"Houmanarchie". Rap music and the neighbourhood imaginary in Tunisia
Paper short abstract:
The paper analyzes the narrative of disadvantaged neighbourhoods elaborated by Tunisian rap music. By glorifying and criticizing the hardship of those neighbourhoods, rappers manipulated and reinvented the idioms of social difference and the understanding of the urban space in Tunisia.
Paper long abstract:
The paper examines the role of rap music in reimagining the urban and social structure in Tunisia after its 2010/2011 revolution. Before the revolution, the Ben Ali regime imposed a narrative of Tunisian society as mainly middle class; beneath this narrative, the Tunisian folklore hosted multiple markers of social distinction that classified people through their perceived lifestyles: residence, language habits, consumption patterns, religious attitudes. Disadvantaged neighbourhoods were obliterated by the official narrative, and condemned to social spite by the unofficial ones. After the revolution, the success of rap came to 'represent' those quarters and the youth that inhabited them: rappers sang the hoods by criticizing their hard conditions and, at the same time, glorifying the hoods themselves. The vagueness of the social narratives in the country allowed rap musicians to manipulate both the image of the poor neighbourhoods and the idioms of social difference circulating in Tunisia: through this manipulation, they provided a new dignity to the most marginalized sectors of Tunisian society. At the same time, by representing the hoods, rappers could claim social capital and credibility as the 'true' narrators of the new Tunisia. But the reimagination of social narratives and the poetics of the urban space had only a limited success in improving the conditions of disadvantaged youth and the hoods they inhabited.
Youthful agency, art practices and the right to the city