Photos of a French university in the rain

I went to visit one of my possible fieldsites this summer, the University of Paris VIII Vincennes-St.-Denis, only to find it closed and locked for August vacations. I had expected it to be empty, but I didn’t realize they would lock all doors and shut all gates (aside from a maintenance guy or two wandering around). There was an odd contradiction between the leftist slogans and signs and the colorful student graffiti, and the security-laden architecture – security cameras, barbed wire and all.

One philosophy professor described this place as “une université de banlieue” — the banlieue, suburbs, with their connotations of the ghetto. I like translating it as the “outskirts”:

Le soir, en hiver, les étudiantes se regroupent pour aller prendre le bus ou le métro, à la fin des cours qui s’achèvent après la tombée de la nuit. Ce n’est pas qu’il règne dans les parages une insécurité galopante, mais il y a ces réflexes, ces habitudes. Les tranches horaires 19h-20h30 sont peu prisées. On sent monter, vers la fin de ces cours, une sorte de nervosité. Les étudiants ont hâte de rentrer chez eux, ceux de Sarcelles, ceux de Stains, de Gagny, Noisy et autres bouts de lignes en premier lieu, qui sont en nombre constant.

Paris VIII est une université de banlieue.

(In the evening, in winter, the students group themselves together to go take the bus or the metro, at the end of the classes that finish after nightfall. It’s not that rampant insecurity reigns in these parts, but there are those reflexes, those habits. The time slots from 7 to 8:30 are little taken. One feels emerging, towards the end of these courses, a sort of nervousness. The students are in a rush to get home, especially those from Sarcelles, from Stains, from Gagny, Noisy, and other places at the ends of the lines, who are a constant presence.

Paris VIII is a university of the outskirts.

A university of the outskirts. I was tickled to see a slogan there that read: “A bas la société spectaculaire marchande” (see last picture in series). In other words, “down with commodity-spectacle society.” I can’t imagine seeing such a situationist slogan on an American university wall.

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