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Rapport de séjour de recherche Kaisa Vuoristo

Bourses du CCEAE pour séjours de recherche ou stages (trimestre d’automne 2013)

Rapport de séjour de recherche

Kaisa Vuoristo

Research Report

The research that I conducted from October to December 2013 in the Île‐de‐France region allowed me to advance significantly in the development of my Ph.D. research proposal. The general aim of this first field research phase was to gain context‐specific knowledge about the fight against discrimination in order to be able to formulate empirically grounded hypotheses about the ways in which the intersection of race and gender is framed in public discourses. The specific goals of this research period were (1.) identifying relevant actors involved in these framing processes ; (2.) conducting semi‐structured interviews with chosen actors ; and (3.) selecting specific localities for further research.

The activities that I undertook in order to reach these specific goals contributed in important ways to the clarification of my research questions and hypotheses. They consequently also led me to make some changes to my original research design. To begin with, mapping the relevant actors engaged in the fight against discrimination in the Île‐de‐France region and conducting preliminary interviews with them convinced me that the discourses that are produced on the issue of discrimination focus not only on the intersection of race and gender, but perhaps more importantly on the issue of religion. Indeed, a growing number of associations are currently denouncing the discrimination experienced by minority women who are, in the French case, predominantly Muslim (or interpreted as Muslim). Hence the intersection of race and gender needs to be understood in terms of cultural "anti‐Muslim racism" or, put differently, in terms of "racialized religiosity". Exploring the field of antidiscrimination and of anti‐Muslim discrimination in particular, I was able to see that the public discourses on the issue have, in recent years, evolved in new directions. Not only has "Islamophobia" appeared as a general issue of concern, but researchers have also started to take it up as a research object and associations are increasingly mobilizing to combat it. Because of the relative novelty of these phenomena, my interest was particularly sparked by associations working in this field. By using a snowball method for mapping relevant associations and recruiting participants for interviews, I came to concentrate, in particular, on two localities : Montreuil and Argenteuil.

In both municipalities, Muslim women have been particularly active in mobilizing against discrimination.

These mobilizations have in many cases concentrated on a specific issue : the right of mothers wearing the Islamic headscarf to participate in their children’s school outings. Indeed, associations such as Mamans Toutes Égales (Mothers All Equal) have been formed to combat recent expansions of the application of French laïcité.

Their aim is to overturn measures that have had the effect of excluding minority women from participating in public life either as students, as parents, or as employees. In other words what they are trying to fight is not illegal discrimination, but rather official state‐ and local‐level measures that are meant to guarantee equality but that can end up having unequal or discriminatory effects on minority women. The informal as well as semistructured interviews that I conducted convinced me that the issue that is currently under debate in the associative field is not the fight against discrimination in general, but the fight against what these organizations call "legal discrimination", "state Islamophobia", or "respectable racism".

These findings led me to reformulate my research questions and to concentrate on how it became possible that the discriminatory effects of these policies have been a non‐issue for such a long time. How did it become possible for political elites to frame these measures – that imply the differential treatment of racialized groups – in terms of "guaranteeing equality", "applying the principle of laïcité" or even as "fighting against discrimination" ?

In parallel, through what political – including discursive – processes did the frames that stress the discriminatory effects of recent legal measures become marginalized ? The preliminary analyses that I conducted on discursive data allowed me to formulate new hypotheses and to develop a detailed research design for testing them. Having conducted a first field research phase, I now have the necessary information and contacts to proceed to more case‐specific data collection that is meant to take place from May to June 2014.

Besides helping me make significant progress in the formulation of my research questions and hypotheses, my stay in the Île‐de‐France region also allowed me to get in contact with researchers working on themes similar to mine. By participating in the activities of the Institut des sciences sociales du politique (ISP) I reconnected with colleagues working within the fields of political science and sociology, and was able to discuss my research questions with researchers familiar with the French context. Furthermore, I participated in seminars organized by the Islam & Laïcité network as well as in several conferences on the issue of discrimination. The contacts that I developed with associative actors equally permitted me to observe several demonstrations organized in the region and to participate in events such as the Forum international contre islamophobie – a large event that brought together a number of associations involved in fighting anti‐Muslim racism. I was also able to benefit from access to library resources offered by École Normale Supérieure de Cachan and Sciences Po Paris.

To conclude, the grant offered by the CCEAE helped me finance a part of my first field research phase which contributed to the development of my Ph.D. research proposal in important ways. Since then, I have been able to work on completing my proposal. I plan to shortly submit it for evaluation before returning to the Île‐de‐France region in May 2014 to continue collecting relevant data and conducting further interviews. I wish to sincerely thank the CCEAE for its support.