For the second year in a row, I find myself outside of the United States for the Thanksgiving holiday. Feeling that you should be celebrating something that doesn’t register to anyone around you is a strange experience. Here in Paris, today is just another Thursday. There is no scent of roasting turkey, nor aroma of cinnamonny pumpkin pie wafting through the halls of the building where I have rented a studio, and there is no run on cranberries at the grocer. I did not cook an elaborate meal. Apart from picking up my favorite food–potato chips–an extra large beer, and a dessert I have been eyeing for weeks at my corner patisserie, I hadn’t planned on marking the day in any special way. But, as I smoked a cigarette while gazing down at the busy Rue Bobillot last night, I realized I have a lot to be thankful for this year, and I wanted to take the time, absent a feast and holiday cocktails, to express that. Here goes.
In November 2011 I went to Hôtel de Ville in Paris to see an exhibit titled “A New Perspective on the South.” It was organized by Agence Française de Developpement (AFD), a non-profit French development agency, to showcase the results of projects with partner organizations throughout the global south. I had seen it promoted in newspapers, on the Métro, and in public spaces around town, and was curious about it because the tales we tell ourselves about the world are deeply important, sociologically speaking. Whether we encounter them in textbooks, museums, televisions shows and films, in church sermons, in conversation with our families, in theater and literature, or increasingly, in the digital world via sites like Facebook and Twitter, narratives give us a script that we use to make sense of the world. They provide logics for fitting people into roles; they teach us about heroes and villains, victims and saviors, and right and wrong. They help us understand who we are as people, and how we fit into the greater scheme of things. In short, narratives play a big and important role in our lives. So, armed with an umbrella on a rainy afternoon, I arrived at the open-air exhibit to see what the French narrative of development looks like.
Though it is a taboo topic in the United States, socialism is everywhere in Paris. At least, aspirations toward it abound. The city as I see it is awash in advertisements for socialist party candidates and those of “Front de Gauche,” a coalition of leftist and workers parties in France. Not limited to contemporary politics, the city wears its socialist history on its sleeve. Historical markers that explain the relevance of places to the revolution of 1789-99, and to the events of the Paris Commune of 1871 remind Parisians and visitors that the history of France is one of cyclical struggle for radical social, economic, and political change. Far from the derogatory intonation “socialist” has in the U.S., its ideals are infused into everyday life, and are mainstream influences in the political terrain of France. Though the word is hurled about rather liberally in the U.S., many do not know what it actually means. This post addresses one simple question: What is socialism?
Much has been made of the bathroom issue at Occupy Wall Street and other Occupy encampments across the U.S.. I refer to the question posed many times by mainstream media outlets: where do the protesters go to the bathroom? Often framed as a public health and sanitation concern, there have also been reports of merchants upset by the use of their facilities by protesters. This is one facet of the movement on which many media outlets have zoomed in, so much so that the media attention to it has warranted satirical address on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. From a sociological perspective, it is interesting that this issue has come into focus, because it is a manifestation of the central gripe of protesters: the privatization of public resources.