Counterfeit cigarettes domesticating a place in Paris. Looking for dragons… (III)

The social, more than being understood as a specific domain (Latour, 2005), is presented here as both a movement and a capacity for making associations. Those associations are composed of any elements, into specific and localized networks. The social, in other words, is the generic label for talking about an action where an undetermined number of temporary and stabilized groups, gathering in the same place, among other things, are generating processes of territorializing.

The concept of territory and the act of territorializing are notions tied to the formation of new spaces. A territory is a segment of space that has been affected by the actions of a group that has established a strong position among the time, with the trajectory of the space. This circumstance is not just a situation where a set of elements are stabilized in a place, and where the place is acting just as a container. We are referring here to an unmounted associating process between a specific but a random group, where space is playing a specific role.

The role the space has into this temporary process of territorializing is the one of being domesticated. This process is more than an issue of pure domination. To domesticate implies a cooperative work where at the end both sides are being transformed. In a raw way, a definition of domestication could be when “one organism assumes a significant degree of influence over the reproduction and care of another organism in order to secure a more predictable supply of a resource of interest, and through which the partner organism gains advantage over individuals that remain outside this relationship.” (Zeder, 2015. p. 1)

Nevertheless, three particularities appear at the time of talking about domesticating the space through a process of territorializing. (1) Not in every situation the domesticated part, in this case, a specific place, obtain an advantage or a benefit related to its condition. (2) Territorializing space is an entirely temporal procedure. However, there is not a time-frame that works as a guide either for recognizing or cataloging this kind of process. (3) The peculiarities of each territory depend on the features of both the element that deployed a strong position and the one who is being affected by it.

The streets are spaces domesticated, generally more than one time and in simultaneous. The area around the metro station Barbès-Rochechuart, in the confluence of the Boulevard Barbès and the Boulevard Rochechuart, in the conjunction of the districts IX, X and XVIII of Paris, is an example of this situation. Depending on the day, and on the time of the day, this place is territorialized by specific groups that are influencing and transforming the nature and meaning of the space.

When the sun is shining over the Boulevard de la Chapelle, the street nearest the station, the area is full of people frequenting the legal business around the block. Those are mostly related to low-technology retail, other few stores selling suitcases and low-quality products. There are also some boutiques full of cheap cocktail dresses, African hairdressers and some restaurants. The discount store Tati is a very important enclave for the dynamic of the neighborhood.

Near noon, one by one, counterfeit and contraband cigarettes sellers start to appear over the northern sidewalk of the Boulevard, westbound. A random day of March I saw a group of three of them going down from the Boulevard Barbès. Another one was going up from Rue Guy Patín, and then he turned out to the direction I was moving. When he was near enough me, he started to walk at my side, and in a friendly-harassment situation, he offered me his merchandise. When I said “no, thanks,” he just left me, and he went to offering some cigarettes to a car stopped in a traffic light.

If the streets had gender, one could say the zone nearby Barbès-Rochechuart is a male one. During the whole day groups of men are surrounding the sector. Some of them are just lying there, chatting up, watching, observing. Others are irking and catcalling the few women crossing the street. Others are selling drugs —not just cigarettes— especially heroin and cocaine, in a discreet, but direct way. When the sun goes down, just those male spots stay on the Boulevard. The clients of the last group start to be more evident, and the feeling of danger increases. Discretion is not on the streets anymore.

This neighborhood is also a zone of immigrants, a multiethnic and working-class area. Sub-Saharans, people from the Maghreb and the Mid-east seem to be like a majority here. That sensation that one is neither in Paris nor in France —nor even in Europe— tends to increase every Wednesday and Saturday morning. There is a crowded and full-of live street market, under the Barbès-Rochechuart station where one can find a vast variety of goods. Fresh fishes, vegetables, baguettes, fruits, international ingredients, clothes and almost any stuff one can need for home. Prices are always negotiable, and quality is distributed in a range of one out to ten. The market ends around 2 pm.

During the market time, the cigarettes sellers seem to vanish among the crowd; they continue doing their work, but this time in an almost imperceptible way. However, the groups of catcalling men are not predominant anymore. In general terms, when the market is assembled in Barbès-Rochechuart, the street is not a male one; its gender gets partially blurred, although sometimes it gives the impression it is a female area. Nevertheless, its sort of hermaphroditism ends when the market is over. The Street is a male domesticated zone again.