Contemporary French Civilization

Staging masculinity for the lens: performing “les jeunes de banlieues” in Mohamed Bourouissa’s directorial photography

Contemporary French Civilization (2016), 41, (1), 69–93.

Abstract

While the fraught history of civil unrest in France’s disadvantaged suburbs casts them as sites of inherent violence and crime, recent cultural texts featuring the banlieues propose alternative discourses that contest clichés of disorder and delinquency. This article presents and analyzes visual performances of masculinity in Algerian-born photographer Mohamed Bourouissa’s series of photographic tableaux entitled Périphérique (2005–2009). I argue that the staged images reconfigure visual signifiers from media discourse on the banlieues to “decline” (Rosello 1998) stereotypes about les jeunes de banlieues. Presenting internal contradictions to binary gender categories, the photographs destabilize the idea of an innate, aggressive masculinity that drives social violence in the banlieues. Rather, they present heteronormative masculinity as a succession of performances that require peer adjudication to preserve the illusion of pre-discursivity. Périphérique thus reframes masculine performativity in the banlieues as central to an evolving understanding of gender identities in an increasingly multicultural French society.

Certains discours politique et médiatique sur l’histoire tendue des émeutes en France suggèrent que les banlieues défavorisées ne soient que des sites de crime et violence. Pourtant, certains textes culturels récents prennent les banlieues comme sujet central et offrent des discours alternatifs qui contestent de tels clichés. Le présent article analyse des performances visuelles de la masculinité dans la collection de tableaux photographiques intitulée Périphérique (2005–2009) par Mohamed Bourouissa, photographe d’origine algérienne. Je soutiens que ces mises en scène s’approprient et réorganisent des signifiants visuels pris du discours médiatique afin de “décliner” (Rosello 1998) des stéréotypes sur les jeunes de banlieues. En exposant des contradictions internes survenues de l’idée du genre binaire, les photographies déstabilisent la notion d’une masculinité belliqueuse et innée qui incite la haine dans les banlieues. Les fictions collaboratives de Bourouissa présentent la masculinité hétéronormative plutôt comme une suite de performances qui nécessitent le jugement par les pairs afin de maintenir l’illusion de la prédiscursivité des genres. Périphérique énonce ainsi la performativité masculine en banlieue comme étant centrale à une compréhension des identités de genre dans une société française de plus en plus multiculturelle.

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Hagins, Zachary R.