Youth identity and territorial constructions in immigrant neighbourhoods : A comparison between Montreal and Paris


When referring to youth in immigrant neighborhoods there is a strong tendency to emphasize the process of impoverishment/disaffiliation/de-qualification that affect these areas. This collaborative research project aims to provide a different perspective on these neighbourhoods by presenting the voices and experiences of youth living in two working class and immigrant neighbourhood in the suburbs of Paris (La Maladrerie et Quatre chemins-Diderot) and two neighbourhoods in Montreal (Saint-Michel et la Petite-Bourgogne). The research aims to contribute to a better understanding of the process of identity building and the importance that the neighbourhood holds for youth by

  1. highlighting the counter-discourses constructed by young people in response to  the dominant discourse on their “anomie”;
  2. analyzing the collective histories that they build for themselves
  3. and exploring power relations, the conditions that constrain or favor youth citizenship and political participation.

The objective is to ask what is being (re)constructed, which allows the production of identities and cultures, from the experiences of 8 to 12 youth aged 16 to 25 in each of the chosen neighbourhood. To answer this, these youth participated in two phases of workshops in order to explore their lived experiences, their feelings of belonging and their preferred modes of expression. During these workshops they created audiovisual clips and texts on a place, a subject, or a story that had meaning for them. Without idealizing or homogenizing their experiences, this study tries to contextualize and locate their experiences in the past and present history of their neighbourhood, instead of focusing on problems usually associated with the neighbourhood where they live. The project’s multidisciplinary research approach borrows from sociology, oral history, critical geography and community work.


The team expanded as the project evolved. The research team first came together, then the field coordinators joined, alongside the graphic and audiovisual animators, and the animation team. In Montreal, a community educator from each neighbourhood came on board to facilitate the workshops of the first and second phases. Finally, the participants of the four neighbourhoods met the coordinators and animators through local organisations and community workers, or during community events, and then joined the team.

Click here to see more detailed profiles of the team.


In each neighbourhood, local partners such as community-based organizations, local associations and community workers collaborated in the recruitment of participants, the hosting  of the workshops and the promotion of the project.

In Little Burgundy, Desta Black Youth Network, an organisation that works with young adults aged 18 to 25, helped promote the project, participated in the recruitment of participants and hosted the workshops. In St-Michel, the Forum Jeunesse St-Michel (FJSM) helped with the promotion, the recruitment and lent their offices for the information and recruitment sessions. The FJSM is an organisation by and for youth which aims to encourage youth citizen participation. Groupe Orientation emploi, an organisation which works to facilitate social and professional integration of young adults, lent their spaces for the workshops. The video and audio production cooperative Great Things Studio helped with the production of some of the video clips and participated in the Montreal launch. The workshops and meetings of the second phase were held at INRS-Urbanisation Culture et Société, at the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling at Concordia University, at Desta and at FJSM. During the entire project, the Laboratoire de Recherche Ville et ESPAces politiques at l’INRS-UCS was the administrative anchor and a meeting point for the team. The VESPA also lent its audiovisual material and its space for some of the research activities.

In the region of Paris, we would like to thank the numerous structures that received us during the recruitment phase. More precisely, we would like to thank the CPE team from the Lycée polyvalent d’Alembert, the teams from À Travers la Ville, the members of the Association BABA, and the officials in charge of local development of the North sector of the town of Aubervilliers, as well as the director of Youth Services of the city of Pantin. Our work was also made possible thanks to the commitment of the team at the OMJA Emile Dubois, as well as the Lab’ in Pantin. The dynamism of both teams and their generosity in sharing their spaces for the workshops and exchanging with us greatly helped. Thank you for your interest and support in this project.


The research  activities took place in two phases. In Montreal, the first phase of workshops were held  during the spring of 2014 in Little Burgundy and in the fall of 2014 in St-Michel. In Île-de-France, the Parisian region, the first phase was held in the fall of 2014 in La Maladrerie and in winter 2015 in Quatre chemins-Diderot. In each neighbourhood, between 8 to 12 youth participated in this phase. In Montreal, the second phase consisted in a series of workshops on research and oral history followed by writing meetings. In the Parisian region, three collective writing meetings were done for the second phase.


The first phase involved a series of 10 workshops of 3 hours each, held twice a week for 4 week  and then once a week for two weeks. These workshops aimed at collectively exploring the youth’s identity process while offering them a space to tell their personal stories and the history of their neighbourhood through different mediums (blog, photos, maps, writings, etc.). During thematic discussions, mapping and photo exercises, walks in the neighbourhood and by using the blog conceived for the project, the participants thought about and exchanged on a range of  subjects. This led to the preparation of short video clips conceived and prepared by the participants. These clips present a place or a theme as recounted by participants as part of a multimedia guide that can be viewed on the website or downloaded on an smartphone. The clips allow you to immerse yourself in the sound and visual ambiance created by youth sharing their stories, their neighbourhoods and their ideas.

In Montreal and Île-de-France, the workshops of the first phase ended with public presentations of the video clips.


The second phase was slightly different in Montreal and Île-de-France. In Montreal, the youth who were willing and able to  pursue the project participated with the rest of the team in three group workshops. In these workshops, they explored the database, participated in an oral history interview and discussed the oral history analytical process. Life stories are a rich source of knowledge in terms of an  individual’s life experiences and forgotten histories. They also create a space to explore the contradictions and relations between personal memories, collective memory and public history.

Following the group workshops, smaller working groups were set up and met multiple times for about three months so that each youth could prepare his/her creation for the book. Some chose to write, while others chose to explore photography.

For the writing work in the Parisian region, we worked in a series of intense collective moments. During the second phase, we gathered for a weekend for intensive writing workshops during. We were able to meet in a space that was kindly lent to us by the city of Pantin, which allowed us to work in a very warm and welcoming space. We would like to thank the city of Panting for lending us these spaces.  Living under the same roof for a weekend allowed us to advance on the analysis of the themes chosen by everyone as well as advance on writing. Afterward, we were able to continue and finish the texts we had started through various meetings and exchanges.


Many things were accomplished during the project. To see the achievements in more details, please look up the achievements section.