DANS LA RUE: Paris Urban Youth Culture

"Dans La Rue" is French for "On The Street"

This blog sets out to document and explore what is going on the streets of Paris, namely cultural expression from the city's urban youth.  Part travel journal, part ethnographic study, I seek to uncover parts of the city and it's exurbs that most tourists overlook and discuss the ways in which Paris' diverse young people create community and produce culture.  Instead of the Eiffel Tower, I'll look at who's dancing in front of it and how they got there.  Instead of the best places to eat pastries, I'll find the best places to skateboard and show who goes there.  

Ideally, this will provide a launchpad to also jump into an array of related topics.  How do things like race, gender, immigration, and class play into these street cultures?  How are such cultures perceived by the rest of Paris?  How are they perceived by the police?  What are the laws in place enabling or hindering youth from congregating? What does globalization have to do with any of this?  What does it mean for practitioners to reclaim public space?

As an outsider from the U.S. with almost no French-speaking ability (I can order quiche at a boulangerie, but that's about it), it will certainly be a challenge for me to immerse myself in these underground cultures.  However, that process will be part of the story.  For now I will rely on what I know as an outsider and focus on four areas that I'm certain are developing here in Paris:



Often considered the umbrella of Hip Hop dance, this includes breaking, popping, locking, house, Hip Hop, vogueing, wacking, etc.  This is the scene I am most connected to personally and will probably have the easiest time finding.


As far as I can tell, it's the next evolution of extreme sports but this involves no skateboard or bike or any other apparatus besides one's own body.  Essentially it is an acrobat's approach to engaging the urban landscape, much like the way Jackie Chan runs up a wall in his earlier films (pre: Owen Wilson days).  Parkour is particularly exciting not only because it's severely dangerous but also because out of these four, it's the only practice that originated in France. 


I will look for skateboarding in particular and more broadly, any form of extreme sports on wheels taking over public spaces. This culture is probably the least underground and should be relatively easy to find.  



Also associated with Hip Hop, street art emerges as an outgrowth of graffiti culture and has come to also incorporate murals, posters, stickers, installations, wheatpastes, urban sculptures, etc.  The most well-known Parisian street artist at least in the U.S. is Space Invader, who played a prominent role in notorious street artist Bansky's documentary film Exit Through the Gift Shop.  It should be fun tracking down this scene and its practitioners because it's illegal!...Then again, perhaps France treats it differently...

These should keep me busy for now, until I happen across other urban youth cultures.  Since culture is fluid, I am sure I'll be able to ride the wave of one of these and soon find myself swimming in an ocean of cultural expression I never would have imagined.  Like Jacques Cousteau, into the depths I go.  Wish me "bonne chance."  I think that means "good luck."  Let's hope it turns out nothing like this: