Friday, August 8, 2008

Two Frances, Two Americas?


Two Frances? Perhaps the image of une fracture sociale is too simple. Perhaps there are not just two Frances, but many. Perhaps there is not just one fracture sociale but several. Which contrast is the most important? The one in the picture? That between the secure and the precarious? The educated and the uneducated? Between les Français de souche and ceux issus de l'immigration? Management and workers? Héritiers and sans patrimoine? Right and Left?

Take employment patterns. In Cambridge, Mass., if I get on a bus, ride a subway, or take a train, the odds are better than even that the driver or conductor will be a member of a minority group. This is not true in France, where these quasi-public sector jobs are relatively privileged. They confer un statut. Minorities don't get them. Just as minorities in Cambridge, Mass., don't get to be plumbers, electricians, or, by and large, carpenters. The mechanisms by which these patterns are enforced are subtle. They do not block social mobility altogether. Paths of advancement do exist, just not these. Conversely, in a high-end hotel in the south of France, the staff--and I mean the desk staff, the maître-d', the waiters--were Maghrébin, while the chambermaids were native French. At the Charles Hotel in Cambridge, minorities make the beds and work in the kitchen; the clientele are served directly by people who resemble them more closely, in skin tone if not in pocketbook.

Why do these differences in patterns of relative privilege arise? I'm not sure I have a fully adequate answer.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Among all the FranceS you mentionned, you could certainly add the classical Paris-Province.


PS: "word verification". The chinese hacker left a mark...

Unknown said...

Concerning the minorities visibility, I think it is partly linked with the orientation sessions of 'quartiers' policies: those policies are aiming local employment and they concern young people from minority groups for the most part. In some places like south of France, where tourism is flourishing, they are thus advising to go for jobs in tourism. I think the fact that you have seen minorities in this sector is more the result of those policies than a pattern.
But a consequence of these policies is to concentrate the minorities in such jobs as an answer for unemployment. This is a pattern-creating method.
For me, the difference with the situation you describe in Cambridge, Mass. is the kind of jobs that social workers are providing to unemployed members of minority groups (tourism in France, bus-driving in Cambridge, Mass.).
I think this is part of the How, as for the Why, it may be easier, to answer a general demand, to provide global methods.

It is only a part of the answer you are looking for, Art, at least I think so, but it seems to me that this is an important trend into the progression of minority visibility.

Marc Pasturel said...

I was surprised at the tourist guides in Versailles and Notre Dame, all minorities.

Given France's highly government-directed nature, Mathieu's answer feels like it's pointing in the right direction. What we're seeing in France is the result of systematic government programs to integrate minorities.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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