Short Review: In Girum by Laurent Jeanpierre

Laurent Jeanpierre, In Girum. Les leçons politiques des ronds-points, La Découverte, Paris, 2019.

In Girum, assesses the “Gilets jaunes” or “Yellow Vests” protest movement in France. This has been characterized as made up of a diffuse and diverse set of participants, disillusioned by current policies and political leadership yet without a specifically defined set of demands other than the expression of discontent. This marks the erosion of the middle classes in France and the perception that the countries stratified system of policy making institutions and what critics such as Michel Maffesoli identify as the elitist training of policy makers who have thereby lost touch with the realities of the experiences of a middle mass of citizens.

Discontent manifests as suburban struggles

The Yellow Vest movement has spilled over to other countries and tend to follow the character of the French movement: bypassing of traditional organizations (political parties and France’s all powerful unions that have defined a cradle-to-grave welfare state but only in relation to stratified and inflexible careers into which people are streamed via school education and from which they can’t really move), the use of social networks and the occupation of urban developments such as roundabouts and intersections. The movement is populist but without clear leaders. It is cross-class in its participants.

Jeanpierre focuses on the demonstrators, from landlocked peri-urban areas, who are forced to use the car and among the first victims of the Neoconservative policies of the Macron administration. They protest against consequences of reduced social mobility and growing inequalities. Going beyond the classic forms of protest the movement relocates politics from the serious context of news networks, legislation and policy discussions to the banal concrete landscape of the banlieu’s or suburbs. Jeanpierre argues that the “communalist” aspiration, and implicit recognition of an ecological emergency offers the possibility of an emancipatory model and new utopianisms. These popular explosions of discontent manifest as suburban struggles.

State violence may be the “new way of governing the urban struggles to come”

The brutal and repeated repression by police of the Yellow Vests is also also an important political novelty, and this state violence, is seen in relation to the attempt by the state to constrain public debate within ineffective participatory exercises such at Macron’s “Great Debate”. Such state violence against citizens – evident in the more formal still broad political protests and to an amplified degree of force in Chinese repression in Hong Kong, Russian repression in the Far East and supporters of Alex Navalny, and in Belarus repression of the victorious opposition – may be the “new way of governing the struggles to come”.

-Rob Shields (Univ. of Alberta)