Anthropological focus on public sphere debates can have the unintended consequence of reaffirming ideological oppositions ('secularism versus Islam') while ignoring other processes of difference production. In this article, I examine how French school employees build a logic of cultural otherness in an arena of uncertain social reproduction. Contrary to analyses of the French public sphere that emphasize the ideology of secular universalism, I argue that this dominant ideology has little purchase in the thick of social relations in a peripheral school. Faced with neoliberal transformations and diminishing resources, teachers draw instead on diverse discourses that have the effect of producing cultural difference. Through this process, immigrant-origin students are presented as incommensurable with Frenchness, and Frenchness becomes rooted in family structure and territory. This case illustrates how state actors confront the contradictions that inhabit universal citizenship and reconfigure the project of Republican schooling.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)