Thursday, November 20, 2008

Potential for riots in US and France!

Sudhir Venkatesh has interesting explanations about impending riots in France and why the US may not experience collective protests. While many of the reasons appear to have a post-facto feel about them, some of them are genuinely interesting.

The refusal of the French government to allow either private or government bodies to gather statistics based on race or ethnicity on the grounds that it would come in the way of fostering the "French" national identity, has echoes in India too, where caste had long been kept out of the national decennial census. As Sudhir Venkatesh highlights, the North African minorities in France demand that they be treated as "French" citizens, while also being able to retain their distinct ethnic identities. This desire to retain both the national and sub-national (ethnic/caste/race) identity is a recurring theme of social debates in many countries. Experience from across the world shows that wherever communities face difficulty in maintaining these two separate identities, social and civil conflicts become inevitable.

Another issue that strikes me as interesting relates to the demographic configuration of France and much of Europe and elsewhere, with their suburban housing estates for the poor and lower middle class, which are the exact inverse of that in the US, with its inner cities housing minorities and suburbs the rich. I am not sure whether these contrasting divides are emergent demographic phenomenon or the result of conscious policy making. The presence of good public transport facilities which makes downtown commutes affordable in many of these European cities may be one explanation. The American love of the car and the cheap fuel (lowest taxes) may be another reason for the rich gravitating to the suburbs. There may be a few other reasons.

No comments: