The geo-political fear of “the immigrant neighborhood”: State, racism and development in the imperial metropole

Parastou Saberi


Since the recent attacks in Paris (January and November 2015) and Brussels (March 2016), once again peripherialized urban neighborhoods such as Gennevilliers, Saint-Denis and Molenbeek have become the center of the state’s and media attention. Racialized, territorialized and homogenized as “immigrant neighborhoods,” these localities are perceived as the spaces of the “internal enemy:” local threats to social cohesion, “Western way of life,” “security” and “peace” within the Western metropolitan centers. Boosted by the increasing political success of hard-Right populism, forces on the right were quick to write off these neighborhoods as “failed” estates of “extremism” and “barbarism.” In response to the (hard-)Right’s openly racist attacks, many on the left-liberal spectrum have prescribed more integration and development. Is this latter suggestion a more progressive approach, capable of undoing the increasing normalization of the territorialized and racialized security ideology shadowing “the immigrant neighborhood”? This paper challenges the recent renewed calls for development and integration as the remedy to the supposed malaise of the “immigrant neighborhoods”. Based on my research in Toronto (Canada), where liberal humanitarian ideology has become the foundation of the state-led strategies of intervention in the “immigrant neighborhoods,” I highlight the ways liberal development intervention not only builds upon, but also reproduces and reifies the territorialized and racialized security ideology central to the construction of the “immigrant neighborhood.” Bringing together the insights of Henri Lefebvre, Frantz Fanon and Mark Neocleous, I suggest that a historical-materialist understanding of the reconfiguration of ‘race’ and racism in the imperial metropole of today requires critical engagement with the relational formation of state-led urban intervention in the “immigrant neighborhoods” of the imperial metropole and imperialist strategies of intervention in the “ungoverned” spaces of the imperial world order. This means bringing into our analysis the historical and geographical specificities of: 1) the political fear of the non-White working class, 2) the role of the state urban strategies of development and security; and 3) the changing forms of imperialist geopolitics and neo-colonial relations of accumulation and domination.
This paper is part of the organized session: State, Space and Racism in the Current Conjuncture (for (Re-)Conceptualizing Marxist Theories of Racism Stream)