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Preview: Cicilie among the Parisians

Cicilie among the Parisians

A blog from Cicilie Fagerlid's fieldwork in Paris


Wrapping it up, or new beginnings

Fri, 31 May 2013 20:57:00 +0000

I was reminded of my blog again recently when an editor from Popular Anthropology Magazine asked me to write a short article on my experience of blogging from fieldwork. Her questions made me miss the time I was blogging regularly:

For example, what are some of the challenges and rewards of blogging during fieldwork? Are there any special precautions you need to take in order to maintain the anonymity of research participants? Have any of your research participants read your blog? How does blogging impact the accessibility of anthropological research? What does blogging reveal about fieldwork that may become lost in other publications? How do you transition from blogging to writing up?

I’ll link to the article when it appears in the magazine in June. While writing the article, I became so inspired that I set up a new blog Cicilie’s city blog (Cicilies byblogg) where I consider blogging from my recent project. Now the only challenge is to find time… between feeding the 6 months old and playing with the 4 years old and all the rest.

Another thing that has happened in this project since the last time I updated this blog, is that the radio clip I wrote about previously was aired again. It lead to a request from a support group from people with psychological problems and another from a library to hold a speech. I’m working on the latter now and have titled the lecture Therapy and democracy at the bar: Slam poetry in Paris. It was fun to write in Norwegian about slam poetry again, and I’ll see if it’s possible to transform the lecture into an article of some kind. I desperately need to publish…

Apropos this desperate need: The first I got on with after the birth of my second son was an application for a postdoc. I thought my head was pretty fit for starting working again, particularly since I had so much time on my hands to just sit thinking about things for a long time (seeing Little Fatty Pear just get fatter and fatter). When I received the evaluation I realised that I must have been a bit out of my mind at the time, as I had proposed to write nine articles and two books during a two years long postdoc period. Now, I’ve sent a new application, for a 3 years long position this time, and with the aim to write only 4-5 articles and a book, all from the slam scene inspired by my other research: The stage is all the world, and the players are mere men and women: Parisian performance poetry and other stories from Relational Europe… We’ll see. In a few months time, it seems I’ll have not much more to do than to look after Little Fatty Pear and write.

But for the moment, it’s not Parisian slam poetry that counts, but suburban libraries and urban morphology, but that’s – hopefully – food for another blog coming up very soon.

Ops, there I almost forgot the nice little interview (in Norwegian) at Foreningen !Les ("Read"): In the field with poetry slam

Time to get it out!

Wed, 10 Oct 2012 19:38:00 +0000

The last entries in this blog will concern what probably ought to be the final part of any research project: getting the material out and beyond a blog like this and the narrow circles of colleagues and the odd conference.

The first media to pick up on my finished thesis its defence was an art and culture program on NRK P2, the Norwegian equivalent to BBC Radio 4 or France Culture (or perhaps somewhere between the latter and France Info, since Norway can never come up with anything as high brow, philosophical and educational as France Culture…). I liked that it was this particular radio channel, and that it was the literary and arts aspect of the work that caught their eye, not the sociological or political. They wanted me to cycle down to their studio and talk about my project, experience, scientific treatment and its conclusions. My very first radio interview went quite well. They even made me spontaneously recite the poem I had performed a couple of times at slam sessions in Paris. I still find it quite touching to do that. The clip starts with an extract of Enfant de la ville by Grand Corps Malade (read interview about the album in French here), which is very typical of the most famous French slam artist, and perhaps also of French slam in general, as it treats the artist’s relationship to the city. At the end of the clip, Grand Corps Malade appears again in A la recherche where he is featured by two grand old men in French rap, Kery James and Oxmo Puccini. This is not very typical of the genre, but I think the journalists thought it worked well on the radio.

Here’s the clip: Kulturhuset, NRK P2, 27.09.12

The day afterwards, another of my favourite Norwegian media, Klassekampen, phoned for an interview. (It’s only accessible through logging in to something). The journalist is probably one of the most familiar with French literature and society here, and I appreciated her headline: “ Accuses the state from the stage”.


Preparing for the defence: Areas of weakness

Wed, 19 Sep 2012 18:28:00 +0000

Exploring the drinking fountains at Forum Romanum at 23 January 2012, at the day my thesis was finished printed and handed in to the department of social anthropology, and one day before I turned 40 The project and the PhD are now completed. In order to also wrap up this research blog, I’ll see if I can find the time to conclude a couple of unfinished posts as well as finishing it all with a description of the defence, or viva, itself. As this blog has followed me all the way from Ménilmontant, 8 October 2005, it feels right to do it this way. At the same time, I feel a bit in a hurry to conclude all this now, as I’m so eager to get on with other things, many of them of course related to this large project. I started writing this particular post a couple of days before I received the title of the trial lecture. It sums up the areas of weakness in the thesis as described in the committee’s conclusion as well as my replies. After I had held the trial lecture, and just before the defence was to begin, I found the time to quickly revise these 14 points, an exercise I found useful for the defence as many of the questions – if not posed exactly the same way – concerned the same themes and issues. It also gave me confidence that I understood quite well my opponents’ lines of thought. – The comments I’ve added today, a couple of days after the actual defence, are written in italics. As I revise it, I realise that the post treats thematic issues of the slam phenomenon as well as how I actually prepared for the defence. – According to their written assessment, the committee evaluated the dissertation in relation to the originality of the subject matter; the description and theorization of the research problem; the central methodologies; the clarity of argumentation; and to the degree to which the data support the major conclusion about performance poetry in contemporary Paris. I should say right away that the assessment was overall positive, despite the fact that the paragraph of “major contributions” counted half a page while the weaknesses spread over nearly three. As these proportions fits well with how my selective ear usually hears criticism of my own work, I’ll do as I usually do and investigate into the weaknesses rather than dwell on the contributions. The committee’s first critical comment (except their dismissal of the ability of Deleuze and Guattari’s hydraulic models of reality (see e.g. here) to say something significant of the postcolonial condition in Europe today – on which I strongly disagree with them) concerned that I should further discuss “a number of issues related to performativity” since the poems in Parisian slam poetry are performed. As I understand it, the longest and most central and complicated chapter in the thesis concerns performativity. Perhaps we understand the notion of performativity differently, I wonder? – The title of my trial lecture also asked me to discuss performativity, a subject I was very happy to talk about as I felt I knew it quite well. I’ll write about that experience another day. Secondly, since I assert that the slam scene is fluid (in many senses) and that transformations – in both person and relationships between persons – take place, they ask me “what is this stage? Is it a local stage or a global stage? The thesis implies both…” I love that question, because it goes right to the core of my argument! A central dimension of the fluidity of the slam session, is the dissolution of identity categories fixing persons as French, or not French, foreigners from far away, ethic this or ethnic that. Instead, persons appear as singularities, simultaneously from just around the corner as well as harbouring histories from elsewhere. This stage thus blurs the boundaries of the local and the global. It blurs the (discursive) boundary of France, and expands our understanding of what the local means as well as what a European country like France is. This is well in line with Er[...]

The Stage is all the World, and the Players are mere Men and Women: Performance Poetry in Postcolonial Paris - What it is, and the questions it answers

Thu, 09 Feb 2012 12:19:56 +0000

Yesterday afternoon, an email popped up with the names of the members of the evaluation committee and a date for the possible public defence. It came completely out of the blue, as I was sure this process would take ages. And also, until I read the names of the two women who will scrutinise and judge it, and decide whether I’m ready to become a doctor or not, I think it hadn’t been really real to me that the work is coming to a conclusion. If everything goes well, the defence will take place in first half of June, which means that the verdict of the committee should be ready in early May. After that, preparation will probably occupy more and more of my time, particularly when the theme of the trial lecture is settled, two weeks before the defence. That leaves three months from now where I can get on with my new project. I feel a definite need however to sum it all up before I put the pile of sheets (it won’t be properly printed before it is accepted) on the shelf for a while.

The thesis starts with four introductory chapters. First, I explain what Parisian slam poetry is and why I’ve chosen the title The stage is all the world, and the players are mere men and women: Performance poetry in postcolonial Paris. Parisian slam is open, extremely varied and most performances bring along much of the real life of the performer. Second, I try to clarify which political, socio-geographical and existential questions Parisian slam answers. It was my supervisor who posed me these two fundamental questions. When I began trying to answer them, I realised the evident importance of spelling out this to the reader at an early stage. I claim, nothing less than that the slam session can be seen as a (cosmogonic) return to the pivotal Tennis Court Oath in the early days of the 1789 Revolution where each head – independent of status and rank – is allotted the time to speak and be heard under as equal circumstances as possible.

In addition to this eternal democratic challenge of equality, slam reiterates concerns over alienation and consumption in contemporary life that have been addressed in various artistic milieus since the Situationists. The slammers themselves do not relate to the French politico-artistic movement of the 1950s and 60s, however their sessions are undoubtedly more inclusive to all kinds of poetic subjects, more concerned with real life and more alive than any of the situations the Situationists were capable of creating (see e.g. this description by Guy Debord himself).

Finally, and which I think I find most beautiful about it, is the poetry – the poiesis, the bringing forth or revelation of a truth – of human existence the public and participative performances search for, and sometimes reach. Now, time for other commitments. More summing up later.

The narrow-mindedness of finishing a thesis

Tue, 07 Feb 2012 12:03:11 +0000


It’s time to start summing up not only the last months where I’ve been conspicuously absent from this blog (again) but also, finally, the whole research project! The only thing left now is to wait for the verdict of the opponents and the ensuing, hopefully, public defence of the thesis. My desk is almost cleared, notes and scribbled scraps of paper are thrown away, books and articles are stuffed back into the shelves, and I’ve made small steps in other academic and bureaucratic directions. I’m therefore no longer among the Parisians, either physically or mentally. (Very soon I’ll be among some suburbanites outside Oslo.)

People have of course told me that wrapping up take longer than one thinks. And I have of course thought that, oh no, not for me. But yes it has taken a little longer than I thought. The stretch of time I’ve spent neglecting almost every other engagement (not familial, however), has consequently become quite long. In fact so long that I’ve problems getting back into doing different things during a day again, not only the predictable thesis-thesis-thesis-visit father-pick up in kindergarten-make dinner-thesis related stuff, or perhaps the occasional newspaper-bed. Now, I need a calendar again, and I must read the emails I get concerning seminars and stuff, and I must remind myself that I’m not only available for sporadic socialising, but it’s also a nice and good thing to do.

I’ve not been very stressed during the final 18 or so months of writing up, but I’ve been extremely narrow-minded. There have only been a handful of activities that succeeded in diverting my attention. The most time-consuming was reading about the 22 July terrorist attack and the sombre universe it sprang from. I’ve hardly read a work of fiction, and hardly seen a film. Now, it’s time to climb out of the cave and see what’s going on. It’s definitely time to look a little wider. And it’s time to reply to inquiries and attend seminars, time to write, and – definitely – time to look for new work, and time to start a new research project and think entirely new thoughts.

Slow attempts at making sense: Oslo 22/7

Sat, 30 Jul 2011 20:33:22 +0000

People meditating the sea of flowers outside Oslo Cathedral a week after the bomb blast and massacre

This research diary has until now exclusively treated the various facets of my PhD research project in Paris. When the numbness began to lose its grip, I started to realise why I feel so terribly concerned. Of course, I think most Norwegians, many Europeans and even many, many fellow world citizens feel deep concern when an atrocity like this strikes, even when they or their closest aren’t struck personally. This concerns us as fellow humans (of both the victims and the perpetrator…), and it concerns us as political beings. But I also realised that this concerns me profoundly in terms of the career I’ve chosen: What good is it to devote my professional life to understanding nationalism, belonging, community cohesion, conceptions of difference and the like when I have done nothing to prevent the worst thinkable acts of violence to take place in my own country? Especially since I think – or I’m sure – that I’ve felt there was a need for worry (but of course, not to this unconceivable degree…). For several days now I’ve been thinking about how I can contribute. How can I contribute in the best way with my knowledge (of living with difference in Europe), my concern (for the future of us all) and my devotion (to work for a better world)? I know need to think much more about this in the coming days and weeks, and I know that I need to act.

When I very soon finish my present project, I will – hopefully – be able to do research in Oslo. And there are few places on earth than here I’d rather do this kind of research right now. I don’ think there’s a coincidence that the last huge act of terrorism in Europe was committed by a rightwing nationalist in the name of anti-Islamism. And I even don’t think it was that big a coincidence that it happened in Scandinavia.

Now, after eight days of numbness (and reading of philosophy of difference) it’s time to get back to the main task: finishing the Paris project and get on with life. (Or rather, get on with life and finish the Paris project.)

Pieces into place 2

Sun, 19 Jun 2011 20:52:48 +0000

Now, all but one chapter have found their final form, with only minor polishing and weaving together left to do. As this blog has helped me to keep a more coherent and exterior perspective on what I’m doing throughout the various stages of the project, I would very much have liked to keep this diary updated as the nuts and bolts, long lines and small steps took shape. But although this final phase has been all about making sense of and making accessible all the preceding work – thus the writing of the small posts in this research blog writ large – it’s been difficult to find time to write here. Since August last year the writing has been flowing almost seamlessly (after I lost my presentation due to a ridiculous back-up mistake the day before I headed off to a conference, and I had no choice but to speed up considerably and quickly fill the gaps with top-of-the-head translations of French slam poetry). And the pieces have fallen into place with astonishing precision. – Here comes a few examples, from the remaining chapter which I’m working on now and which is still in a mess: The seemingly low level of education has puzzled me (although none of the people I asked about it agreed that it was particularly low). Then I – a bit late perhaps, but some differences are less obvious to look out for than others – found out that there’s a far lower percentage of university degrees and even final general high school exams in France than in both the US and Norway. In the same book where I read this – The Dignity of Working Men, a comparison of working class moral boundaries in the US and France – I also learnt that class solidarity and class struggle are still overwhelmingly present in France, despite the decline of the communist parties and the exceptionally low percentage of labour union membership. This puts the emphasis on solidarity and equality of the slam sessions into a far broader context than I initially thought and lead me to re-read The Distinction by P. Bourdieu. And oh my, what exhilarating surprises! Almost on every page there were things to enter into discussion with, and I started to wonder if the slam milieu could provide an example of an community and art form of liquid modernity (Z. Bauman) – thus were coherent boundaries have dissolved – but which has retained a strong sense of (class) solidarity… Well, well, more on this later when the bits and pieces of this chapter also find their place.

The point of this post was to state that I’m still here, thinking about this fieldwork and writing up blog has followed me through thick and thin of the last five, soon six, years. Now, it’s no more than a few months left, and I hope to be able to leave a trace of this final phase, as the last threads find their places in the tapestry.

Pieces into place: Décroissance, another life and another politics – And making sense of the data

Mon, 11 Apr 2011 20:47:16 +0000

(Writing is progressing so fast now, that I’m not able to keep up here. This post I wrote several weeks ago, but haven’t found a free moment to post it before now. I’ll try to find some more time to keep up the blog in this final stage, as it would be good to document this part of the project as well. I’ll see what I can manage.) Smaller and larger parts of the puzzle find their place at the moment. Phenomena that have only flickered past my attention in a superficial, disconnected manner suddenly add up to a larger picture. The last of these epiphanies was triggered by a request to hold a seminar at National Institute of Consumer Research (SIFO). They asked me because they’ve a project running on migration and consumption, and certainly, migration is relevant in my research on Paris as postcolonial. On consumption on the other hand, I wasn’t so sure what I could come up with. When I discussed some bland idea I’d got with a fellow anthropologist, he said right away that it’s exactly the lack of consumption in one of the large consumer countries of the west that it interesting here. Of course! One of the definitions of French slam is that it should be for free. About the same time, a Norwegian journal published an article on the French Décroissance (Degrowth) movement. Although I had noticed the thought-provoking term around, for instance in demonstrations, I wasn’t aware that it concerned a socio-political movement. I started wondering if parts of the slam milieu was inspired by this movement, as several texts make similar statements to their “live better consume less” ideas, as well as mocking contradiction in terms like a “fair trade” (J’aime ma planète, j’achète, “I love my planet, so I buy it” by Zéor, for instance). “Productivisme - deadly dangerous: Let’s enter degrowth” From a demonstration in Paris in October 2005 I had also noticed the relatively low material standard of living (without going into detail) many slammers lived under. These observations had made an impression on me, but they didn’t start to make sense before I read Sociologie de Paris (Pinçon and Pinçon-Charlot) and connected them to the brute reality of the cost of life in Paris proper compared to the poorer suburbs: Even in the cheapest arrondissments in the north and east of the city is the price per square metre double compared to in the suburban towns in Seine-Saint-Denis. But the observations still weren’t more than signs of relative poverty in an affluent society, added perhaps some traits of degrowth-ideas present in some texts. Until I was told (by a man almost double my age, what a humiliation!) that I had to free my analysis because what I was observing seems much more radical than old ways of thinking about politics. He commented on another part of the thesis (republicanism and cosmopolitanism), but it’s pertinent in relation to the question of consumption as well. From this perspective, all these disparate observations click together in the puzzle to such a degree that it all seems utterly banal, and how come I haven’t seen it before? Maybe particularly since I’ve even proclaimed here before that I recognise in the slam scene something of Foucault’s dictum (1982) to refuse what we are and find new subjectivities liberated from the state and its individualisation. A life with less material goods is certainly not only “relative poverty”, it is also part of larger ethical questions on local and global solidarity, ecology, how to lead the good life and so on. The Décroissance movement and the slam phenomenon are probably just different expressions of larger currents in French and western society. Suddenly, I see the slam scene as even deeper situated within a long and broad history of poetic and eventful rebellion. And the great thing for the progress of my thesis i[...]