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Bleu blanc noir : assimilation trajectories, identity dynamics and boundary work of French Antilleans, West Africans, and their children in Paris Ivemark, Biorn


This study compares the assimilation trajectories, identity dynamics and boundary work of French Antilleans, West Africans and their descendants in the Paris region. While previous studies have focused on the experiences of French Antilleans and sub-Saharan Africans separately or those of Blacks in France as a whole, this study engages in a more minute comparison of the experiences of West African immigrants and French Antilleans across two generations in mainland France. This comparison primarily aims to determine the role of the divergent civic, cultural and religious backgrounds of these groups alongside their largely shared racial characteristics in how they assimilate to French society across two generations. These variables are of particular interest given the salience of civic and cultural distinctions in France, while racial distinctions are notoriously downplayed. The main theoretical goal of the study is to assess the usefulness of segmented assimilation theory in accounting for the various assimilation outcomes of these groups. Drawing on 55 in-depth interviews complemented with wide-ranging statistical data, I explore the impact of cultural, religious and racial factors on the intergenerational educational and professional trajectories of both populations, analyze how these factors influence their identification patterns and assess how members of these groups seek to negotiate the various symbolic boundaries that they come up against, both in their relations to each other and to the majority population. The results suggest that French Antilleans have more favourable educational and professional outcomes than West Africans. Despite the importance of racial barriers for both groups, the findings also underscore the salience of cultural and religious forces as well as the identification dynamics and boundary work that both groups engage in. While some segmented assimilation mechanisms remain valid in the French case, the study also demonstrates the importance of empirically identifying societally specific assimilation barriers and cultural segments for the theory to retain its usefulness in other national contexts.

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