Dr Beth Epstein

ISRF Mid-Career Fellow 2019

Dr Beth Epstein

ISRF Mid-Career Fellow 2019

ISRF Beth Epstein

Beth Epstein holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from New York University and is Academic Director of New York University Paris. Her research focuses on the politics of integration, race, and immigration in France, especially in relation to the history and development of the post-War French suburbs. Her work also comprises a comparative component, as she addresses how these issues translate between France and the United States.

For her ISRF project, Dr. Epstein willreturn to the post-industrial suburb outside of Paris where she first conducted fieldwork for an extended period in 1994-1995. There she will investigate the tensions that especially since the (sub)urban uprisings of 2005 have dramatically re-configured French national debates around identity and immigration, moving interest awayfrom a predominantly socio-economic framing of social inequality toward a growing preoccupation with identity and ethno-racial concerns. Building on her previous work, she will explore how these shifts have impacted the lived experience of those who reside in the multiethnic and socially fragile suburbs that are the object of so much of this debate, and inversely investigate what their experience can reveal about contemporary polemics.

Dr. Epstein is especially interested in exploring the tension between increasingly reified identity claims and the multiple admixtures of contemporary life. This is a question she has addressed in several publications including Collective Terms: Race, Culture and Community in a State-Planned City in France (Berghahn Books 2011),“The Moral Public Sphere: Integration and Discrimination in a French New Town” in Transatlantic Parallaxes: Toward Reciprocal Anthropology (Raulin & Rogers, eds., Berghahn Books 2015), “Redemptive Politics: Racial Reasoning in Contemporary France,” Patterns of Prejudice, 2016, vol. 50, no. 2, and “Promise postponed: republican values, social exclusion, and the French banlieue”, International Social Science Journal, forthcoming.

An Ethnographic Inquiry into Shifting Discourses of Diversity and Social Inequality in France

In France as in much of Europe, the first decades of the millennium have been marked by an increase in racially-inflected social tensions, generating intense debate about the capacity of European nation-states to make room for difference, and about the impoverished conceptual means available to meet these challenges in the 21st century. The lifeways and perceptions of those who are the putative subjects of this debate, however, are often overlooked or fitted into pre-existing social categories that do not reflect the variety and particularity of their experience. For this project I propose to return to the post-industrial suburb outside of Paris that I first studied for an extended period in 1994-1995, in order to investigate the tensions that especially since the (sub)urban uprisings of 2005 have dramatically re-configured French national debates around identity and immigration, moving interest away from a predominantly socio-economic framing of social inequality toward a growing preoccupation with identity and ethno-racial concerns. Building on my previous work, I will explore how these shifts have impacted the lived experience of those who reside in the multiethnic and socially fragile suburbs that are the object of so much of this debate, and inversely investigate what their experience can reveal about contemporary polemics. Of particular concern is the precarious tension between the increased reification of identity claims and the multiple admixtures of contemporary life. I aim to investigate that tension, to see what it reveals about how typologies of difference are constituted, the gaps they fill, the restraints they impose, and the ethics to which they are tied.

Contacting Fellows

If you would like to contact any of our Fellows to discuss their ISRF-funded work, please contact Dr Lars Cornelissen (Academic Editor) in the first instance, at lars.cornelissen@isrf.org.