“Hardly Paradise”: From Shantytown to Housing Projects

  • Jennifer A. Selby
Part of the Contemporary Anthropology of Religion book series (CAR)


This chapter contextualizes the historical and social evolutions in the banlieue at the heart of this study, 15 kilometers northwest of Paris. Petit Nanterre’s history parallels other Parisian banlieues and changes in its landscape, from fields—captured by Claude Monet’s “Poppy Fields at Argenteuil” in 1873—to a post–First World War shantytown, to housing projects in the 1960s, and to riots and active community organizations in the 2000s. These transformations reflect significant shifts in North African immigration to France. To sketch how Petit Nanterre has evolved from a shantytown to housing projects, this chapter is divided into two broad sections: a historical overview and a contemporary analysis of its social space. In section one, while acknowledging that initially inhabitants to Petit Nanterre were mostly men, I chronicle female migration to the area and women’s experiences. The longer second section depicts the area’s religious and gendered geography and community organizations. I then discuss the 2005 suburban riots as they reflect key themes examined in this book: neo-Orientalist characterizations of Muslimness and clear demarcations of nationhood, a long history of socioeconomic marginalization beginning with early migration to shantytowns, and clearly marked gendered spaces. The chapter concludes by considering future possibilities for banlieues like Petit Nanterre.


Centre Social Social Housing Social Comportment Muslim Woman Housing Project 
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© Jennifer A. Selby 2012

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  • Jennifer A. Selby

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