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Society, Politics & Law
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Samuel Bordreuil on Marseille

Updated Wednesday 26th March 2008

Laurie Taylor and Samuel Bordreuil discuss gentrification, the value of sporting success and neighbourhoods.

Audio

Marseilles Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Marind is waiting for les tambours de la pluie under CC-BY-NC-SA licence Copyright BBC

Text

 

Laurie Taylor
Well it’s early evening and I’ve come down to the old port. Sun’s just gone down behind the old port and I’m here to meet a sociologist. I’m not certain whether that inspires me or not but I’ve actually seen a rather grey-haired distinguished man, sitting, smoking a rolled up cigarette at the table outside the Café la sa maritine. If I can see the book, and he’s dropped it, and he’s waving his finger at me. That must be him. Hello. I thought it was going to be you.

Samuel Bordreuil
You’ve got to watch this, okay.

Laurie Taylor
There you are. How are you, Il Sabdullah?

Samuel Bordreuil
I’m okay.

Laurie Taylor
I’m Laurie Taylor. We’ve been, we spent the early part of the day going round Belle Susan’s looking at how impressive it was seeing all these different neighbourhoods and learning all day from various people about the relative success that Marseille has had in avoiding some of the riots which took place in other places and learning from various people how they account for this.

But, of course, one of the most popular explanations that we’ve heard from the politicians is that well, Marseille doesn’t have these nasty banlieues.

But, then we learn that there are projects for turning this into the wonderful city of the Mediterranean. And that part of the plans includes the renovation of the Rue de la République, which at the moment, up there just around the corner from where we are sitting, which of course indeed accommodates the shops and the communities that we were meeting this morning.

Samuel Bordreuil
Yeah. It’s true, I mean, I mean there’s two things in what you just said, I mean the explanation of why they were not rioting in Marseille is one thing. I can get back to that later on.

But the story of the Rue de la République is very interesting because it’s a case in point in matter of gentrification, okay. Actually gentrification is an English word and actually was coined by a British scientist. I forgot the name, it was the beginning of the ‘60s, and it’s as if, it’s not a local boasting but it’s something related to that, as if Marseille tried to invent the thing not the word before.

The story of the street goes back to the 1860s and was a perfect example of Osmanian kind of per se, we’ll say, that's breakthrough the old fabric of, for the city. And why this, because the social geography of the city is very clear cut, I mean the rich are living in the southern part of the city and the poor guys in the northern part.

And at that time in the middle of the 18th Century I mean the port was going big, well the harbour okay, and it was stretching towards the north.

And then the local ruling class, I mean the bourgeoisie at the time, tried to make so that the well to do will, would follow the move okay. If the poor is on the north side and then the ruling class should live here too. So they open up the streets and they wait for the gentry to come. And so they were at the beginning of the, I mean the right in the middle of the 19th Century they were waiting for the gentry to come.

Laurie Taylor
Waiting and waiting.

Samuel Bordreuil
And nothing happened. So viewed from above it was kind of failure, but viewed from below it was an incredible opportunity. And so I don’t know if that translates in English but in French we say [French], Mother Nature aids emptiness and social nature even more, okay. So the place was taken over but not by well-to-do people. But people working on the port, okay on the harbour. So the social make up was much lower than expected...

Laurie Taylor
As large as that.

Samuel Bordreuil
Yeah, but yet it was an opportunity for people to climb the social ladder I mean one step or one row at a time. For the people, living on the street, for them it was a way to pass from backstage whole neighbourhoods to front stage of urban life, okay, and it represented something very important for them, okay.

It was a way of accessing to normal citizenship. So this explains for, well accounts for this kind of, I would say fractal side to the social geography of Marseille, which means that anywhere in the biggest neighbourhood you can have a tiny spot of prosperity and conversely in nice neighbourhoods you can have pocket of poverty, which explains and accounts for the kind of social posterity of the city, okay.

So it’s good that you are here right now because now the ancient landlord bought out the whole street, two big landowners or actually the money is coming from a pension fund, they bought the place, and actually the work, that is the sociological and historical work on the streets that two colleagues from my lab, Pierre Forney and Silvestre Maxillae, did was just great because just at the, they took the picture of the street right before that happened, okay, and so now the story’s open because we don’t know what will happen. People are buying the place.

Some of them are buying it at high prices actually in order to live in it, but some others are buying it in order to rent them, okay. And the question is whether they will find renters.

There is a theory underlying the analogies of gentrification, it’s a post Marxism, Marxist theory, which is the rent gap theory. So it’s perfect for I mean for an investor to say oh this the centre of a city, everything, the prices are very cheap, I mean we can buy that and, given the location, in between just the train station with a high speed train and a port, okay, there's a lot of money to be made, okay. So you buy the place and you try to rent. But we will see what happens with la Rue la République but it’s not the first time they tried to do so, but what come, what comes, I mean comes, not wealthy people, students or artists or employees.

Laurie Taylor
I’m very interested as a sociologist though in asking your view of the relative importance of some of the accounts that we’ve been given for Marseille being special. And, of course, one was, the idea there aren’t any banlieues, that, you know, the casier no is still connected to the centre. And the other one that we’ve heard is the great significance of the football team of OM.

Samuel Bordreuil
Sure, actually in 1993 when OM won the Champions League.

Laurie Taylor
With Chris Waddle scoring the goal in the final minutes.

Samuel Bordreuil
Yes and Basil Boli, okay, and I watched the game right in the centre of the Panier, which is a very working class neighbourhood and Corsican at that of just above the old harbour, and at the end of the game everybody was elated, okay, delighted and everything, and then the French speaker, I mean commentator, TV anchor said and beyond the victory of L’Olympique De Marseille it is a victory for France.

Right away, all the guys in the café stood up and said 'Marseille ye, pas Francais, Marseille yes, not French.' Corsican, Megrabian, Belbur, everybody was shouting 'Marseille ye, pas Francais'. So this is very important in this city because it’s on the edge of the sea and it’s far from Paris and it’s separated from the mainland I would say.

And this kind of insularity of the City is very important because it allows for dealing with different kind of identity. And you can say that what I just say about football, which is a very symbolic point of community, in Marseille, you can say that to about music, about culture.

It’s very funny because it’s as though the Republican ideal doesn’t take hold very much in Marseille. Although Marseille is the birthplace of the Marseillaise, okay. So, but maybe because they are the inventor of it, okay, they are not, they don’t feel obliged to celebrate.

 

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