C'est La Vie! Representations and Identities in the Parisian Experience
Top row (left to right): Sabrina He, Kirra Klein, Eathan Lai
Bottom row (left to right): Sharif Mosaad, Kiara Soobrayan, Emily Albert
(Photo by Jamin Chen with editing from Julia Guo)
DATE: November 13, 2017
SUBJECT: C’est La Vie!: Representations and Identities in the Parisian Experience | NYU Department of French Literature, Thought and Culture
The panel focused on the difficulties in defining French identity and discussing identity-related issues in France, which was attributed to the lack of measurable data on ethnic and religious groups and perceptions of a post-racial society.
The panel discussed the interesting role of universality in French identity, noting how the mainstream view that French citizens are “citizens first” before anything else contradicts the reality that some French citizens are not seen by their compatriots as French.
The speakers shared their experiences studying in France, particularly in Paris. They agreed that Paris is itself a diverse city, with each neighborhood having varying degrees of diversity and inclusion. They encouraged students studying in Paris to explore different neighborhoods and make connections in order to truly understand the city.
The event can be viewed here.
Date: November 30, 2017
Time: 6:30 pm - 8:00 pm
Location: 16 Washington Mews, New York, New York 10003
Kirra Klein, host speaker, Founder of Facilitate Equity
Sabrina He, moderator, President of the International Relations Society
Sharif Mosaad, panelist, joint Ph.D. student between the Department of French and the Institute of French Studies (IFS)
Emily Albert, panelist, senior at Global Liberal Studies (GLS)
Kiara Soobrayan, panelist, senior at Gallatin
Eathan Lai, panelist, senior at Global Liberal Studies (GLS)
The event began with the presentation of an interview where French citizens are asked about their definitions of French identity. The responses ranged from French identity being “citizens of France” to people who believe in the “French values” of liberty, equality, and fraternity. Yet many were visibly unsure about how to respond.
The panel spent the next several minutes discussing the video, tying it with the issue of French identity and how it is defined. Comparing French identity with American identity, Sharif Mosaad noted that the French have differing takes on what French identity means; in some cases, French identity may simply be associated with abstract ideals such as “liberty, equality, and fraternity.”
According to Emily Albert, French identity is a difficult issue in France due to the historical baggage it carries. Albert explained how the French tried to build a post-racial society in the aftermath of the Second World War; since racial identity was viewed as a tool of oppression, data on religion and sexuality became less prevalent, making identity-related issues hard to discuss. Kiara Soobrayan agreed, but noted that France is not a post-racial society, and pretending there is a post-racial society will not make French identity any easier to talk about.
After exploring the difficulties in discussing identity in France, the speakers moved on to discuss the role universality — particularly the idea that all French citizens should identify as “citizens first” before anything else to ensure equality — plays in shaping French identity. They seem to agree that the concept of “citizens first” does not reflect what is happening on the ground; Soobrayan called universality an “irony,” considering how some citizens of France are not considered French due to their ethnic background. Eathan Lai agreed, observing how “citizens first” was concocted at the peak of French colonialism, when colonized peoples were not treated equally as other French people.
The panel finished by sharing their experiences dealing with identity while studying in France. Mosaad said there is a “noticeable” difference between certain neighborhoods in Paris that are diverse and others that are closed off. Albert said the affluent neighborhoods tend to be located in southwest Paris, while lower middle-class neighborhoods are situated in the northeast. Going beyond Paris, Soobrayan compared rural areas in France to those in the US, recounting how she tried very hard not to appear as a Muslim when traveling to the countryside alone. All speakers agreed that students studying in Paris should explore various neighborhoods and make connections with locals to better understand the city.
Asked about the relationship between one’s perceived social status and how one speaks the French language, Soobrayan said that the situation in France is similar to that in the US, where those who “speak white” are viewed as educated.
Responding to a question regarding how solidarity among members of a shared identity manifests itself in France, Soobrayan noted that solidarity is more apparent among foreigners in France. Lai said solidarity is not very pronounced in France due to fears that communitarian attitudes may undermine French identity.
Report by: Jamin Chen, Event Reporter. Editor: Shengdun Hua