
For more detail on this study’s methodology, see the appendix to this article. This study has received funding from the National Research Agency (ANR), under the rubric of the Genrebellion project (Urban rebellions versus associations: “racialization” and the construction of gender). I began this research with Aurélie Morin, then a Ph.D. candidate at the Institut d’études politiques de Lyon. We together developed the study, its questionnaires, and its interview structure. Morin also conducted several interviews. After a career shift, however, she was no longer able to pursue this study for lack of available time, but I thank her for her significant contribution. I also wish to thank Céline Braconnier for her rigorous discussion of my presentation at the Conference of the French Association of Political Science in September 2009, as well as Martina Avanza, Valérie Sala-Pala, and Nancy Venel for their valuable comments on the first draft of this text. Finally, I thank Philippe Squarzoni for his attentive readings as well as the scholars who served as anonymous readers for this journal.
Since one of the lines of inquiry of the ANR project concerns the link between participation in riots and politicization, the region chosen for this study is one that experienced urban riots, with intense media coverage, in 1990, as well as rioting (albeit less extensive than in other cities) in 2005. These neighborhoods were developed under the government’s Priority Urbanization Zones ( ZUP) Grappinière, Petit-Pont, program, with housing construction beginning in 1970. They were classified as neighborhoods under “contract for urbanization” (contrat de ville) in 1994, and as Tax-Free Urban Zones ( ZFU) in 1996. According to data from the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE) 1999 Census, these neighborhoods house 24,443 of the city’s 39,000 residents. The unemployment rate in these neighborhoods is 28.2%, compared to 23.3% in Vaulxen-Velin; the percentage of those without degrees is 40.8% (compared to 36.9%); the percentage of those under the age of 25 is 43.4% (compared to 40.5%); and the percentage of foreigners is 25% (compared to 20.8%).
In this manner, my study is situated within the revival of interest in ecological approaches initiated by Braconnier and Dormagen in La démocratie de l’abstention.
Joëlle Gaymu and Alain Parant, “Les débuts dans la vie active des jeunes immigrés et des jeunes d’origine étrangère”, Espaces-Populations-Sociétés, 51(2-3), 1996, 439-55 and Alain Frickey, Jean-Luc Primon, and Nathalie Marchal, “Jeunes issus de l’immigration: les diplômes de l’enseignement supérieur ne garantissent pas un égal accès au marché du travail”, Formation Emploi, 79, 2002.
Another of my aims was to understand the waves of voter registration that followed the 2005 riots. Quantitative studies have shown that this registration involved the 25-35 age group far more than the younger age group, even though the latter were more likely to have directly participated in the riots. See Braconnier and Dormagen, Ségrégation sociale, ségrégation politique: Sur l’inscription électorale des milieux populaires, report for the Center for Strategic Analysis, 2007.
Ethnicity is not the prerogative of minority ethnic groups. As Juteau-Lee emphasizes, “… in academic discourse or in common understanding, the concept of ethnicity assigns specific attributes to certain individuals or groups. Such designation is not neutral; it constitutes the ideological-discursive aspect of the relationship of domination that is established among different human communities. Believing that they represent the universal, the dominant impose particularity and difference upon the dominated, which they call ethnicity.” See Juteau-Lee, “La production de l’ethnicité”, 51. This is the focus of English-language “Whiteness Studies”. See, among the classic works of this field, David R. Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class (London: Verso, 2007 ) and Roediger, Working toward Whiteness: How America’s Immigrants Became White (New York: Basic Books, 2005).
I use the term “identification” to avoid the reifying connotations of “identity” and to stress the fact that identification is a process with an always uncertain outcome. My use of “identification” follows that of Brubaker, referring to self-identification and not to a process of external designation. In France, however, most studies use the term in the latter sense. Avanza and Laferté explain this French tendency by the widespread association of the term “identification” with the scholarship of Gérard Noiriel on the identification of citizen-nationals and foreigners, and thus with processes of external categorization, most often initiated by state institutions. See Brubaker, “Au-delà de ‘l’identité ’”, and Avanza and Laferté, “Dépasser la ‘construction des identités ’?”.
Henri Rey, “Le comportement électoral des habitants des cités”, in La xénophobie en banlieue, 117-32; Dominique Duprez and Michelle Leclerc-Olive, “Sociabilitiés et usages du quartier”, in En marge de la ville, au cœur de la société: Ces quartiers dont on parle (Paris: L’Aube, 1997), 219-67; and France Guérin-Pace, “Le quartier, entre appartenance et attachement”, in Jean-Yves Authier, Marie-Hélène Bacqué, and France Guérin-Pace (eds), Le quartier: Enjeux scientifiques, actions politiques et pratiques sociales (Paris: La Découverte, 2007), 151-62.
Alford A. Young, Jr., The Minds of Marginalized Black Men: Making Sense of Mobility, Opportunity and Future Life Chances (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), cited in Pachucki, Pendergrass, and Lamont, “Boundary Processes”.
Translator’s note: The “double sanction” (double peine) in France refers to the application of both a prison sentence and deportation for foreigners who receive a criminal conviction.
Translator’s note: France is divided into 101 administrative and geographic units called départements. Département 69 is the Rhône département, in east central France, in which the city of Lyon and the suburb of Vaulx-en-Velin are located.
Translator’s note: Little job security as compared to the standard French employment contract.
Richard Hoggart, La culture du pauvre (Paris: Minuit, 1970 ), notably chapter 3, “ ‘Eux ’ et ‘nous ’”. See also Guérin-Pace, “Le quartier”.
Among those interviewed, the individuals who say they participated in the 2005 riots all belong to this first group. This is the case of both Farid and Ahmed.
As it happens, the interviews that draw from this first category of individuals were conducted with young people of North African background.
I paraphrase here the title of one of the seminal works of Black feminism: Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith (eds), All the Women are white, All the Blacks are Men, but Some of Us are Very Brave: Black Women’s Studies (New York: The Feminist Press of the City University of New York, 1982).
Where the interviewer has not explicitly asked the interviewee to explain the meaning of such pronouns, we can only infer their meaning from the context and from the account given in that particular instance.
They do not necessarily, however, describe their treatment as discrimination; some of them refer instead to racism.
I wish to thank Céline Braconnier for suggesting this interpretation.
“Thin” identity results from a shared experience of injustice and is essentially pre-assigned; whereas “thick” identity is based on culture, history, language, and common references. Pap Ndiaye employs this opposition in La condition noire: Essai sur une minorité française (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 2008), which is taken from Tommie Shelby, We Who are Dark: The Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005).
The “choice” between these two paths is evidently one that is socially constrained.
This is a profile well known to scholars of working-class populations and their relationship to politics. See Daniel Gaxie, Le cens caché: Inégalités culturelles et ségrégation politique (Paris: Seuil, 1978).
Their discourse is steeped in the same cynical, “don’t give a damn” tone as that expressed by British working-class populations in their relationship to “others” or “the higher-ups”. See Hoggart, La culture du pauvre, chapter 9, “Le ‘je-m’en-fichisme ’”.
On this point, see Hoggart, La culture du pauvre, chapter 4, “Le réalisme et la réalité quotidienne”, especially 150-1; Gaxie, “Le vote désinvesti: quelques éléments d’analyse du rapport au vote”, Politix, 6(22), 1993, 138-64 and Gaxie, “Cognitions, auto-habilitation et pouvoirs des ‘citoyens’”, Revue française de science politique, 57(6), 2007, 737-57.
Translator’s note: Ségolène Royal was the presidential candidate of the Socialist Party (left), François Bayrou of the Union for French Democracy (center), and Jean-Marie Le Pen of the National Front (far right).
Translator’s note: Sarkozy made these statements as Minister of the Interior, after the 2005 riots. In France, Kärcher is a well-known German brand of high-pressure hose.
To use Braconnier and Dormagen’s expression, in La démocratie de l’abstention.
The individuals discussed here voted for Royal in the first round, with the exception of Amina, who voted for Bayrou, and Anita, who voted for Marie-George Buffet, candidate of the French Communist Party (far left). All of them voted for Royal in the second round.
This does not mean that their foreign origin is unimportant. We know that some essential themes can only be verbalized with difficulty, and that frequency of mention in an interview is thus no gage of the importance of an issue. See Guy Michelat, “Sur l’utilisation de l’entretien non directif en sociologie”, Revue française de sociologie, 16, 1975, 229-47.
Translator’s note: This Ministry was created at Sarkozy’s initiative in 2007 and remained in place until 2010.
See, for example, Vincent Geisser, Ethnicité républicaine: Les élus d’origine maghrébine dans le système politique français (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 1997); Vincent Geisser and El Yamine Soum, Discriminer pour mieux régner: Enquêtes sur la diversité dans les partis politiques (Paris: Éditions de l’Atelier, 2008); Romain Garbaye, Getting into Local Power: The Politics of Ethnic Minorities in British and French Cities (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005); and Angéline Escafré-Dublet and Patrick Simon, “Représenter la diversité en politique: une reformulation de la dialectique de la différence et de l’égalité par la doxa républicaine”, Raisons politiques, 35, 2009, 125-42.
Streiff-Fénart, “À propos des valeurs en situation d’immigration: questions de recherche et bilan des travaux”, Revue française de sociologie, 47(4), 2006, 855.
This topic was raised by the interviewer in the second series of interviews, via a question about interviewees’ reactions to the election of Obama in the United States.
Their registers of legitimization thus differ significantly from those who promote “diversity” in politics. See Escafré-Dublet and Simon, “Représenter la diversité en politique”.
See Pierre Bourdieu, “La délégation et le fétichisme politique”, Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, 52-53, 1984, 49-55.
See Daniel Lawrence, Black Migrants: White Natives. A Study of Race Relations in Nottingham (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974), cited in J. Tillie, “Explaining migrant behavior in the Netherlands”, and Jan Rath, “Political action of immigrants in the Netherlands: class or ethnicity?” European Journal for Political Research, 16(6), 1988, 623-44.
See Milena Doytcheva, Une discrimination positive à la française ? Ethnicité et territoire dans les politiques de la ville (Paris: La Découverte, 2007).
See Escafré-Dublet and Simon, “Représenter la diversité en politique”.
See Hamidi, “Riots and protest cycles: immigrants’ mobilizations in France, 1968-2008”, in Dave Waddington, Fabien Jobard, and Mike King (eds), Rioting in the UK and France, 2001-2006: A Complete Analysis (London: Willan Publishing, 2009), 135-46.
The two polling stations were Henry Wallon and Youri Gagarine.