‘Race’, sexualities and the French public intellectual: an interview with Eric Fassin

Garner, Steve and Fassin, Eric (2013). ‘Race’, sexualities and the French public intellectual: an interview with Eric Fassin. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 36(9) pp. 1465–1484.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/01419870.2013.791397

URL: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/014198...


French academic Eric Fassin is interviewed about his work in the field of public sociology, particularly around race and sexuality, over the last two decades. He explains the background and context of intellectuals in France before moving on to the specifics of addressing firstly ‘race’, and secondly sexuality. He argues that 1989 and 2005 are the key turning points in public discourse on ‘race’. Prior to 1989, which saw the first of the ‘Headscarf crises’, ‘race’ was not dealt with explicitly, either in French colonial history or its postcolonial present. The headscarf crisis clarified the tensions within the republican tradition (in which people are formally divided only into French citizens and foreigners, rather than recognised as classes or ethnic groups). The discourse surrounding the riots of 2005 made this the other key year. The framing of debate was along the lines of discrimination (between French citizens) rather than integration (of foreigners into Frenchness), marking a shift towards an acceptance that racism was a social issue. Fassin coins the term ‘sexual democracy’ to encapsulate the distinction between characteristics that are immanent rather than transcendent, and argues that discourse about sexuality and families represents a conflict between those who see them as governed by the social, and those who see them as outside these norms, beyond the social.

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