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‘Exotic commerce’, French universalism, and the disruption of white space in Paris’s ‘Little Africa’

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Paris’s working-class Château Rouge neighbourhood is popularly referred to as ‘Little Africa’ for its concentration of Afro-Caribbean shops, and derisively labelled an ‘enclave’ by politicians and white middle-class French residents who desire to replace the ‘exotic commerce’ with ‘traditional’ ‘French’ and ‘Parisian’ businesses. Urban spaces such as Château Rouge are thought to challenge French universalism, which simultaneously seeks to erase differences between French citizens and marks any attempt to distinguish individuals or groups from the universal French nation as disruptive. Drawing on interviews with residents and archival documents, I demonstrate how urban planning and social mix policies have shifted from a focus on residential mix to a desire for commercial mix following decades of urban renewal in the neighbourhood. I argue that gendered and racialised French republican discourse is reproduced through local municipal planning aimed at maintaining an ideal ‘mix’ of white and non-white populations.
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Keywords: France; race; street vending; urban space; whiteness

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 1, 2018

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