Banlieue Network, the international research network funded by the AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council), has taken a new initiative to collaborate across academic faculties, and beyond academia, to create opportunities for debate, knowledge transfer and sharing expertise and good practice. The co-founders of the network, Christina Horvath, Senior Lecturer in French Studies, and Juliet Carpenter, Senior Research Fellow in the Planning Department, are both based at Oxford Brookes University. By designing a series of interdisciplinary events as a Summer School, they created a new, innovative way of exploring the artistic representations, theory and practice of suburban space.
The word ‘Banlieue’ literally means ‘suburb’ and refers to the large-scale social housing estates on the periphery of many French cities, built in the 1950s and 1960s to address the post-war housing shortage. These disadvantaged neighbourhoods which suffer from inadequate social services, rising unemployment and high delinquency rates, are perceived as a major social problem in contemporary French society. Banlieues provides a focus for the Network to explore the relationship between space, community, identity and politics, with the aim of creating future visions for these neighbourhoods.
Banlieue Network run a Summer School in three communities of the northern suburbs of Paris: Saint-Denis, Bondy and Drancy, on 8-12 July 2013. Organised in collaboration with the local city councils, the event aimed to bring together researchers and user communities, providing international scholars, research students, urban practitioners, artists and residents with an opportunity to connect and to explore meanings of the French Banlieue. The week-long programme consisted of a series of presentations, talks, urban walks and creative workshops, bringing together interdisciplinary and cross-cultural perspectives. The Summer School went beyond the scope of scholarly debate and included several photographic and drawing walks, evening sessions with writers, film makers, academics, rap artists and dancers, as well as performances and arts projects where local children took part in theatre workshops, explored self-expression and took pictures of their neighbourhood with self-made pin-hole cameras.
Participants from eleven countries, including France, the UK, the USA, Australia, Germany, Italy and Poland worked alongside ten photographers, writers, stage directors and visual artists from France and Britain, attempting to explore the banlieue and give a sense to their perception of it.
“For me, the Summer School was a very rich experience, both on a professional and human level” said Serena Cello, an Italian PhD Student in French literature, assessing her participation in the Summer School. “I really enjoyed the conferences and urban walks which allowed us to grasp different aspects of the suburbs, and talk about our projects within the group. The initiative to bring together researchers working in different disciplines but on the same subject was simply brilliant since it enabled us to discover different approaches and perspectives. I was delighted to take part in the event.”
To follow-on from the Summer School, Banlieue Network is organising an international conference, to be held at Oxford Brookes University on 3, 4 and 5 April 2014. The conference, entitled “The Banlieue Far from the Clichés: New Voices, Images and Identities Emerging from the French Urban Periphery”, will encourage comparative and innovative approaches to contemporary problems in order to provide new insights into the mechanisms of social exclusion and spatial segregation. Conference papers will cover a diverse range of research fields, including French Studies, Urban Studies, Postcolonial Studies, Architecture, Cinema, History, Literature, Information Science, Geography, Sociology and Planning.
To coincide with the conference, creative work from the Summer School, including images, texts and audiovisual works, will be exhibited at the Glass Tank Gallery, located on the ground floor of the new Abercrombie extension on the Gipsy Lane site. The exhibition will open on the night of the 3April, and run until 1May.
Click here for the call for conference papers: http://www.banlieuenetwork.org/events/
More information can be found on the Banlieue Network website: http://www.banlieuenetwork.org
More information on the Summer School can be found here (link to article in Libération): http://www.liberation.fr/culture/2013/07/07/mission-banlieue-pour-la-recherche_916629