Aesthetic Citizenship: Immigration and Theater in Twenty-First-Century Paris by Emine Fişek
Emine Fişek's book is an incisive account of how theater practitioners navigated the contested terrain of twenty-first-century French debates about immigration, citizenship, and national identity. Defining theater as "not merely a representational medium but an embodied social practice," the author does not shy away from the contradictions and imperfect compromises that arise when theater is asked to negotiate such politically fraught categories (7). Over the five chapters following the introduction, Fişek investigates the interlocking, and often conflicting, concepts of theater, collective identity, and bodily life in contemporary France. Ethnographic and archival research grounds the book's argument, providing examples of how Paris-based organizations used theater to address immigrant rights.
Chapter 1 serves as a prehistory to the other chapters, focusing on the 1970s, when France introduced its first laws inhibiting labor migration. The chapter focuses on Al Assifa and La Kahina, two organizations that performed plays representing the impact of immigration policy on workers and women, respectively. Chapter 2 turns to the first decade of the twenty-first century, chronicling the tension between a republican ideal of universalism and racialized, gendered forms of particularity. Fişek highlights the role of personal narrative performance in negotiating this tension, with case studies drawn from Accueil Goutte d'or, a civic association based in Paris' eighteenth arrondissement, and the Festival au Féminin, an annual women's arts festival that takes place in the same neighborhood.
Chapter 3 documents how conceptions of immigrant integration inform two nongovernmental organizations that engage with theatrical "aid" work. Research is drawn from Réseau Éducation Sans Frontières, which staged a 2007 show featuring undocumented performers. The chapter also draws on material from the annual theater workshop at La Cimade, an organization providing juridical and social aid to asylum seekers in France. Chapter 4 attends to the challenge of negotiating notions like "culture" and "community" in France's heterogenous, and often ideologically fractured, suburbs. To illustrate these difficulties, Fişek cites the work of Quelques unes d'entre nous, a women's collective. Their play, Le bruit du monde m'est rentré dans l'oreille (The Sounds of the Crowd Entered My Ear), captured women's reactions to the 2005 revolts, which affected their own Parisian suburb of Blanc-Mesnil along with so many other struggling neighborhoods across France. Chapter 5 identifies the points of intersection between theater, medical humanitarianism, legal aid, and immigrant social movements. Enriched by conversations with a broad spectrum of theater practitioners, the chapter traces how humanitarian discourse influenced their aesthetic choices.
Without sacrificing an exquisite attention to nuance, Aesthetic Citizenship persuasively argues its case, recasting categories like "national participation, belonging and citizenship" as "spheres of experience that require rehearsal" (5). The book's fine-tuned analysis, enhanced by an impressively interdisciplinary frame of reference, will attract a wide range of scholars interested in theater and performance, contemporary French and Francophone culture, gender, community-based theater activism, and migration studies. [End Page 154]