Ghettos and urban marginality : a comparative reading of Didier Lapeyronnie and Loïc Wacquant
This critical note considers two books that take up the relevance of the notion of « the ghetto » as a means of characterizing transformations in poor neighborhoods of the French suburbs. In Parias urbains, Loïc Wacquant offers a comparative analysis of the new forms of urban marginality in the United States and Western Europe. In this framework, he condemns the conflation of the black American ghetto with French working-class neighborhoods, and contends that to speak of « ghettos » in the case of the latter is doubly a misinterpretation – both an historical and sociological mistranslation. In Ghetto urbain, Didier Lapeyronnie upholds the powerful argument that the ghetto has become a social reality in France. He analyzes internal as well as external workings of the French ghetto, the social transformations that are unique to it, and interprets the role of racism and discrimination as determinants of the ghetto. A comparative reading is proposed here that underlines the differences and similarities between these two works in terms of their definitions, analytical dimensions, and use of evidence.