L’histoire est dans la rue: L’Écotaxe and the Crisis in Brittany

Saturday 2 November witnessed a mass demonstration in Quimper, Brittany. Anywhere between 15,000-30,000 people were in attendance protesting for the suppression of the l’écotaxe in Brittany. This tax will target and charge the most polluting vehicles using the French road network and is aimed at encouraging a greener approach to transport with money raised being to be ploughed into improving infrastructure. Emerging from the Grenelle sur l’environnement under the Sarkozy era, this measure has met with a certain degree of opposition in France and in particular concerning the contract awarded to the private company Ecomouv’ to oversee the implementation of the tax. The outraged reaction in Brittany, which has included militants actually dismantling  and setting fire to the huge gantries (portiques) used to scan the road network and charge users, can be explained through a consideration of certain regional specificities. Continue reading

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Trading Clichés, evacuating critique: the debate over Sunday shopping in France

Where Sunday trading has long been entrenched in British culture, it is still heavily regulated in France, limited to certain trades, some of which (furniture but not DIY tools) seem something of a misnomer. Despite calls to relax these laws, there remains an ‘ideological’ resistance to Sunday trading in France not dissimilar to the one voiced in the UK in the early 1990s prior to the law changes. A comparison of the economic, labour and socio-cultural issues arising from the difference in these laws might be a useful exercise – a springboard for thinking more carefully about how we spend our free-time and, consequently, how such time is structured in relation to the working week. To discuss Sunday trading laws should inevitably involve a discussion of how and why an extra day of trading is deemed necessary to a country’s economic survival and development as well as the impact this places on the labour-force, infrastructure, childcare and welfare and other related effects of increased production and consumption. Continue reading

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Boundary problems : Beur / banlieue / political film in the context of contemporary French Cinema

In a very interesting recent article published in the journal Contemporary French and Francophone Studies (16:1, 2012, pp. 55-68), French film scholar Panivong Norindr laments the way in which other scholars (including the author of this blog entry!) have tended to establish a de facto dividing line, a kind of analytic apartheid, between mainstream political cinema (itself a much debated object) and Beur and banlieue  film-making, two groups of films associated with French directors of North African heritage and the troubled outer cities respectively. The consequence of this division, if we accept it is real (it may not be quite as stark as Norindr suggests) is that one set of questions (about class, about workplace struggles or about economic distribution, for example) tends to get asked of one group of films while a different set of questions (about ethnic origins and identities and their recognition or non-recognition, or about spatial segregation and social exclusion) is asked of another group or groups. As a result of this, instead of seeking either to break down problematic distinctions or to ponder the reasons for their emergence, film scholars tend not simply to take them for granted but to reinforce them. Based on a recent paper that I gave, and drawing on the work of theorist Nancy Fraser and on two films, Couscous (2007) by Abdellatif Kechiche and Dernier Maquis (US Adhen) (2008) by Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche, I would like to explore some of the grounds on which the divisions noted by Norindr might be challenged. I have chosen these specific films because of the very active way in which they seem to be posing the same kind of question and asking for a radical rethink of problematic cinematic boundaries. Continue reading

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The reconfiguration of European Space: French and Italian responses to migration after the Arab spring

Following the Arab Uprisings of 2011 and the subsequent migration of those fleeing the war in Libya and political upheaval in Tunisia, the small island of Lampedusa has become synonymous with death, conflict and statelessness. This week, a ship carrying over 300 migrants from Somalia and Eritrea caught fire and capsized just off the island with only half of those on board rescued. The declaration that the dead will receive automatic Italian citizenship is cold comfort to those alive inside the island’s detention centre as they wait for news about their asylum claims. (See here ). Where much of international reporting and debate on migration to Europe during and following the Arab Spring has focused on Lampedusa and Italy as landing points, there is a more complex story to be told here. It is one that draws our attention to the paradoxes at work between the individual EU states and their internal borders together with the fluid definitions of terms like ‘economic migrant’ and ‘Schengen’. Continue reading

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Film and debt 2: calculable and incalculable debts in the films of the Dardenne brothers

In one of the seminal works on debt, David Graeber describes how the Spanish conquistadores were driven on by what they needed to repay: the leadership by money owed back home in Europe, the fighting men by the indebtedness imposed on them by leaders who billed them for replacement equipment and medical care. Commenting on the lessons of this situation, Graeber writes:

Money always has the potential to become a moral imperative unto itself. Allow it to expand, and it can quickly become a morality so imperative that all others seem frivolous in comparison. For the debtor, the world is reduced to a collection of potential dangers, potential tools and potential merchandise. Even human relations become a matter of cost-benefit calculation. Clearly this is the way the conquistadores viewed the world that they set out to conquer (David Graeber, Debt, the First Five Thousand Years, Melville House, 2011, p. 319).

Set in present day Belgium among people at the bottom of society in what used to be a core European industrial area, the Dardenne brothers’ films might seem to bear no relation to Graeber’s debt driven, calculating warrior machines. Yet, Graeber’s description of these fallen figures comes very close to pinning down the core of some of the brothers’ main characters. Continue reading

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Film and debt 1: self-investment, evaluation and governance in the work of Laurent Cantet

Earlier on this blog, I wrote a piece (here) summing up arguments developed by Maurizio Lazzarato in his La Fabrique de l’homme endetté (Editions Amsterdam, 2011), an important work, now available in English as The Making of Indebted Man (MIT, 2012). What I would like to do in this entry and one to follow, is to talk about the figure of the indebted person, the role of debt in governance and the possibility of resistance to indebtedness in works by Cantet and the Dardenne brothers that preceded Lazzarato’s book and in some way anticipated its themes. Here I will mainly be discussing Cantet’s 2001 film L’Emploi du temps (Time Out). But I would like to begin by referring to a lovely little scene in the same director’s Ressources humaines (Human Resources) (1999).

As people may know, the film narrates the story of what happens when Franck, a young management trainee, returns to his provincial hometown to do a work placement in the factory where his father, a machine operator, has always worked. The scene I am interested in occurs at a moment in the film when Franck invites his parents to a restaurant to celebrate what seems a promise to him of future employment in the company that owns the factory. Franck’s father goes to pay. Franck tries to stop him and the following conversation takes place: Continue reading

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The Political Economy of Obama’s Re-Election by Rick Wolff

The Right just suffered a defeat, the middle continues to weaken amid elusive economic recovery and the resurgent Left in Europe grows and strengthens. Many conditions for resurgence of OWS or its reincarnation are in place. Capitalism’s crises, especially when deep and long-lasting like today’s, polarize its politics. Left and right are reinvigorated by improved opportunities to advance their respective economic agendas. The middle, long in power and deeply complicit with capitalism, gets blamed for the crisis and its social costs. The resurgent right uses the crisis to advance classic demands on behalf of business and the rich for yet more wealth, income, and freedom from government regulation and taxes. The resurgent left uses the crisis to argue that capitalism’s injustice, inefficiency and waste show the need for transition beyond it. Continue reading

Posted in The crisis beyond the Hexagon, The politics of crisis | Leave a comment