[URBANTH-L]NEWS: the week Paris burned

Kris Olds olds at geography.wisc.edu
Mon Nov 7 08:35:42 EST 2005

I use La Haine in my Intro to the City class - an 
email text version of some of my assignment is 
pasted below. If you have not seen it I highly 
recommend that you do so. My students are 
wide-eyed right now...best to show it in a room 
with a proper projector and a powerful sound 
system though.


GEOG/URPL 305 (Fall 2005)
La Haine Exercise

La Haine is a now famous film that portrays a 
side of Paris rarely discussed in books and 
magazines, nor seen on American TV or in popular 
films though this week (with the ongoing riots) 
is an exception. Here are several reviews of the 
film to get you going:


The film follows one day in the lives of three 
unemployed young men (Vinz, Saïd, and Hubert) who 
live on a housing estate in a deprived suburb of 
Paris. But suburb is perhaps an inappropriate 
term. These youths are actually living in what it 
known as a banlieue. A good review of this 
spatial concept, as examined in La Haine, is 
contained in Fielder's chapter from a book titled 
Cinematic Cities.  In this article, which is 
available on the 305 eReserves site (see 
'Poaching on Public Space: Urban Autonomous Zones 
in French Banlieue Films'), Fielder (2001: 
270-271) notes:

The current meaning of the term emerged in the 
years following World War Two, when immigrants 
from former French colonies (especially North 
Africans) began erecting shantytowns (or 
bidonvilles) on the margins of French cities in 
which they comprised the labor force for the 
Reconstruction effortsŠ. Starting in the 
mid-1960s, low-rent, high-rise apartment 
complexes called HLM (Habitations à Loyer Modéré) 
were built on the sites of these squatter 
communities, which were thus effectively 
displaced.  These new neighborhoods became known 
as les banlieues, since they are located outside 
the 'urban periphery' in cities such as Paris, 
Lyon, and Marseille, and today they are home to 
the majority of immigrant families living in 
France.  In the last two decades, socially- and 
spatially-marginalized subjects in the banlieues 
have been obliged to cope with a faltering 
educational system, extremely atrophied 
vocational training, and an unemployment crisis 
of epic proportions."

Or, as Sarah Sussman notes in the last internet 
site noted above, banlieue are "planned housing 
developments for the working classes who can no 
longer afford to live in the city."

We are watching this film in 305 as it does a 
great job of conveying a range of development 
issues associated with cities including:

o	Social exclusion and the city
o	The governance of people in the city
o	Public housing in the city
o	Mobility in the city
o	Diverse imaginings of the city (compare 
La Haine to, for example, Amélie)

Here are some key issues, in random order, for 
you to think about as the film unfolds:

1.	Close your eyes and imagine Paris. 
Reflect upon the Paris of your dreams, of your 

2.	Are Vinz, Saïd, and Hubert controlled, 
managed, identified, or categorized (i.e., 
governed) by anyone in Paris? On a related note, 
in which ways, if any, do they interact with arms 
of the state?

3.	Cities can be both easy and difficult 
places to move through (i.e., walk, drive, travel 
via public transit, bike). The nature of the 
places that are traversed, distance, time of the 
day, and also the identity of the person moving 
through the city shape the movement process. 
Discuss how Vinz, Saïd, and Hubert move through 
Paris - the technologies they use, their 
interaction with other people on the street and 
in forms of transport, and any difficulties they 
might (or might not have) as (respectively) young 
single French males (Jew, Arab, and African).

4.	How does urban density and architecture 
shape the nature of social interaction in Paris 
(as represented in this film)?  Is density a 
positive or a negative force, or neither? Is the 
aesthetics of Parisian urban and suburban 
landscape conveyed in a a positive or a negative 
way, or neither?

5.	 Vinz, Saïd, and Hubert seem to be 
unemployed. How does Mathieu Kassovitz (the 
director and Amelie's beau in the next film) 
convey the social effects of long-term 
unemployment in the Parisean banlieue? Does he 
lay the blame for le fracture sociale (social 
exclusion) on anyone in particular?

6.	How is social life in the banlieue 
gendered?  In other words, how do gender roles 
and identities shape social life in this part of 
the city (as conveyed in the film)?  Do you think 
such gender roles would apply equally well in all 
parts of Paris?

7.	There is a quasi-documentary (à la 
Berlin) element in La Haine.  This film 
highlights the role of individual subjectivity 
and social identity in shaping perceptions of the 
city (in this case Paris). Which of the 'lenses' 
I spoke about in the class earlier on is this 
film closest to: positivist, structuralist, 
poststructuralist or humanist?

8.	Contrast this film with ideas of the 
'post-Fordist city' (which we have been 
discussing).  Is it possible to relate the 
challenging nightmare world of Vinz, Saïd, and 
Hubert, to the grinding world of urban 
restructuring under 'post-Fordism'?

9.	Can you detect any differences between 
the conditions conveyed in this film vis a vis 
the conditions portrayed in the news stories 
about the ongoing riots?

Kris Olds
Associate Professor
Department of Geography
University of Wisconsin-Madison
550 N. Park Street, Science Hall
Madison, WI 53706
Tel: 1-608-262-5685
Fax: 1-608-265-3991
Email: olds at geography.wisc.edu
Email: oldskris at yahoo.com
Web: http://www.geography.wisc.edu/faculty/olds/welcome.html
SIEG 2006: http://www.wun.ac.uk/economicgeography/Madison06/madison06.html
EHEA Symposium: http://www.geography.wisc.edu/CKS/index.htm

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