Terreur, Terroir, Terrace
Vectors of Police and Public in France after Charlie Hebdo and La Bataclan
In November 2015, the city of Paris witnessed the second series of deadly attacks in less than a year. The first occurred on January 7, 2015, at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdomadaire (affectionately nicknamed Charlie Hebdo), followed by concurrent hostage-takings at Dammartin-en-Goël and the Port de Vincennes. The second attacks took place on the night of November 13, 2015, at several locations across Paris: a soccer match between the French and German national teams being held at the Stade de France; various cafés and restaurants in the 10th and 11th arrondissements, known for thriving nightlife; and, most infamously, at the concert hall La Bataclan. These events have been reported and analyzed extensively by French and Anglophone media, political pundits and academics. The causes and motivations for the attacks, the appropriate means of response, the implications for French, European and U.S. citizenship, political life and security have been widely and hotly debated. Amid this clamor of commentary and analysis, it can be difficult to understand where anthropological insight might intervene, operating as it often does on a publication deadline, among different reading publics and, ostensibly, using different terms of analysis.
For my part, as an anthropologist who has been studying the changing nature of “security” in France for close to fifteen years, I have been struck by what seems a dramatic reorganization of key symbols in public discourse: the flag, the national anthem, the police. In this essay, I will attempt to highlight the importance of a noticeable but subtle shift in the public performance of prominent national symbols since the attacks — and the emotions with which they are associated — by illustrating how such symbols, affects and modes of sociality were imbricated in issues of policing, security and citizenship in France during the years immediately preceding the attacks.
Turning an eye on how police give shapes to this complex knot of symbols, feelings, social relations and competing rationalities can help one understand how much political life in France has been modified, and hence some of the implications of those changes. These discursive shifts are themselves potentially indicative of a reorientation in social practice that may not be as evident from more widely broadcast and published images. As I have shown elsewhere, “the police” can be a particular useful point of entrée for thinking through “the public” as a social form in France .
Terreur: Event and Affect
The January 7, 2015 attack made instant international news when two gunmen stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo. After killing 11 people and injuring eleven more in the paper’s offices, two assailants emerged as a wave of police vehicles arrived on scene. Following an initial volley of gun fire, a widely circulated amateur video captured the two attackers approaching Officer Ahmed Merabet, who lay on the ground injured. One gunman accused the officer of trying to kill him, to which Merabet replied in French, “No, it’s OK chief.” At that point the gunman killed him at close range. The attackers fled and remained in hiding for several days, despite an extensive manhunt. They eventually died in a standoff with police several days later, but not before an accomplice took 19 hostages in a Parisian grocery store, killing four.
The Charlie Hebdo attacks brought two popular forms of public reaction . The first was a series of public demonstrations culminating in the “March of the Republic” on January 1, which included the participation of President François Hollande and dozens of world leaders. The second reaction, the so-called Je suis Charlie (I am Charlie) campaign, overlapped with these classic displays of public will but adhered to a slightly different topography, dispersing itself across international borders and media platforms, from the Academy Awards to Twitter. While far from incompatible, the trajectory of the two political forms is worth distinguishing. The French word for political demonstration, manifestation, suggests a sense of public will coalescing in a political act. It is usually addressed to a seat of power or political decision maker and relies upon a politics of recognition. On the other hand, the politics of Je suis Charlie promote a vector of identification and empathy; it is a filial politics, its position-taking rooted in a declaration that conflates the speaker with the injured. In this sense it is far closer to Carl Schmitt’s concept of “political,”  peopled by internal friends and external enemies, than the classic agonistic form of democratic politics organized around internal dissent and presuppositions of difference .
These political vectors came together, hinged on the person of the police, in one particularly striking image of a kiss. Fueled in part by visceral emotions elicited by the video of Merabet’s death, and in part by the identification politics of #jesuischarlie and its variations, the January 1 march witnessed unprecedented acts of support for police. In what soon became an iconic display of this public affinity, captured live by France 2 news cameras, Thierry Keup, a former pastry chef and teacher attending his first such demonstration, emerged from the crowd and embraced a CRS officer of notably African descent. Later, Keup explained: “Someone shouted ‘Vive La Police!’ and I added, ‘I’m going to kiss a cop!’…. All at once, I approached the one nearest me. At first he recoiled, but I insisted a bit, and he let me do it. One time, two times” .
The image of that kiss, and the larger public support of police, took many by surprise and seemed a new state of affairs. For example, the famous Lacanian psychoanalyst Jacques-Alain Millet later wrote:
[T]hose who belong to the generation — my generation — that had been through the events of May 1968, and who had shouted ‘CRS SS’ in the streets of the capital half a century ago, were completely destabilized. They could no longer recognize themselves. It was as if they had undergone a kind of depersonalization: nothing serious, just a pleasant sort of lightness of being. An ‘estrangement,’ to use Gide’s term. 
In the wake of the January attacks, France raised its national security level, known as vigipirate to its highest levels, deploying armed soldiers to tourist sites, media centers and public transportation. Alongside this tectonic shift, the space for public dissent and criticism seemed to shrink dramatically. In the days following the attack, dozens of individuals were arrested for voicing support for “terrorism.” Some of this tension played out between teachers and students in the poorer, heavily Muslim, suburbs outside Paris where several students were subjected to disciplinary action for refusing to participate in a national minute of silence. A smaller number of public commentators struggled to imagine, give voice to, or find space for moments of reflection, critique or even resistance and found the traditional avenues for such to be unwieldy, inappropriate or unavailable. Among these was anthropologist Didier Fassin, author of a recent ethnographic monograph exploring the underside of police practice in Paris’s most disenfranchised neighborhoods , who described his own hesitations at such public support as “untimely” .
For critical observers, this sense of “untimeliness,” of being out of sync and out of step with the broader sentiments of the nation, was only exacerbated after another round of attacks in November 2015. This second series was even more widespread and, to many, more disturbing, as the assailants did not focus on one specific target, as in the Charlie Hebdo attack, but on various sites of public congregation. In the immediate aftermath, while the search for the assailants was still ongoing, President Hollande announced the extension of an official state of emergency, thereby offering several additional powers to security forces and enabling disregard for laws protecting due process and personal liberty.
Less remarked upon but also critical on reflection was the explosion in images of patriotism and, especially, nationhood. The French flag was suddenly everywhere. “La Marseillaise,” its lyrics long a sense of embarrassment in many corners even while it stood for the inseparability of French values and global Enlightenment for others, was on the tips of a surprising number of tongues. Much of this sentiment was encapsulated several days later by President François Hollande in an homage to the victims, and crystalized in a specific locale — the terrace. “These women, these men … were in Paris,” he reminded those assembled, “a city which adorns itself in bright ideas, that vibrates by day and shines at night. They were on café terraces, those open meeting places of encounters and ideas” . That iconic space of French public sociality, the café terrace, was endangered, he seemed to suggest, and with it the values understood to make such a social space possible. With this subtle association, Hollande collapsed the victims with both the nation and a way of life — one understood to be both central and essential to free thought, liberal exchange and Enlightened progress around the world. In that sense, la terrasse was reimagined not as an empty space in which political exchange and ideas could occur, but as a newly politicized precondition for modern life. Hollande’s imagery took root in parallel with yet another movement on social media, one that took up the iconography, technologies and politics of identification of #jesuischarlie and modified it from an expression of a filiation and empathy with a particular group to one declaring a social mode: #jesuisenterrasse (I’m on the terrace).
I would like to suggest that the sense of untimeliness I shared with many other analytic observers is itself an expression of a shift in the constellation among police, public and critique. It requires a deeper unpacking to understand what is at stake in French political life today. To illuminate the nature of the shifting political vectors at play after Charlie Hebdo and its reverberations, I would like to explore the ways polity, police and critical voice have traditionally been co-constituted in France. The shift remarked on by so many entails more than it might seem at first. Police, citizenship and public are not merely words, political ideals or symbols, but convivial practices that must be attended to ethnographically. The move is more than an adjustment on a broad-based popularity poll; it is a qualitative shift in the practices and assumptions of policing, polity making and the construction of critical social space.
Terroir: The Politics of Conviviality
The long and complex links among citizenship, critique and what in France is known as “terroir” have been the subject of intense anthropological attention for more than 30 years . Much of this work has emphasized the politically constructed and contested nature of terroir . Others have noted that term is used to construct spaces as meaningful in a way tied to both sensory experience and a sense of self and society, even as that constructed “tradition” erases the essentially political character of the term . By contrast, some anthropologists have suggested that re-endowing the sense of terroir as political practice can illuminate how it can be mobilized as a form of critique, useful, for example, in examining globalization, immigration in the political context of Jean-Marie Le Pen and the Front Nationale, or centralized state power .
This dimension of terroir, as a politically charged field of criticism and public debate about the nature of collective life, animates both rural and urban political discourse and sociality. For example, Andrew Newman has shown how , through government-sponsored development programs, middle-class residents of public housing complexes are enlisted as entrepreneurs in the management of urban green space and community gardens. In the process, the erstwhile fusion of an idyllic peasantry and Republican imagination of unity in terroir become saturated with political significance as they enact neoliberal anxieties about security and exclusion, opening up and simultaneously covering over political contests over the use of space and the practices of sociality within that construct .
This confluence of space, citizenship and political economy in terroir suggests the continued, renewed significance of long-standing symbols of French nationhood; key words such as the term patrimoine, images such as the Marianne and performances of the national anthem offer a window onto potential frictions within society. During my initial fieldwork in France, which began around the same time as the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the late-night barroom and café quasi-public conversations that served as a central research method often turned to the topic of international politics and violence. The opportunity to harangue an américain about his country’s foolish imperial exploits was often too attractive to pass by. For those who followed U.S.-French public relations at the time, it is probably not surprising that during those many conversations I never once came across a favorable opinion of “your George Bush” or his policies.
What might be more surprising, while such conversations were often soaked with nationalistic chauvinism, the symbolic imagery that articulated it was carefully curated to avoid “classic” images of racial nationalism (even when, arguably, it remained the subtext). For example, I would often find myself around a comptoir close to my apartment operated by a friendly, if slightly suspicious, proprietor named Alain. An émigré from the notoriously conservative Savoie region, especially noted for its traditional paysan sausages and cheeses, he would serve a glass of p’tit rouge while somehow managing to discuss his political views in a way that was both elliptical and dismissive. He achieved this while posing theatrically underneath a gigantic empty container of then-president Jacques Chirac’s family-owned Camembert cheese .
Within this environment I would use both the lubricated atmosphere and the general novelty of a genuine American participant to further my research. To the degree I could take notes afterward, such encounters could often turn into a type of informal public opinion survey or focus group. Even more, as an active participant, I could direct conversations and encounters in new ways; a type of underdetermined “field experiment.” One of my favorite practices in this regard was to escalate the amicable verbal jousting of political discourse to try to sense the outlines of conviviality’s boundaries. One “out of bounds” area was the “Marseillaise.” I tried several times to lead the nationalistic verbal wrestling to a performance of the song, collective or otherwise. I had no success, either chez Alain or elsewhere. Curiously, I found it was much easier to elicit a rendition of the communist party anthem, L’internationale. While such ethnographic forays are notoriously unable to determine causative relations for the assemblages they encounter, one explanation, offered to me in an aside by one of those same denizens, was discomfort with what was felt to be the racist imagery of the “Marseillaise” lyrics . At the very least, such moments of discomfort registered the articulated boundaries of a certain sense and imagination of collective life. This discomfort and the use of key symbols would shift dramatically following the attacks of 2015.
But this matrix of meaning-making is not based merely on an idealist web of symbols; it is buttressed by a set of quotidian practices that might go otherwise unremarked. Such imagery is grounded in a daily praxis that makes “state,” “society” and their division real in people’s lives . Nationalism, nationhood and citizenship are not just images; they are grounded and made visceral through social practices . “Police,” as itself both a concept and practice, is a key component of how experiences of state and society are made real . In France this has traditionally meant that “police,” especially in critical discourse, is among the terms for articulating a distance between the state and the people . For example, until very recently, the French police, as an organ of the State, were understood to reside at an almost insurmountable distance from the populace they policed. This has been a staid truism of studies in comparative policing, as well as the foundation upon which many criticisms of the Police Nationale have been made.
This is not an abstract assertion, but a fact of lived social existence. Not many people — almost no one I met during my years of living in Paris — seem to know even one police officer. There are various institutional reasons for this, among them the legacy of a central national administration in which cross-country transfers for one’s first post are not only common, but made necessary. However, this does not fully explain the problem; the same situation is shared by many government workers — most notably teachers. More important, no one publicly admits to being a policeman; this is only shared in strictest confidence. In polite settings, for example, one might describe one’s occupation as a “functionary” (which is technically true). There are even a number of jokes that police tell among themselves regarding this common elision. In my own research, relatively good friends — whom I had met through various public venues and who knew that I was in France studying police, spent time in a police academy and went every day to a police station — didn’t tell me that they themselves were police until much later. And even then it was an intimate confession.
The reasons for this professional secrecy are many, but the net result is that almost no one has ever seen a policeman act in ways many people I met in France consider to be “human” — as something other than a delegate of State power. Again, a set of practices reinforce this impression. For example, at lunchtime I would watch as the uniformed police of the commissariat entered their various offices in order to change into “street clothes” before going out to the local bistro. For this reason, the classic American police cliché of a policeman enjoying his coffee and donuts doesn’t translate; it was commonly repeated to me by police officers themselves that they were not allowed by law to take coffee in public. The result of this arrangement is that very few people have observed them enjoying a break, having lunch, shopping for groceries — comporting themselves in ways that would extend sympathies in other directions: to imagine them with families, or having particular aspirations beyond the maintenance of order.
This aspect of the public imaginary has had major implications for policing in France, affecting especially attempts to bridge the so-called divide between police and citizens. In English this would be called “community policing,” but in French it goes under the moniker police de proximité. Establishing such pro- grams has been difficult in France. While the reasons are numerous and include substantial resistance from some corners of the Police Nationale itself, one reason in particular should be highlighted here. The French public showed no interest in interacting with the police — even as adversaries — in the type of community meetings that have been an essential part of how community policing “works” in the United States. In fact, many law-abiding and in all respects perfectly respectable citizens — people who had no reason to fear the imposition of the French state (for their ethnic or racial origin or for any other apparent reason), found the very concept of such contact absurd. One day in a Parisian café I found myself explaining to a friend the reasons behind beat meetings — a relatively common, if politically fraught, practice in many large American cities in which community members are invited to report concerns and work toward solutions with neighborhood police. His response was a common one and quite telling:
“Let me get this straight: In America, you go down to the police station — of your own free will — and talk to policemen? Of your own choice? You’re crazy!”
Terrace: The Space of Critique
As noted earlier, and as encapsulated by Thierry Keup’s famous kiss, this long-standing attitude would shift dramatically in a very short period of time. The broader consequences of that shift are not well understood. Some observers have noted that after the November attacks, there was a resurgence of nationalism and a commitment to a militaristic “war on terror” that seems inconsonant with previous political constellations. Others, as I have shown, have remarked on the coincidence of this political wind shift with a new a affective relation between “police” and “public.” Still others have lamented that within this changing landscape, the grounds of critique, especially of state power and police violence, seem to have eroded away. The missing element is the connection among the three: namely, that “police” does not name merely a uniformed cadre of public officials, nor a timeless institution, but is itself a kind of shifting social relationship: a symbol, topic of conversation and critical method.
Critique itself has historically been grounded in the assumption of a certain relation between police — and by extension the state — and the critical public, one filtered through the metaphor of distance. Although it created problems for police and, by extension, for democratic politics, that distance has been the space of criticism, the terrain from which grievances and challenges could be voiced. As a public space it served as a mechanism of limitation, a means by which to offer a check upon the state and its police . What that criticism may look like today, and what space is available for it now that the literal and metaphoric terrasse is at stake, certainly merits further anthropological attention.
This piece feels more like a beginning than an end-point. For that, I am sure to be thanking those who pushed forward my thinking on this piece for quite a while. Andrew Newman and Daromir Rudnyckyj were among the first, but I must offer a very special gratitude to Maria Vesperi, who exhibited extraordinary patience in seeing this piece along.
1. Kevin G. Karpiak, “Of Heroes and Polemics: ‘The Policeman’ in Urban Ethnography,” PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review 33, no. s1 (May 1, 2010): 7–31, doi:10.1111/j.1555- 2934.2010.01063.x.Page.
2. Which is not to say that the response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks was universal, homogeneous or singular. For a sample of anthropological reactions, see Didier Fassin, “In the Name of the Republic: Untimely Meditations on the Aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo Attack,” Anthropology Today 31, no. 2 (2015): 3–7, as well as Kevin G. Karpiak, “On Charlie Hebdo: Metaphor and the Tyranny of Secular Liberalism,” Anthropoliteia, January 2015, http://anthropoliteia.net/2015/01/12/on-charlie- hebdo-metaphor-and-the-tyranny-of-secular- liberalism/; Paul Mutsaers, “Charlie Hebdo, Purity, Danger and Taboo: Lessons from Mary Douglas,” Anthropoliteia, January 2015, http://anthropoliteia. net/2015/01/09/charlie-hebdo-purity-danger-and- taboo-lessons-from-mary-douglas/; and John R. Bowen, “Three Reasons France Became a Target for Jihad,” Time, January 8, 2015.
3. Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, Expanded (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).
4. Wendy Brown, Manhood and Politics: A Feminist Reading in Political Theory (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Little eld, 1988).
5. Fabien Bidaud, “La Bise Du Cambrésien Thierry Keup Au CRS à Paris Fait Le Tour Du Monde,” La Voix Du Nord, January 2015. Translation my own.
6. Jacques-Alain Miller, “L’amour de La Police,” La Règle Du Jeu, January 2015. Or later, in that same piece quoting Luc Le Vaillant, the award-winning journalist for the left-leaning newspaper Libération (known a effectionately as Libé): “I was surprised to find myself saying ‘good night’ to the CRS forces parked in their van at the foot of the building where Libé has its offices. And I was not in any disagreement with those on Sunday’s march … who applauded the police forces, themselves completely astonished at being celebrated and applauded in such a friendly way” (Both translations by Jennifer Murray available as “France Loves Its Cops” Jacques-Alain Miller, “France Loves Its Cops,” Lacan.com, January 2015, http://www. lacan.com/actuality/lamour-de-la-police/.).
7. Didier Fassin, Enforcing Order: An Ethnography of Urban Policing, 1st ed. (Cambridge: Polity, 2013).
8. Fassin, “In the Name of the Republic.”
9. Francois Hollande, Hommage national aux victimes des attentats du 13 novembre. (Hôtel national des Invalides) (Hôtel des Invalides, Paris, November 2015). Translation my own.
10. Susan Carol Rogers, “Good to Think: The ‘Peasant’ in Contemporary France,” Anthropological Quarterly 60, no. 2 (1987): 56–63, doi:10.2307/3317995.
11. Susan J. Terrio, “Deconstructing Fieldwork in Contemporary Urban France,” Anthropological Quarterly 71, no. 1 (January 1998): 18–31, doi:10.2307/3317601.
12. Laurence Bérard, “Du Terroir Au Sens Des Lieux,” in La Mode Du Terroir et Les Produits Ali- mentaires, ed. Claire Delfosse (Paris: Les Indes savantes, 2011), 41–55.
13. Marion Demossier, “Beyond Terroir: Territorial Construction, Hegemonic Discourses, and French Wine Culture,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 17, no. 4 (December 2011): 685– 705, doi:10.1111/j.1467-9655.2011.01714.x.
14. Andrew Newman, “Gatekeepers of the Urban Commons? Vigilant Citizenship and Neoliberal Space in Multiethnic Paris,” Antipode 45, no. 4 (2013): 947–64, doi:10.1111/j.1467- 8330.2012.01052.x.
15. Andrew Newman, “Contested Ecologies: Environmental Activism and Urban Space in Immigrant Paris,” City & Society 23, no. 2 (2011): 192– 209, doi:10.1111/j.1548-744X.2011.01062.x; Andrew Newman, Landscape of Discontent: Ur-
ban Sustainability in Immigrant Paris (Minneapolis: Univ Of Minnesota Press, 2015).
16. For an excellent analysis of camembert cheese as a locus of French myth, and especially Republican nation-making, see Pierre Boisard, Camembert: A National Myth, trans. Richard Miller, 1st edition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003).
17. For another English-language account of this discomfort, and some examples of the lyrics in question, see Alan Riding, “Aux Barricades! ‘La Marseillaise’ Is Besieged.” The New York Times, March 5, 1992.
18. T. Mitchell, “The Limits of the State: Beyond Statist Approaches and Their Critics,” The American Political Science Review 85 (1991): 77–96.
19. James Ferguson and Akhil Gupta, “Spatializing States: Toward an Ethnography of Neoliberal Governmentality,” American Ethnologist 29, no. 4 (2002): 981–1002.
20. Paul Mutsaers, Jennie Simpson, and Kevin G. Karpiak, “The Anthropology of Police as Public Anthropology,” American Anthropologist 117, no. 4 (December 2015): 786–89, doi:10.1111/ aman.12372.
21. Richard Cobb, The Police and the People; French Popular Protest, 1789–1820 (Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1970); Terry W. Strieter, “The Faceless Police of the Second Empire: A Social Profile of the Gendarmes of Mid-Nineteenth-Century France,” French History 8, no. 2 (1994): 167–95, doi:10.1093/fh/8.2.167.
22. This is the political form that Nikolas Rose, following Michel Foucault, has identified as the core of liberalism across its historical and regional varieties. See, for example, Nikolas S Rose, Powers of Freedom: Reframing Political Thought (Cam- bridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).
Suggestions for Further Reading
“Attacks in Paris,” The New York Times, November 19, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/news-event/ attacks-in-paris.
“Charlie Hebdo Attack: Three Days of Terror.” BBC News. Paris, January 14, 2015. http://www.bbc. com/news/world-europe-30708237.
Cobb, Richard. The Police and the People; French Popular Protest, 1789-1820. Oxford England: Clarendon Press, 1970.
Fassin, Didier. Enforcing Order: An Ethnography of Urban Policing, 1st ed. Cambridge: Polity, 2013.
Karpiak, Kevin G. “Of Heroes and Polemics: ‘The Policeman’ in Urban Ethnography,” PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review 33, no. s1 (May 1, 2010): 7–31, doi:10.1111/j.1555-2934. 2010.01063.x.Page.
Newman, Andrew. Landscape of Discontent: Ur- ban Sustainability in Immigrant Paris. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015.
Kevin G. Karpiak is associate professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminology at Eastern Michigan University. His work focuses on policing as a useful nexus for exploring questions in anthropology, politics and ethics. He has published widely on anthropological approaches to police and, since 2009, has served as General Editor of the group academic blog Anthropoliteia. His upcoming ethnographic manuscript, The Police Against Itself: assembling a “postsocial” police, provides an ethnographic account of the ethical work undertaken by police officers, administrators, educators and citizens as they experiment with new forms of sociality “after the social moment” in France.