In this article I explore the situation of the Eastern European, and specifically Romanian, Roma in contemporary Paris. Building upon ethnographic work in the suburbs of the city, I consider the sociospatial marginalization of the Romanian Roma and the ways the French state sought to other the new immigrants from Eastern Europe because of their inability to conform to the norms of the neoliberal capitalist utopia advanced by Nicolas Sarkozy in the early years of the twenty-first century. In the first section of the article, I discuss the situation of the Romanian Roma in contemporary Paris as nomads and squatters before seeking to explain their objective resistance to sociospatial normalization in terms of the existentialism of the Romanian writer Emile Cioran, who lived a reclusive, alienated life in Paris in the second half of the twentieth century. Contrasting Cioran's immigrant thought to Julia Kristeva's work on the relation between her adopted home and her motherland, Bulgaria, I suggest that for understanding the situation of the Roma in Paris Cioran is a better source than Kristeva, the poststructuralist thinker of abjection, who champions France as a space of oedipalization and normalization. Expanding this work in the second section of the article, I seek to locate it in a discussion of the banlieue and the abandoned spaces of Paris, which become zones of otherness that simultaneously contain and resist the utopian tendency to construct self-identical cities. Here I argue that Sarkozy's neoliberal utopia, which is reflected in attempts to modernize, regenerate, and marketize lost areas of the city, represents a form of posthumanism that we must resist through identification with miserable others, such as the Romanian Roma. In the final section of the article, I conclude by making a case for political identification with the Romanian Roma, a “defense of their right to city,” and opposition to what I call the anal-sadistic system. Here I rely on Alain Badiou's recent reading of Sarkozy as an anal sadist to suggest that “super Sarko” was in some respects representative of the sadistic neoliberal capitalist system that voraciously consumes value and violently others abjection. Despite the fall of Sarkozy and the election of the socialist François Hollande, I argue that this identification with the Romanian Roma remains central to cultural politics today. This is the case because the situation of the abject other defines the very horizon of political struggle in the twenty-first century by virtue of how it delimits the space of the city and separates humanized insiders from dehumanized outsiders.
“Even the Rats Don't Come Here”: The Eastern European Roma in Contemporary Paris
Mark Featherstone is senior lecturer in sociology at Keele University, in the United Kingdom. His main fields of interest are critical theory, cultural theory, and psychoanalysis, and he is currently working on ideas of utopia, dystopia, urbanism, and globalization. He is due to publish a monograph titled “Planet Utopia” on the intersection of these ideas in 2013. Beyond this study, he is also concerned with the connection between cruelty and neoliberal capitalism and is working on a book on carnographic cultures, forthcoming in 2014.
Mark Featherstone; “Even the Rats Don't Come Here”: The Eastern European Roma in Contemporary Paris. Cultural Politics 1 March 2013; 9 (1): 1–21. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/17432197-1907145
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