Strangers in Marseille

Strangers in Marseille

French riots

Marseille is France's major port. Over centuries it has been defined by the waves of immigrants that have settled in the city - Tunisians, Moroccans, Algerians, Italians, Armenians, Jewish communities, and now Eastern Europeans and Indian Ocean immigrants too.

When burning cars and race riots tore at the fabric of France in 2005 and again in 2007, Marseille was expected to explode, but it did not. How did France's most diverse city manage to escape unscathed?

French social scientists have claimed that the cause of the peace was not racial integration or an acceptance of a 'French way of life' but exactly the opposite: a wary separateness that each ethnic community retains, coupled with a civic pride that regards Marseille as being somehow foreign from the rest of France.

In a co-production with the UK's Open University, Professor Laurie Taylor examines the distinctive racial geography of inner-city Marseille, where immigrant communities are situated in the heart of the city, rather than in the marginalised banlieues that fringe other urban areas of France.

From block to block different ethnic groups create a patchwork of contrasting cultures in a truly diverse city. However, a new project to gentrify the centre of Marseille and drive a Champs-Élysées-style avenue through it is threatening to uproot these communities and push ethnicity out.

Laurie talks to social scientists who specialise in researching race and culture in Marseille. He also visits some of the people who live there to see how history and geography affect the day-to-day reality of life and to discover how foreigners remain strangers in France's second city.

First broadcast on 21 April 2008

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