Laïcité, France’s idiosyncratic religious neutrality, is a concept that governs significant aspects of daily life while being notoriously variable in its application. Alongside sociological, legal and historical understandings of laïcité, I propose an additional way to view laïcité: through a critical geopolitical perspective. I argue that laïcité has been made and unmade through geographic imaginaries and practices through which idealised modes of universal citizenship confront and negotiate with affiliations to faith and culture to produce hegemonic ideas about the place of religious identity in French society. In particular, this confrontation has occurred within the French public school system, the école républicaine. I argue that laïcité, as it is manifested through educational policies as well as geographic imaginaries, reflects a will to forge a nationally unified citizenry as well as ambivalence about the need to negotiate with locally rooted cultural identities. I illustrate this through the phenomenon of student infringements, or atteintes, against laïcité: while these are framed as a grave threat to republican unity requiring national interventions, there has nevertheless been a consistent lack of spatially specific official knowledge of where atteintes take place.
Department of Social Sciences
Year of publication: 2023Date of RADAR deposit: 2023-01-11