Laïcité as assimilation, laïcité as negotiation: Political geographies of secularism in the French public school

Christopher Lizotte
2020 Political Geography  
Laïcit� e, France's idiosyncratic form of secularism, is a complex concept that is dense with historical genealogy, practical contradictions andcruciallypolitical geographies. In particular, contemporary laïcit� e is characterized by a state-sponsored model of universal citizenship that regards French Muslims' identity claims with mistrust. This tension, always latent, was brought to the fore by a series of attacks perpetrated self-styled jihadists in January 2015, centered on the offices of
more » ... n the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo notorious for its provocations against Islam. The attacks and their aftermath also highlighted a key space where conflicts over laïcit� e often play out: the French public school, the � ecole r� epublicaine. This institution was conceived in its modern form as a mechanism to assimilate through laïque pedagogy. Today it is a highly visible space where the optics of race and gender contribute to a narrative of Muslim communautarisme, a willful and defiant communalism that rejects the republican community of citizens. Following a handful of incidents in which students refused to participate in a moment of silence for the victims of the January 2015 attacks, the Ministry of Education undertook an initiative involving disciplinary and pedagogical supports for laïcit� e in the schools, called the Great Mobilisation for the Republic's Values. Like other past interventions in this area, it operationalizes an assimilating vision of laïcit� e to bring recalcitrant peripheries into compliance with republican norms. At the same time, though, it reveals the agency of the peripheries to negotiate the terms of laïcit� e according to local knowledge and needs. On the basis of interviews with educators serving in schools where elements of the Grand Mobilisation were carried out, I show how they push back against the overarching narratives that characterize the initiative and in so doing construct localized and nuanced understandings of the laïque social pact.
doi:10.1016/j.polgeo.2019.102121 fatcat:cnqa7rserzakdjdee6zgydd4qa