05 Mar 2008

Thinking Allowed with The Open University in Marseille

‘Strangers In Marseille’ (TX: BBC Radio 4, 4pm, Wednesday March 26)

When burning cars and race riots tore at the fabric of France, how did its most diverse city manage to escape unscathed? In the second programme in The Open University’s new broadcasting partnership with Thinking Allowed, Professor Laurie Taylor explores the unique racial geography of France’s second city.

Marseille is France’s major port and over centuries 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. It is also a stronghold of Le Pen’s National Front. When race riots took off across France in 2005, and again in 2007, Marseille was expected to explode. It did not.

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 this second Open University co-production, Laurie Taylor will explore 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 Taylor travels to Marseille to explore whether the culture of the city is under threat and whether separateness is really a benefit to the immigrant cultures there.

Laurie will be talking to social scientists including Gilles Ascaride, Philippe Vitale, Anne Lovell and Mohamed Tozy, who specialise in researching race and culture in Marseille. He will also visit people who live in Marseille 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.

Laurie Taylor said: "I remember being in a bar at a seaside resort a few miles away from Marseille and wondering why the television was not showing an important football match involving Lyon. I asked someone at the next table why no-one was interested. After all, Lyon was a leading French team. 'We're not interested in France', the man told me. 'We come from Marseille'.

"It is this sense that Marseille is somehow separate from the rest of France which possibly explains why the city is so under-represented in travel books and in most analyses of how France manages its ethnic diversity - even though there are no other towns in the country that can boast such a complex historical and contemporary racial mix. I hope that my visit there will do something to throw light on its unique culture. It is an exciting prospect".

He also said: "I am particularly pleased about the partnership between Thinking Allowed and The Open University. In the programme, we have always endeavoured to make the social sciences relevant and accessible to an audience with diverse backgrounds and experience. The distinguished history of social science at The Open University has always displayed a very similar concern. Joining forces should, therefore, be of great benefit to both listeners and students".

Professor Sophie Watson from The Open University’s Department of Sociology said: "This is an exciting collaboration between the OU Faculty of Social Sciences and Thinking Allowed.

"The first three programmes in the collaboration will look at cities which have a long history of division, and which are now in the process of being overcome through new initiatives involving architects, planners and social policy advisors.

"The programmes address a number of questions, the most important of which is how the past exerts pressure on the present and how different memories of a city can be represented and recorded.

"The final three programmes will involve discussions between academics and politicians concerning key social research issues".

Editor’s Notes

Thinking Allowed is an Open University/BBC co-production for BBC Radio 4.

‘Strangers in Marseille’ will broadcast at 4pm on Wednesday March 26.

This is the second in a series of six Open University co-productions. The first ‘The Ghosts of Berlin’ was broadcast on Boxing Day 2007. The next will broadcast in May 2008.

The Producer for the BBC is Charlie Taylor. The Editor is Sharon Banoff. Executive Producer for The Open University is Emma De’Ath . The Open University Academic Adviser is Professor Sophie Watson.

The Open University and BBC have been in partnership for more than 30 years, providing educational programming to a mass audience. In recent times this partnership has evolved from late night programming for delivering courses to peak time programmes with a broad appeal to encourage wider participation in learning.

All broadcast information is correct at time of issue.

Related Courses and programmes from the Open University:-

- DD100 Introduction to the Social Sciences
- DD205 Living in a Globalised World
- DD201 Sociology and Society
- DD308 Making Social Worlds
- DD304 Understanding Cities

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