From intellectual resource to political cause

The different lives of Abdelmalek Sayad
By Victor Collet

From local and associative archives in Nanterre (a working class suburb in the north west of Paris), following the observation of the Oranges, an association promoting the remembering of experiences of immigration, and with biographical interviews with its members and many representatives of associations and the local political arena, the article analyzes the localized uses of Abdelmalek Sayad as a revelator of the inclusive frameworks of immigrant memory and as an original step in the recognition of its immigrant population by the city. Reference to Sayad structures the activities of the Oranges and, step by step, the municipal discourse on local identity. This scheme belongs to a plural process: on the municipal side, it refers to the opening of a field of legitimation for pro-immigrant actions in a period of political dislocation for a municipality and of suitable frameworks recognizing the memory of immigration without erasing the working-class dimension of the city; for the association, the Sayad reference is linked to a special inclination to cultural self-study of some activists, to the dialogue of some of them with the academic world and the relatively dominated position they are facing in the local political arena. In these circumstances, the reference to Sayad, the sociologist of immigration, appears as a resource suited to the social positions and trajectories of these activists and as a weapon in local politics. The several meanings of this reference can explain its progressive accession to the public arena and the personalized and the canonized non-professional uses of Sayad which accentuate the political side of his work.


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