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Staking Out Rural Demands in the Urban Fringe: The Roundabout Revolt of France’s gilets jaunes

Authors: Sarah Farmer*, Prof.
Topics: Rural Geography, Urban Geography, Political Geography
Keywords: urban fringe, rural edge; roundabout, gilets jaunes, peri-urban
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In 2018, for ten turbulent months, protestors clad in fluorescent yellow vests rallied, protested and camped out in the traffic roundabouts of the urban fringe of towns and cities across France. The yellow vest protestors (gilets jaunes) mobilized spontaneously through social media, first to oppose a rise in gasoline prices and then to express broader social grievances of working people living in rural areas where the disappearance of essential services and infrastructure (medical clinics, schools, post offices) has hollowed out the social safety net and the economic promise of postwar France.
This paper explores the spatial politics of gilets jaunes’s strategy of laying claim to the traffic roundabout as the physical and symbolic base from which to launch their movement. The description for this panel notes Henri Lefebvre’s observation that centrality is movable and suggests that the urban fringe is no longer the fringe and the crabgrass frontier is a new center. This paper proposes that the presence and activity of the gilet jaunes in the traffic roundabouts of the urban fringe reasserted a rural component to physical space built on formerly agriculture land that is now defined as urban or industrial. The revolt of the gilet jaunes insists that the urban fringe is also the rural edge of contemporary rural society whose members are often overlooked and little understood.

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