Colonial Culture in France since the Revolution


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<P>This landmark collection by an international group of scholars and public intellectuals represents a major reassessment of French colonial culture and how it continues to inform thinking about history, memory, and identity. This reexamination of French colonial culture, provides the basis for a revised understanding of its cultural, political, and social legacy and its lasting impact on postcolonial immigration, the treatment of ethnic minorities, and national identity. </P>
<P>Introduction: The Creation of a Colonial Culture in France, from the Colonial Era to the "Memory Wars" </P><P>Part I. The Creation of a Colonial Culture<BR>Foreword: French Colonization: an Inaudible History </P><P>1. Anti-Slavery, Abolitionism, and Abolition in France from the End of the Eighteenth Century to the 1840s <BR>2. Milestones in Colonial Culture under the Second Empire (1851-1870) <BR>3. Exhibitions, Expositions, Media Coverage, and the Colonies (1870-1914) <BR>4. Science, Scientists, and the Colonies (1870-1914) <BR>5. Literature, Song, and the Colonies (1900-1920) <BR>6. Entertainment, Theater, and the Colonies (1870-1914) <BR>7. School, Pedagogy, and Colonies (1870-1914) <BR>8. Dying: the Call of the Empire (1913-1918) </P><P>Part II. Conquering Public Opinion<BR>Foreword: History’s Mark (1931-1961) </P><P>9. Dreaming: the Fatal Attraction of Colonial Cinema (1920-1950) <BR>10. Spreading the Word: the Agence Générale des Colonies (1920-1931) <BR>11. To Civilize: the Invention of the Native (1918-1940) <BR>12. Selling the Colonial Economic Myth (1900-1940) <BR>13. The Athletic Exception: Black Champions and Colonial Culture (1900-1939) <BR>14. The Colonial Bath: Sources of Popular Colonial Culture (1918-1931)<BR>15. The Colonial Exposition (1931) <BR>16. National Unity: the Right and Left "Meet" around the Colonial Exposition (1931)</P><P>Part III. The Apogee of Imperialism<BR>Foreword: Images of an Empire’s Demise </P><P>17. Colonizing, Educating, Guiding: A Republican Duty <BR>18. Promotion: Creating the Colonial (1930-1940) <BR>19. Influence: Cultural and Ideological Agendas (1920-1940) <BR>20. Education: Becoming "Homo Imperialis" (1910-1940) <BR>21. Manipulation: Conquering Taste (1931-1939) <BR>22. Control: Paris, a Colonial Capital (1931-1939) <BR>23. Imperial Revolution: Vichy’s Colonial Myth (1940-1944) <BR>24. Colonial Economy: Between Propaganda Myths and Economic Reality (1940-1955)<BR>25. French Unity: The Dream of a United France (1946-1960) </P><P>Part IV. Toward the Postcolony<BR>Foreword: Moussa the African’s Blues </P><P>26. Decolonizing France: the "Indochinese Syndrome" (1946-1954) <BR>27. Immigration: the Emergence of an African Elite in the Metropole (1946-1961) 28. Immigration: North Africans Settle in the Metropole (1946-1961) <BR>29. Crime: Colonial Violence in the Metropole (1954-1961) <BR>30. Modernism, Colonialism, and Cultural Hybridity <BR>31. The Meanders of Colonial Memory <BR>32. The Impossible Revision of France’s History (1968-2006) <BR>33. National History and Colonial History: Parallel Histories (1961-2006) <BR>34.The Illusion of Decolonization (1956-2006) <BR>35.The Impossible Colonial Museum </P><P>Part V. The Time of Inheritance<BR>Foreword: The Age of Contempt, or the Legitimization of France’s Civilizing Mission <BR>36. Trouble in the Republic: Disturbing Memories, Forgotten Territories <BR>37. Competition between Victims<BR>38. The Army and the Construction of Immigration as a Threat (1961-2006)<BR>39. Postcolonial Culture in the Army and the Memory of Overseas Combatants (1961-2006)<BR>40. Republican Integration: Reflections on a Postcolonial Issue (1961-2006)<BR>41. Colonial Influences and Tropes in the Field of Literature <BR>42. From Colonial History to the Banlieues (1961-2006) <BR>43. Can We Speak of A Postcolonial Racism? (1961-2006) <BR>44. From Colonial Stereotypes to the Postcolonial Gaze: the Need for an Evolution of the Imaginary <BR>45. Post Colonial Cinema, Song, and Literature: Continuity or Change? (1961-2006)<BR>46. Ethnic Tourism: Symbolic Reconquest? (1961-2006) <BR>47. Francophonie and Universality: the Evolution of Two Entangled Ideas (1961-2006)</P><P>Bibliography<BR>Contributors<BR>Index</P>



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© 2014 by Indiana University Press
Colonial Culture in France since the Revolution, edited by Pascal Blanchard, Sandrine Lemaire,
Nicolas Bancel, and Dominic Thomas. Copyright © 2014 by Indiana University Press. Originally
published as Culture coloniale en France: De la Révolution française à nos jours, edited by Pascal
Blanchard, Sandrine Lemaire, and Nicolas Bancel. Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2006 by Éditions
Autrement, Paris, with the collaboration of the Groupe de recherche ACHAC.
All rights reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Culture coloniale en France. English.
Colonial culture in France since the revolution / edited by Pascal Blanchard, Sandrine Lemaire,
Nicolas Bancel, and Dominic Thomas; translated by Alexis Pernsteiner.
pages cm
Originally published in French as: Culture coloniale en France: de la Révolution française à nos
jours (Paris: CNRS: Autrement, 2008), with the collaboration of the Groupe de recherche ACHAC.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-253-01045-2 (cloth: alk. paper) — ISBN 978-0-253-01053-7 (e-book) 1. France—
Colonies—Social aspects. 2. France—Colonies—History. 3. France—Intellectual life—19th
century. 4. France—Intellectual life—20th century. 5. France—Social life and customs—19th
century. 6. France—Social life and customs—20th century. 7. France—Ethnic relations. 8.
Imperialism. I. Blanchard, Pascal, author, editor of compilation. II. Lemaire, Sandrine, author, editor
of compilation. III. Bancel, Nicolas, author, editor of compilation. IV. Thomas, Dominic Richard
David, editor of compilation. V. Pernsteiner, Alexis, translator. VI. Title.
JV1817.C8513 2014
1 2 3 4 5 19 18 17 16 15 14Contents
Introduction: The Creation of a Colonial Culture in France, from the Colonial Era to the
“Memory Wars” \ Pascal Blanchard, Sandrine Lemaire, Nicolas Bancel, and Dominic Thomas
Part 1. The Creation of a Colonial Culture
Foreword: French Colonization: An Inaudible History \ Marc Ferro
1 Antislavery, Abolitionism, and Abolition in France from the End of the Eighteenth Century to the
1840s \ Marcel Dorigny
2 Milestones in Colonial Culture under the Second Empire (1851–1870) \ Sandrine Lemaire,
Pascal Blanchard, and Nicolas Bancel
3 Exhibitions, Expositions, Media Coverage, and the Colonies (1870–1914) \ Sandrine Lemaire
and Pascal Blanchard
4 Science, Scientists, and the Colonies (1870–1914) \ Gilles Boëtsch
5 Literature, Song, and the Colonies (1900–1920) \ Alain Ruscio
6 Entertainment, Theater, and the Colonies (1870–1914) \ Sylvie Chalaye
7 School, Pedagogy, and the Colonies (1870–1914) \ Gilles Manceron
8 Dying: The Call of the Empire (1913–1918) \ Éric Deroo
Part 2. Conquering Public Opinion
Foreword: History’s Mark (1931–1961) \ Didier Daeninckx
9 Dreaming: The Fatal Attraction of Colonial Cinema (1920–1950) \ Olivier Barlet and Pascal
10 Spreading the Word: The Agence Générale des Colonies (1920–1931) \ Sandrine Lemaire
11 To Civilize: The Invention of the Native (1918–1940) \ Nicolas Bancel and Pascal Blanchard
12 Selling the Colonial Economic Myth (1900–1940) \ Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch
13 The Athletic Exception: Black Champions and Colonial Culture (1900–1939) \ Timothée Jobert,
Stanislas Frenkiel, and Nicolas Bancel
14 The Colonial Bath: Colonial Culture in Everyday Life (1918–1931) \ Nicolas Bancel
15 The Colonial Exposition (1931) \ Steven Ungar
16 National Unity: The Right and Left “Meet” around the Colonial Exposition (1931) \ Pascal
Part 3. The Apogee of Imperialism
Foreword: Images of an Empire’s Demise \ Benjamin Stora
17 Colonizing, Educating, Guiding: A Republican Duty \ Françoise Vergès
18 Promotion: Creating the Colonial (1930–1940) \ Sandrine Lemaire
19 Influence: Cultural and Ideological Agendas (1920–1940) \ David Murphy, Elizabeth Ezra, and
Charles Forsdick20 Education: Becoming “Homo Imperialis” (1910–1940) \ Nicolas Bancel and Daniel Denis
21 Manipulation: Conquering Taste (1931–1939) \ Sandrine Lemaire
22 Control: Paris, a Colonial Capital (1931–1939) \ Pascal Blanchard and Éric Deroo
23 Imperial Revolution: Vichy’s Colonial Myth (1940–1944) \ Pascal Blanchard and Ruth Ginio
24 The Colonial Economy: Between Propaganda Myths and Economic Reality (1940–1955) \
Sandrine Lemaire, Catherine Hodeir, and Pascal Blanchard
25 French Unity: The Dream of a United France (1946–1960) \ Jacques Frémeaux
Part 4. Toward the Postcolony
Foreword: Moussa the African’s Blues \ Abdourahman A. Waberi
26 Decolonizing France: The “Indochinese Syndrome” (1946–1954) \ Daniel Hémery
27 Immigration and an Emerging African Elite in the Metropole (1946–1961) \ Philippe Dewitte
28 North Africans Settle in the Metropole (1946–1961) \ Pascal Blanchard, Éric Deroo, Driss El
Yazami, Pierre Fournié, and Gilles Manceron
29 Crime: Colonial Violence in the Metropole (1954–1961) \ Jean-Luc Einaudi
30 Modernism, Colonialism, and Cultural Hybridity \ Herman Lebovics
31 The Meanders of Colonial Memory \ Nicolas Bancel and Pascal Blanchard
32 The Impossible Revision of France’s History (1968–2006) \ Suzanne Citron
33 National History and Colonial History: Parallel Histories (1961–2006) \ Sandrine Lemaire
34 The Illusion of Decolonization (1956–2006) \ Jean-Pierre Dozon
35 The Difficult Art of Exhibiting the Colonies \ Robert Aldrich
Part 5. The Time of Inheritance
Foreword: The Age of Contempt, or the Legitimization of France’s Civilizing Mission \ Bruno
36 Trouble in the Republic: Disturbing Memories, Forgotten Territories \ Françoise Vergès
37 Competition between Victims \ Esther Benbassa
38 The Army and the Construction of Immigration as a Threat (1961–2006) \ Mathieu Rigouste
39 Postcolonial Culture in the Army and the Memory of Overseas Combatants (1961–2006) \
Christian Benoît, Antoine Champeaux, and Éric Deroo
40 Republican Integration: Reflections on a Postcolonial Issue (1961–2006) \ Vincent Geisser
41 Colonial Influences and Tropes in the Field of Literature \ Jean-Marc Moura
42 From Colonial History to the Banlieues (1961–2006) \ Dominique Vidal
43 Can We Speak of a Postcolonial Racism? (1961–2006) \ Saïd Bouamama and Pierre Tevanian
44 From Colonial Stereotypes to the Postcolonial Gaze: The Need for an Evolution of the Imaginary
\ Dominique Wolton
45 Postcolonial Cinema, Song, and Literature: Continuity or Change? (1961–2006) \ Delphine
Robic-Diaz and Alain Ruscio
46 Ethnic Tourism: Symbolic Reconquest? (1961–2006) \ Nicolas Bancel47 Francophonie and Universality: The Evolution of Two Intertwined Notions (1961–2006) \
Gabrielle Parker
The Creation of a Colonial Culture in France, from the Colonial Era to the
“Memory Wars”
Pascal Blanchard, Sandrine Lemaire,
Nicolas Bancel, and Dominic Thomas
The present collection is the fruit of an inquiry that began in the early 1990s and that sought to better
elucidate certain aspects of France’s contemporary history. The weight of colonial imaginary,
discernible in the production of a colonial iconicity, in colonial cinema, and in the intertextual
articulations of images/ discourse, called for improved contextualization, as did those mechanisms
associated with the construction of different paradigms with respect to the Other in the context of a
burgeoning imperialism.1 Initial research was conducted on the subject of “human zoos,” and then
shortly thereafter we began evaluating the importance of colonial expositions and world fairs that were
held in France and abroad.2 We also sought to better understand the relationship between immigration
to the metropole from the “global South” and the colonial phenomenon itself over a longer historical
period that included both the colonial and postcolonial periods. In turn, we found ourselves compelled
to investigate even more complex, yet related, processes, such as French Republican identity.
This research is the result of an empirical deconstruction of a number of initially scattered cultural,
juridical, and political systems, which over time came to constitute a historical system that could be
defined in large part by imperialism and its postcolonial repercussions.3 We have found the expression
“colonial culture” helpful in describing this system. The present work thus represents a concerted
attempt to elucidate and interpret the gradual development, dissemination, and mutation of colonial
culture in the French metropole over more than two centuries. The book therefore begins at the dawn
of colonial culture, when slavery was first abolished, and ends in the postcolonial period with an
examination into the long-term effects of the imperial system. Of course, research conducted in Great
Britain, Canada, the United States, Australia, and elsewhere over the past two decades has greatly
contributed to the construction of this field, particularly those works that have evaluated the colonial
and postcolonial impact of imperialism in the former colonial metropoles.
The Origins of Colonial Culture
In the nineteenth century, following the utopian dream of a new society, and in keeping with Republican
universalist ideals inherited from the Revolution, France strove toward “progress,” namely in the form
of the colonial act. The dynamics of colonialism were rooted in a postrevolutionary continuum, which
began with the French campaign in Egypt and in the abolition movements of 1848, with the conquest of
Algeria in 1830, and the conquests of the Second Empire (1852–1870). Colonialism was seen as a
mark of civilization, of national grandeur, of science and progress. The nation, which emerged out of
the French Revolution, brought liberty and not oppression, development and not exploitation, to the
peoples it was “liberating.”
The first two waves of conquest in the nineteenth century were unrelated to an emergent colonial
ideology—which was not fully established until the Third Republic (1870–1940)—and were instead
primarily the result of internal politics. The conquest of Algeria in 1830, which became the central
pillar of the pre-Republican Empire, was the regime’s way of leaping into unknown overseas lands.
However, this Restoration-era project proved a failure in the realm of internal politics. The Second
Empire’s overseas enterprise was part of Napoleon III’s geo-strategic vision of the world (see Chapter
2). From the conquests in Indochina to the failure of the French Mexican Expedition, from the myth of
the “Arab Kingdom” to engagements in Syria or in China, Napoleon III worked to construct an
overseas destiny for France in line with that of the mythical period prior to 1763 (the Treaty of Paris)
or the Ancien Regime’s first colonial Empire. The new wave of conquests initiated by the Third
Republic in 18794 (in Indochina, sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar, and the Maghreb) resulted, until
1885 (when the first official partitioning of Africa between the major Western powers began following
the Berlin Congress), in the voluntary construction of a new regime for opportunistic republicans
(although there were numerous debates between republicans with respect to the kinds of opportunities
such a policy would yield).5 The driving principle was international dominance, and the developmentof national cohesion through the subversion of internal social and political rivalries.
The “republican” wave of conquest was similar in scope to those that came earlier, though with an
additional twist. Whether following the conquests that led to the annexation of Morocco, or later, after
the participation of a number of “indigenous” troops in the First World War, the actual legitimacy of
colonization was only rarely questioned. The Rif War (around the mid-1920s) was thus as much a
reflection of the desire to underscore France’s power as it was an effort on the part of the Cartel des
Gauches to affirm its “national fiber” by opposing itself to communist “activism”; meanwhile, the
strategy in the Levant was primarily a reaction to secular opposition to the British Empire in the
Middle East.
France’s colonial enterprise and the Third Republic were born in the same moment. This was the
era during which the multifaceted foundations of a colonial culture were laid. This culture was at once
a burgeoning ideology and a collection of cultural markers. Initially an elitist and minority position,
colonial ideology progressively became a coherent political doctrine strongly linked to a universalist
discourse, and was partially reliant upon new bodies of knowledge impacting all domains of thought
and experience. It was molded by the pragmatic necessities of the hour, namely those of inter-European
competition and internal political demands. Multiple cultural markers helped form and shape colonial
culture: travel literature and adventure novels (with the press reporting the feats of explorers and the
discovery of the world), critical institutions (such as the first colonial associations), geographical
societies, and commerce-related organizations with new ambitions and aspirations, alongside the
dramatic rise in research and interest on the Other and the Elsewhere (such as in colonial ethnography
and physical anthropology). Together, these elements formed a complete discourse animated by social
practices, which, popular throughout the nineteenth century and well into the first half of the twentieth
century, serve to reveal the conditions of the cultural possibility of imperial expansion.
During this process, France went from an exclusively hexagonal society (with the exception of a
few colonial territories inherited from the Ancien Regime) to an imperial culture.6 This colonial
culture reached its apogee at the moment of the centennial of the conquest of Algeria and the
International Colonial Exposition of 1931. This multiform culture was widely disseminated throughout
French society, becoming a mainstay over the following three decades up until independence and the
Algerian War (1954–1962), and then subsequently being transformed during the postcolonial era.
The present collaborative work thus aims to better determine the powerful means through which
this culture was disseminated (literature, song, cabaret, propaganda, theater, the press, expositions,
postcards and posters, school textbooks, books, fixed images, cinema), the primary social spaces in
which it was advocated (schools, museums, the military world, economic milieus, propaganda
agencies, the scholarly world, the realm of politics), and the key moments of its promotion (colonial
and universal expositions, the Great War, commemorations, national union, colonial conquests). We
have thus organized the book into five relatively equal parts in order to illustrate the chronological
process of this phenomenon: “The Creation of a Colonial Culture” (from the first abolition of slavery
until the defeat at Sedan); “Conquering Public Opinion” (from the beginnings of the Third Republic to
the International Colonial Exposition of 1931); “The Apogee of Imperialism” (from the interwar period
until independence); “Toward the Postcolony” (postcolonial repercussions on French society); and
“The Time of Inheritance” (on memory, influences, and outcomes in the present day).
If one considers this sequence of events, it is possible, step-by-step, to delimit an initial period that
covers 1763 to 1870, and that saw the emergence of a “precolonial” culture in metropolitan France.
Still in its infancy, this culture slowly began to appear in the different stages of French intervention
overseas: from the loss of the Ancien Regime’s colonial possessions to the French Revolution with the
first abolition of slavery, from the expedition in Egypt to Napoleon’s punitive expeditions in the
Caribbean, from the restoration of slavery to the conquest of Algeria, from the second abolition of
slavery in 1848 to the conquests in Indochina, from installation in New Caledonia to the failure in
Mexico, each “colonial moment” incited a reaction in the metropole, reactions that slowly gave way to
a collective understanding according to which France was engaged in a lively colonial enterprise
overseas. However, this understanding remained for the most part limited to elite and economic
circles, and did not really reach the general public until the Third Republic. Over time, thanks to travel
literature, geographical societies, colonial committees, and especially the success of the first major
universal expositions, held in 1855 and 1867, the colonial idea began to spread.
The following period, from 1871 to 1931, marks the juncture at which colonial culture became
ingrained in public opinion and society, a process that can be divided into three moments: the time of
impregnation (the defeat at Sedan and the pacification of Morocco), the time of affirmation (the Great
War and the Rif War), and the time of apogee (from the Exposition of Decorative Arts to theInternational Colonial Exposition of 1931). In this process, the Great War represents a pivotal moment
in which the colonial reality “deeply penetrated [ … ] French society” (Chapter 8). Because it
“ushered into the metropole a massive wave of conscripted infantrymen and workers from the
Maghreb, Indochina, and Africa” it “put an end to [previous] ways of presenting colonized peoples and
of discovering the Other” (Chapter 3).7 An array of cultural materials, debates, and issues are thus
explored in this book, and a broad multi-disciplinary framework allows us to better access and
evaluate colonial culture. The transversality of this approach highlights the complexity and entangled
nature of the cultural processes being investigated. In many ways, the French became colonial in spite
of themselves through the gradual but nevertheless effective impregnation of the primary axes of
colonial ideology into a variety of discursive messages that transformed the colonial phenomenon into
a proliferation of images depicting foreign lands and new peoples, bolstered through recourse to a
diverse array of ordinary social practices (such as the exposition, the “human zoo,” and ethnographic
exhibitions), which altogether yielded a clear understanding as to the place of each population in the
world, while simultaneously establishing the supremacy of the West and outlining its mission.8 Not so
much colonials in the sense of agents of colonization (these only constituted an extremely small
minority) nor in the sense of conscious partisans of colonialism; but rather colonials by dint of the often
unconscious incorporation of imperial discourse, norms, attitudes, indeed of a habitus into the
collective mentality and psyche. Without this dimension, the historic colonial system would not have
lasted long, nor even have been able to exist.
How then, did this colonial culture establish itself? Although this question must be considered in
light of certain evolutions in French overseas policy, this culture cannot merely be defined as a
consequence of them. Colonial culture emerged according to its own rhythm, which is of course fairly
logical if we take the time to consider the variety of domains therein that are either directly or
tangentially related to it. Neither causality nor simple logic can be ascribed to it. A teleonomy cannot
be traced. However, it is nevertheless possible to discern a moment in history in which a dynamic
proper to ethnography crosses into the passion for adventure novels, the development of scouting, the
obsession with colonial expositions and “negro villages,” the interest for conferences put on by
geographical societies, the first colonial films. Though each of these domains maintained a dynamic
proper to them, they also shared something in common, something that signaled the emergence of a new
vision of the world. This new vision could jointly be described as a desire for the elsewhere and the
seductive force of annexation, of the certainty of Western civilization’s superiority and the corollary
superiority of its race, as evidenced through the inferiority of the Other (this feeling was also often
mixed with a kind of fascination). In reality, people were convinced that spreading these values to
lesser societies was a legitimate task.
Our aim is not to give a unique and totalizing definition of colonial culture, a task that in any case
would be impossible.9 Ours is rather to offer a number of empirical studies that might begin to sketch
the contours of such a phenomenon. The definition of what colonial culture might correspond to—
following Edward Saïd’s lead in the book Culture and Imperialism and as an extension of Raoul
Girardet’s foundational work L’Idée coloniale en France—could in itself be the topic of a book.
Having said this, defining limits is, in a way, already to provide a definition.10
Colonial culture is thus what makes sense in recent “national” history or quite simply in the
“history of France” when we investigate the colonial influence: the evolution of citizenship beginning
in 1830, the fusion between the national and the colonial under Napoleon III, the Republic’s
involvement in the overseas enterprise, the popular success of the International Colonial Exposition of
1931, the specific impact of the economic crisis, the demographic stakes, the evolution of the Ministry
of the Colonies beginning in 1858, changes in the army, regional specificities of migration from the
south, debates on the nation, immigration policies, the anticommunist struggle, and so on. Colonial
culture was the ubiquity of France’s colonial domain in French society, a domain that over time
became “Greater France,” then the Empire, then France Overseas, the French Union, and finally the
French Community… prior to being transformed into French Overseas Departments and Territories
known today as the DOM-TOM. The place of the colonial in our institutions, our political culture, and
our imaginary was not simply a product of state propaganda, but also the result of an array of
influences, intermediaries, and interactions of which we are only beginning to understand the
importance. They are in fact made up of multiple layers. The dates of the universal expositions serve as
structuring points, especially that of 1889, which incontestably marks the first high point of France’s
colonial culture because it commemorated the centennial of the French Revolution and marked the
beginning of modernity (as exemplified by such important symbols as the Eiffel Tower), as well as the
recent victory of the Republic.Previous universal expositions held in Paris in 1855, 1867, and 1878 had afforded an increasingly
important space to the colonies, as had the World’s Fairs held outside of France in Amsterdam (1883),
Anvers (1885), Barcelona (1888), and Brussels (1888), but it was the Universal Exposition of 1889
that offered a new kind of visibility with respect to the colonies. North Africa and Indochina were the
exposition’s main attractions, alongside the “human zoos” from sub-Saharan Africa and the four
hundred individuals on exhibit, including two dozen Tahitians and Kanaks. A colonial conference was
organized for the occasion that reaffirmed the major tenets of the Republic’s colonial ideology: the
assimilation of indigenous peoples, the supremacy of French civilization, economic liberalism for the
benefit of all, political largesse, the uniformization of the Republic’s laws, and so on. None of these
principles would be instituted in the colonies. As an extension of the exposition and the conference, the
structural pillars of the colonial lobby were put into place, a lobby that fought for the impregnation of
the colonial idea into the metropole and the formation of elites. The first was the very powerful Comité
de l’Afrique Française (French Africa Committee), founded in 1890; then the colonial group was
formed in the House two years later, and finally the Union Coloniale in 1893. Together, these groups
constituted the visible surface of the colonial party.
All political tendencies and economic or administrative powers were involved, from the prince of
Arenberg to Leroy-Beaulieu, from Charles-Roux to Siegfried, from Archinard to Binger, and so on.
Meanwhile, increasingly specialized committees began to form: committees on Egypt, French Asia,
Morocco, and French Oceania. Simultaneously, the colonial group in the House continued to grow,
counting more than two hundred representatives in 1902 and accounting for 75 percent of France’s
ministers from the colonies between 1894 and 1900. The Union Coloniale was by far the most active
instrument of propaganda, relying upon a number of intermediary groups11, with its publications like
La Quinzaine coloniale, as well as the ones it financed, including La Politique coloniale and La
Dépêche coloniale. The number of conferences, dinner-debates, and talks was impressive and
contributed to the formation of a colonial consciousness among the elites. The final pillar was put in
place in 1889, namely the creation of a Colonial School, with the specific objective of training
highlevel administrators that would be deployed overseas. Enrollment in the Colonial School was fairly
modest though, and on the eve of the war, less than one-fifth of administrators in overseas posts were
graduates of this establishment.
In fact, although a good many strategic efforts and structures were put in place, none would
ultimately have a large-scale impact, which would explain why the French colonial magazine, the
Bulletin de la Ligue Coloniale, asserted in 1914 that “the colonial education of the French remains to
be done.” At this historical juncture, the budget for the colonies was still relatively modest,
representing only some 2 percent of the state budget, in other words three times less than that allocated
to public instruction, albeit more than that of the marines and double that of agriculture. Yet, thanks to
the multitude of committees and organizations, various conferences and talks, the forty colonial
periodicals and reports at the time, the space devoted to the colonies in the major press, and the
multiple local and national expositions, public opinion was bombarded by the colonial enterprise.
However, the French remained far from convinced colonials—at the time, German colonial leagues
counted three to four times more militants—though they were deeply affected by colonial culture.
The metamorphosis of anticolonialists in 1914 confirms this point: claims were no longer made for
an end to colonialism, and few were those who demanded instead that it be humanized. A residual but
related movement in favor of an abolition of colonial domination remained alive in the Communist
Party, and was voiced at a number of Comintern meetings held during the interwar period. But this
period also introduced an important rupture as the state became increasingly aware of its propagandist
mission and of the necessity to reorganize a number of existing committees and associations. In Chapter
10, Sandrine Lemaire paints the picture of a state that between 1920 and 1931 federated, organized,
and attempted to dispense colonial knowledge throughout France, a dimension underscored by then
minister of the colonies Albert Sarraut when he claimed on February 27, 1920, in the French Senate:

It is absolutely essential that a methodic, serious, persistent propaganda, through speech and
through image, in newspapers, conferences, films, expositions, impact adults and children
throughout our country. [ … ] The history lessons offered in our primary, middle, and high
schools and the part therein of our colonial domain are inadequate. We must improve and
expand this component of teaching and make it more lively, more expressive, more practical,
and the images, movies, and projections used need to be more informative and entertaining for
French youth that are ill-informed when it comes to our colonies.Government and Colonial Culture
Following the Great War, the state became more closely involved in the promotion of the colonial idea
in France, notably through the French Bureau of Propaganda and official expositions. For this, it relied
on the scholarly world, some economic sectors, and even the entertainment world, dimensions
developed here in the chapters contributed by Gilles Boëtsch, Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch, Sylvie
Chalaye, and Alain Ruscio, who points out that before the boom in state propaganda, literature played a
central role in the promotion of the colonial enterprise: “Partisans of colonialism had countless ways
and countless occasions to express themselves, while its adversaries and critics were marginalized”
(Chapter 5).
Exotic literature, in the same way as colonial songs and scholarly publications, was an essential
means of disseminating this culture. The Republican school also played a major role in anchoring into
the collective consciousness the certainty of the French colonial system’s superiority. Moreover, it
helped to democratize this culture. Soon, cinema and fixed images would contribute to the campaign,
through the dissemination of thousands of pieces of audio/visual material. A whole populace, from
rural to urban areas, was thus immersed in a veritable colonial bath. Each image participated in the
elaboration of a social imaginary, through which the national community, appropriating a common
patrimony, constructed itself.
Public opinion appears to have been increasingly convinced by the colonial idea, thanks in part to
the Empire’s indispensable support during the Great War and to the notion of a robust autarchic market
—the object of endless promotion— and finally to the supposed strategic importance of the overseas
possessions. This almost unanimous consensus in the late 1920s with respect to the issue of the
colonies was a source of national unity that crossed party lines, from the socialist left to the nationalist
right, and was echoed by the press. Indeed, this consensus was perhaps most obvious during the
International Colonial Exposition held at Vincennes in 1931. A new colonial era was beginning in
France, and everyone seems to have shared the same feeling: France needs its Empire, France is a
colonial power, and to be anticolonial was tantamount to being anti-French.
As the imperial idea was making political inroads, a colonial imaginary began to emerge in diverse
cultural forms, ranging from school textbooks to the most illustrious of Parisian theater houses. The
wide-scale dissemination of this imaginary was made possible by the advent of mass culture,12 and, as
Nicolas Bancel has argued, “On the one hand, because the ideological principles behind it (a hierarchy
of the world and its peoples, a glorification of European and Enlightenment culture), no matter the
cultural iteration (colonial expositions, postcards, etc.), mutually reinforced one another, without ever
really changing. On the other hand, because these forms were primarily apolitical” (Chapter 14).
Here, the full meaning of the concept of colonial culture emerges: it is not simply an item of
propaganda or a public vulgate, but rather a culture in the sense of a host of discursive materials,
images, and practices, which, beginning in the 1920s, no longer had much to do with colonization
properly speaking. France had changed, it had been transformed; the colony, like the army and schools,
was now part of ordinary everyday life; it was now part of the fabric of Republican gesture. France’s
roads, towns13, geography, museums and monuments14, universal and national and colonial
expositions, “object lessons” (see Chapter 3), history, economy, publicity, art, music, literature,
cinema, statesmen and its officers, and more—all of these elements were imbued with the “colonial.”
The Great War ushered in a new era of propaganda, which affected all age groups. At this time, as Éric
Deroo has shown, “hundreds of postcards (in the form of photographs or illustrations), commercial
vignettes or posters, news headlines, manufactured objects, novels, and films depicted the bravado of
the faithful ‘Y’a bon’ character (a slogan that would later be used by a brand of cocoa powder, with
great success), of the fierce Turk, of the intrepid Spahi, or of the clever Tonkinese” (Chapter 8). All
that pertained to the colonial was now fashionable and permeated every facet of society. Every
advertisement or publication, it seemed, featured something colonial. For the French, the overseas
territories had become an intimate, banal, natural thing.
Three generations of politicians grew up in this context, one from which women were de facto
excluded. Some were influenced by the colonial space, others educated in it, and still others came from
it. The fate of a large portion of the nation’s political elites was in some ways determined by the
colonies: from Doriot to Lyautey, Gambetta to Ferry, Faure to Poincaré, Doumergue to Lebrun, La
Rocque to Pétain, Sarraut to Viollette, and Clemenceau to Mitterrand. We often forget that, from the
defeat at Sedan until the early 1930s, France was in a constant “colonial war.” This explains why the
Empire constituted a kind of school—and a way for military men to quickly advance their careers—for
elites. The overseas territories became a field of experimentation where “new men” could establishthemselves. The ubiquity of the colonial—in the press, in comics, in children’s literature, in novels, at
the theater or the movies—resulted in a peculiar relationship to the world: a “constant conquest” in the
name of universalist ideals, which placed the Republic in a continuity with the French Revolution and
the preceding regimes that “made France.” The colonizers were naturally superior and legitimized in
their activities, because they were involved in a “civilizing mission”: colonization was considered a
humanitarian ideal. The right to colonize and the duty to educate went hand in hand. Jules Ferry
expressed this idea succinctly in a speech he made to the Chamber of Deputies on July 28, 1885: “The
superior races have a right with respect to the inferior races… because they also have a duty toward
them. They have a duty to civilize the inferior races.”
Republican Ideology Extends to the Colonies
Colonial culture was bound to the ideals and the ideology of the Third Republic. Opportunistic
Republicans thus integrated colonization into an internal ideological campaign, which was fully
inscribed within colonial culture. Republicans, facing the constant threat of a possible return of the
monarchy and a revivified nationalism, were politically fragile. They therefore introduced and
promoted reforms that aimed at creating “national unity” among the populace, a unity that promised to
assure their social and political power. Here, we are of course referring to the 1882 law on
compulsory education and generalized conscription. This was the Republican response to the issue of
how to form a national community, a community that was still in its early phases, threatened by
political divisions, regional fractures, linguistic heterogeneity, and institutions that were either openly
or potentially hostile, such as the Church and the army (even though, as we know, the majority of
officers were legitimists). Republican power was, in this sense, a power obsessed with its own
fragility. Its entire ideological strategy was thus to invigorate the idea of the nation, of national unity,
and to create transcendent political ideals capable of mobilizing the largest swath of the population.
The civilizing ideal for the colonies was seen as a potentially mobilizing discourse, and the project of
colonization was, in a sense, that of “nationalization.”
The state’s colonial discourse—in which the colonial was described both as an extension of the
national and as a condition of the nation’s power—maintained an “Enlightenment” notion, that of
spreading civilization to peoples considered biologically and culturally inferior, up until the era of
independence. The certainty of superiority was, for the most part, validated by science (though
scientists were not always terribly favorable of the colonial enterprise), and as Gilles Boëtsch reveals
in Chapter 4:

In the end, scientific knowledge was placed at the service of a colonial order that relied upon
an understanding of the other (the mores, customs, and environment) for its own construction. In
close proximity to the burgeoning colonial system, indeed a participating element in its
construction, this scientific discourse was omnipresent. Hierarchizing humanity, it worked to
legitimize the colonial order. Scientists therefore contributed to the creation of a culture of
difference, a culture that quickly became indispensable to the colonial order.
Many were influenced by the thinking of Ernest Renan on the community of “living beings in a same
territory.” For them, France would not be France until it had achieved uniformity among its citizens and
throughout its territory (for example, in the case of Algeria, which became a French department, or
before that, of Corsica). However, by the end of the nineteenth century, notions of race had infiltrated a
rather significant fringe of the intelligentsia. For those affected, the national community necessarily
excluded “African Blacks,” “barbarian and fanatic peoples,” “inferior races,” and other
“unassimilable populations”—in other words, almost all of the nonwhite peoples in the Empire. The
definition of the word nègre in the Grand Dictionnaire Larousse universel du XIXe siècle (1865),
which preceded the wave of Republican conquests, is revealing with respect to the propagation of
racism (especially, here, in terms of a discourse of physical anthropology):

In vain, a handful of philanthropists tried to prove that the negro race was as intelligent as the
white race. A few rare examples among them is, however, not sufficient evidence to prove the
existence of great faculties of intelligence in this group. One incontestable fact to stand out from
all the others is that they have smaller, lighter, and less voluminous brains than that of the white
race. And, as in all of the animal kingdom, intelligence is directly related to the size of the brain
and the number and profundity of its circumvolutions. This alone is enough to prove the
superiority of the white race over the black race.15France involved itself in a series of regional and colonial conquests, which over time evolved into
a notion of empire (with all the “Roman” power therein implied) or of Greater France. It
revolutionized classical matrices of national identity through the concept of assimilation, and the
colonial territories and outlier regions became inscribed into a common process of absorption into the
nation, which sought to “make” the conquered spaces French. The colonization of “overseas”
territories did not thus constitute a rupture with the past. Rather it was symbolically inscribed in a
consubstantial continuum with the construction of the French nation, and later, through a kind of
inheritance, with that of the Republic. For, as Françoise Vergès explains, “The Republic thus gave its
adherents a mission to accomplish: that of propagating the good word. The civilizing mission was
multifaceted in nature: it was thought to be humanitarian, it had an ideology of assimilation, it justified
colonial intervention. Colonial conquest was undertaken in the very name of republican principles”
(Chapter 17).
Meanwhile, parts of the economic world were becoming increasingly convinced by the colonial
enterprise. In the early days of the Third Republic, the economic stakes of the overseas territories were
relatively small, as economic exchange with the possessions represented a mere 5.5 percent of French
trade (two-thirds of which was with Algeria). During the period of conquest, a large number of
renowned economists criticized the colonial enterprise, and many of the Republic’s elected officials—
as seen during a colonial debate in the House in December 188516—were seriously considering a
withdrawal from Madagascar and Tonkin. Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch (Chapter 12) adds,
moreover, that following the war of 1870, many French politicians and economists questioned whether
“the Empire had a future” and whether the colonies were a “good deal,” and concerted efforts had to be
made to “convince the public of the importance of colonial business.”
The place afforded to the colonial space at the Universal Exposition of Vienna (1873) was still
small, amounting to less than 3 percent of exhibits—it is perhaps not even worth mentioning the
overrepresentation of Algeria among this small number. Over time, tropical goods became
“indispensable raw material[s] for the industrialization of metropolitan France. Directly or indirectly,
every national firm needed [them], for either oiling their machines or lighting their workshops. [ … ]
The textile industry in the metropole also benefited from the African, Indochinese, and Madagascan
markets. Firms were already—since the days of the slave trade—in the habit of passing off lower
quality textiles onto the precolonial market” (Chapter 12). In fact, Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch
continues: “It would be wrong to assume that only a few specialized firms had privileged relationships
with the colonies. [ … ] the sectors most in favor of colonial expansion were also the most fragile and
backward of the French economy: namely, the steel and textile industries.”17 The diffusion of the
colonial into various economic sectors was thus a progressive process that lagged behind the rest of
Colonial Culture and Anticolonialism
Between 1890 and 1910, political opposition to colonization arose from both the conservative and
royalist right and the socialist and dissenting left. Paul Déroulède’s famous retort leveled at Jules Ferry
perfectly summarizes the nationalist right-wing position: “I’ve lost two children, and you offer me
twenty servants.” As Juliette Adam writes, a faction of left-wing Republicans agreed with this
perspective: “Each spadeful of colonial land looks to me like a spadeful of Alsace-Lorraine in
Prussia.”18 This opposition had different but related motives: for the conservative right and a faction
of the left,19 colonization diluted French power at a time when it needed to focus on reconquering
Alsace and Lorraine; for the radical left and the socialists—these latter, who went from a dozen
members in the House in 1885 to about fifty at the turn of the century, were very divided on this issue—
anticolonialism was in line with their traditional struggles against the Church (missionaries), capital
(companies), the state (the administration), and the army (the conquerors).
However, they all criticized the “excesses” of conquest (brutalized natives, massacres, forced
labor, rape, the displacement of populations, torture, repression, etc.) and the predatory nature of
capitalism. No one really questioned the dogma with respect to the superiority of the European
civilization. The most ardent anticolonial critiques from the time can be found both among the
unionistanarchists, in their famous periodical L’Assiette au beurre, and among the most radical socialists,
beginning in September 1895 with their declaration against France’s colonial policy, which they
considered one of the “worst forms of capitalist exploitation.”
Paul Louis, writing for La Revue socialiste, voiced what he called the “doleful cry of raped
humanity.” In fact, Paul Louis was one of the most ardent theorists of anticolonialism—his work LeColonialisme, published in 1905, reflects this—along with Gustave Hervé, who denounced “colonial
violence” in his newspaper La Guerre sociale. There were also Félicien Challaye, a fierce opponent
of major companies, Vigné d’Octon, a virulent critique of the colonial administration, Léon Bloy, the
primary whistleblower on colonial atrocities, and Francis de Pressensé, a voice against colonial
capitalism. These figures were at the forefront of French anticolonialism at the turn of the century.
However, these forms of anticolonialism were soon waved aside, becoming all but inaudible after
the First World War. They were choked by the dominant colonial culture and the development of a
colonial consensus. Even the nationalist right—rallying behind the Action Française during the Vichy
period—became the most active supporter of the colonial idea in the country. And the radical left
began to marginalize anticolonial issues. This was no longer the time of Clemenceau’s famous rants
delivered in the Chamber of Deputies. The times called for national unity in support of the colonies.
The traditional conservative right had been completely won over, and found itself entirely invested in
colonial grandeur.20 Meanwhile, the First World War had resulted in the realization of France’s old
obsession of defeating Germany. For the radical and socialist left, colonization became a central
theme. For the communists, hitherto active critics of the colonial enterprise under the leadership of
Jacques Doriot—author of the booklet Communisme et Colonialisme and very active during the Rif
and Indochina wars—the struggle for independence became secondary under the Popular Front.
In the decade between 1920 and 1930, French anticolonialism thus became entirely marginalized,
except, perhaps, as notes Alain Ruscio (Chapter 5), for some members of the intellectual and artistic
intelligentsia: “The shock of the First World War led the French to relativize previously established
notions about the superiority of the ‘White race.’ The surrealists shot a thousand and one arrows at
bourgeois ideals. [ … ] During the International Colonial Exposition of 1931, Louis Aragon wrote
vengeful verse, ‘It rains on the Colonial Exposition’ (Mars à Vincennes), in the image of lines from
Front rouge,” saluting a nationalist insurrection in Vietnam. But, in the context of a society at once
seduced by the idea of Empire—lulled by illusions of exoticism—but indifferent to its destiny, what
good were such reactions?
Colonial Consensus and National Unity
A new political order arose out of the Great War, one that helped consolidate consensus with respect
to the colonial. The majority of political elites were in agreement on this issue. It was supported by the
Agence Générale des Colonies and its numerous spokespeople that included writers, journalists,
celebrities, editors, artists, and scientists, all of whom benefited from the agency during the interwar
years, and was also maintained by the Republican school system. The latter had considerable influence
over the generation from the interwar years. Gilles Manceron (Chapter 7) emphasizes this point in his
reading of the indications pédagogiques (pedagogical instructions) teachers were provided in a
geography textbook dating from 1913: “Let us insist right now upon the importance of emphasizing our
colonial empire in your lessons on elementary geography. The colonies already play an important role
in the economic life of these countries; this shall only become more and more the case. It is thus
essential that French youth be familiarized with the resources from the vast territory over which our
flag waves.” This topic was ubiquitous in child-oriented periodicals, comics (such as the famous
Tintin in the Congo), and books that “helped to anchor the two following notions in the mentalities of
French youth for generations: a sense of patriotism and of the superiority of the French Empire over
native peoples.” There were indeed numerous ways in which very young children were exposed to
colonial culture.
Savagery was a common trait of this pedagogical exercise, resulting in a rather paradoxical image.
For, as Sylvie Chalaye notes in Chapter 6, “French activity in the colonies was justified through savage
and animalistic images of the native; however, it was also important that this same figure not be feared.
In addition to the shows portraying Africa as a terrifying continent, colonial ideology worked to
attenuate fears generated by the idea of savagery by poking fun at it and highlighting the entertaining
aspects of exoticism.” The French saw of colonization only what was presented to them: an allegory
that had little to do with the colonial reality.21 Colonial culture was effective in impacting the
collective consciousness and affecting the minds of the people.
Through colonial culture, one began to understand difference in hierarchical terms. A figure of the
Other emerged in this process—from the status of savage to that of native—which amounted to a denial
of subjecthood for the colonized. “Native-immigrants” arriving in the metropole became stigmatized
through the press:22 from L’Ami du peuple to Gringoire, from L’Action française to Le Figaro, from
the conservative to the popular press, the message was the same. In the year of the InternationalColonial Exposition, the daily newspaper Le Peuple (January 17, 1931) conducted a survey on the
“colonization” of Paris by “exotics”:

The Rue Harvey in Paris is a real piece of Africa: when the sugar factories close in the
evenings and the workers spread out over the cobblestones, the street fills with a swarm of
swarthy men and the cacophonous sounds of Arabic. In a moment, the small, double file flow
carries this crowd away: under the rare streetlight, between smoky walls, North Africans
gather. To the sound of a phonograph wailing a local tune, they line up their dominoes on
wooden tables, they shuffle cards in their brown fingers: the ronda, the baya, the feverish
dances begin, which slowly but surely eat up the paychecks, run down the savings, make these
children lose their money and their reason … Meanwhile, a similar crowd can be found in La
Villette, Javel, Boulogne, Saint-Ouen, Gennevilliers. They come out of work exhausted, these
Kabyles from Algeria, Kroumirs from Tunisia, Soussi and Riffs from Morocco, the slacker
Chleuh, peddlers who could be found up to recently pushing a small donkey carrying an equally
small heap of junk all over North Africa. They all go home to their small rooms where, at the
very heart of Western civilization—in which, alas, they only know hardship—they try, to
varying degrees of success, to recreate life in the douars. How many live in the Paris-area:
sixty, seventy, eighty-thousand? It is difficult to tell, so well have they kept their nomadic
ancestral tendencies, their mistrust of others, and their wily character, even after crossing the
sea. They change their names, swap papers, and avoid the services put in place to watch over
Discrepancies between two types of populations, the “desirables” and the “undesirables” on national
soil—the “assimilables” (even if it might take time) and the others—began to emerge. In the context of
the 1930s, these latter were the colonized, Jews, and—a widespread usage was evident of the very
maurrassien term métèques, an offensive way of designating Mediterranean populations in France.23
Up until 1924, “immigrant-natives” had been able to circulate more or less freely between France and
the colonies. However, in the years that would follow, every aspect of their lives was increasingly
monitored, and some were even expelled from the mainland. Though the Front Populaire attenuated
these restrictive measures in 1936, they progressively reappeared within the French administrative
domain, especially during the Algerian War.
The “invention of the native” (see chapters 11 and 17) involved the transformation of the figure of
the colonized-Other, which had become a central facet of the French collective imaginary since the
days of the great push for colonial expansion (1880–1885 and then 1890–1910). This was a long
process, which began with an image of the seventeenth-century slave and evolved, three centuries later,
into that of the immigrant. During the second half of the nineteenth century, thanks in large part to a new
visual economy founded on the spectacularization of difference and of “race,” concretely, this can be
seen in the period’s “human zoos,” which had the advantage, as Gilles Boëtsch has shown, of offering
“scientists—and especially anthropologists—the chance to study human specimens, for the most part
from countries colonized by the European powers, without having to travel far from their laboratories”
(Chapter 4), in “negro villages,” and at the colonial, national, and universal expositions; in the
development of travel narratives and periodicals centered on exoticism and scientific vulgarization—
which described extraordinary peoples; finally, in the classification methods found in certain
disciplines, particularly in physical anthropology. This process gave life to a new vision of human
diversity, in which a biological hierarchy, with all its nuances, reigned. As we have seen, even within
this perspective, lively debate abounded. However, it is undeniable that race became a tool in political
discourse, used by supporters of colonization to legitimize the expansion of colonial domination.
1931, or the Acme of Colonial Culture
The year 1931 was a turning point. More than simply the apotheosis of the colonial idea in France, it
also signaled a real change in the evolution of colonial culture. This culture had now been established.
It had become diffuse, ubiquitous, just at the moment when the Empire seemed to be moving toward
another fate. The crowning moment was unquestionably the International Colonial Exposition of 1931,
at which the French public elated before the splendors of the Empire.24 Beyond the colonial pomp, the
event was also—and perhaps primarily—the century’s primary showcase of Republican power.
Traces of a “colonial education” were evident everywhere one looked. First there were the schools,
which prepared the French for a panegyric of the colonial with textbooks and the omnipresence of the
Ligue Maritime et Coloniale, and micro-expositions within the curriculum. Indeed, from primaryschool until the university level, history courses taught an idealized vision of France’s “duty” to
colonize. This blend of pedagogy, patriotism, and nationalism helped to cement the idea that
colonialism was consubstantial to the Republic. To be “for” the colonial saga was to be a “good
French person.” To be for the “civilizing mission” was to support “France’s grandeur.” To be for the
Empire was to be patriotic. These beliefs hardened into dogma when they were taught in the classroom
and were materialized at Vincennes.
Like Joan of Arc, Napoleon, and the French Revolution, the colonial crusade, along with the
exposition, had become a constitutive element of the nation’s historic edifice. Beyond the classroom
lessons, literature, cinema, the annual colonial weeks, the hundreds of local fairs and expositions, the
incessant and effective activity of the Agence Générale des Colonies, this moment was a moment of
triumph for colonial France. In a sense, the exposition was a metaphoric transposition of colonial
culture and ideology, such as the primary advocates for the colonies in France imagined it. Foremost
among those advocates was Marshal Lyautey. The Republic’s obsession with national unity
undoubtedly found in this exposition, and in the colonial project generally, its completion.
Thus, in his radio speech for the inauguration of the International Colonial Exposition of 1931, Paul
Reynaud, the minister of the colonies, announced a new imperial relationship: “The main goal of the
Exposition is to make the French aware of their Empire, to use the word of the men of the Convention.
Each one of us must feel himself a citizen of Greater France, that of the five parts of the world… After
Russia, metropolitan France has the largest territory in Europe. Yet that is but one twenty-third of the
French Empire.” The moment was solemn, the opening of the exposition was grandiose. The term
“Empire” had been deliberately chosen: France, the Republic, the colonies were now one. The utopian
dream of (certainly “greater”) French power regained was now realized. The reconstitutions in
Vincennes were sources of wonder, and made Paris the “capital of the world” for six months. As the
posters pasted all over Europe and the colonial Empire claimed, it was possible at Vincennes to “tour
the world in a day.”
Spectacular, magical, surprising, striking: these were all terms used to describe the great enterprise
of propaganda of the colonial period. From the head of state to members of parliament, from journalists
to writers, from entrepreneurs to retailers, from laborers to adolescents, more than 8 million people
went to see this imperial mise-en-scène. They came from all over France to immerse themselves in the
exotic atmosphere that had been touted by ad campaigns. This was “another France.” Hearsay from
exposition-goers spoke of this “life-sized” theater. There was talk of it on the radio too. Many visitors,
having seen some of the hundreds of reports or cinematographic newsreels, or having read about the
exposition in the newspapers, were influenced by the propaganda that had been specially created for
the event.
“How could one not be struck,” Sandrine Lemaire asks (Chapter 10),

by the famous “tour of the world in a day,” this metaphoric journey from one country to another
without ever having to leave the site of the International Colonial Exposition in Paris in 1931?
Indeed, this enormous information machine appealed to all the senses, vulgarizing the official
message, while making it a thing of dreams. Every day and every night, cleverly orchestrated
spectacles plunged visitors into reconstitutions of the court of Behanzin, into the middle of
Annam’s ritual processions, and into the festivities of the Nuits coloniales (Colonial Nights),
the sounds and lights of which made the nocturnal expositions magical, enchanting, mysterious.
Through propaganda, the state was taking part in the entertainment business, throwing what
could be called a political party.
The International Colonial Exposition is essential for understanding the decade that was just beginning.
For two years, the world had been embroiled in a world crisis. Even today, the year 1931 fascinates
us: one need only read Didier Daeninckx’s 1998 novel Cannibale to understand this shift between two
periods, two worlds, two imaginaries.
In the three-decade period that began with the International Colonial Exposition of 1931, France
was awash in the height of imperial culture. A mainstay no matter the political regime—from the Front
Populaire to Vichy, from the Union Nationale government of the postwar years to the successive
coalitions of the Fourth Republic (1946–1958)—no matter the crisis—from the Yen Bay repression to
the rejection of Blum-Viollette’s project, from the rallying of France Libre to the repressions of 1945–
1947, from the Indochina conflict to the independence of Morocco and Tunisia, from sub-Saharan
resistance to the Algerian War—no matter the changes, this culture was an integral part of French life.
This was no longer the time of the “colonial” seeking to penetrate common sense. Rather, it hadprogressively become part of daily life. This generation had been thoroughly immersed in imperial
ideas to the point that the latter began to fuse with that of the nation.
The Colonial Idea, a National Passion
No doubt, on the eve of the Second World War, a majority of French people did not “believe”—in the
sense of a consciously held belief—in the “imperial myth.” Many were still indifferent to the overseas
territories. However, for us, colonial culture did not really operate in this sense. As such, the
International Colonial Exposition provides us with important clues to understanding how colonial
culture for the most part worked. First, it offered a narrative and nondiscursive universe founded on
fabulation, seduction, imagery, and affect, which was exactly the aim of the exposition of 1931. A
journey through colonial worlds, discovering the splendors of Angkor, the Djenné Mosque, the
different peoples from the Empire, watching movies, and looking at panoramic images: these ludic and
dream-based social practices made the colonial idea come alive in the body, the psyche. They were
thus far more effective than speeches made by the champions of colonization.
Colonization was able to ingrain itself into the quotidian, and over the course of the 1930s it was
even able to affect the populace’s conception of the nation and of “French identity.” This explains why
the colonial lobby—unaccustomed to this kind of public interest, and indeed euphoria, with respect to
the French colonial domain—radically changed. Indeed, it was quite enthusiastic about the impact of
the International Colonial Exposition on the public and its subsequent obsession with the colonial. An
article entitled, “Les dernières heures de l’Exposition coloniale” (The final hours of the Colonial
Exposition), published in L’Illustration, describes this moment in October 1931 thus: “The Exposition
fades out, the Exposition has died a beautiful death thanks to the crowd, its enthusiasm, its fervor,
which makes the even immortal, durable, a thing to remember… Friday was a day of supreme
elegance, and Sunday, a day for the people.”25 The Empire was both a thing for the masses and
something that transcended political affiliation. Henceforth, as attested by a Pétainist formulation, it
was part of “hexagonal patrimony”: though the Third Republic had been wholly rejected, colonization
had not depreciated in value.
The Other Face of the 1930s
A crisis provoked a twofold “withdrawal into the imperial” over the course of the 1930s. The
withdrawal was first born in the early 1930s from a series of economic needs elicited by the new
world order. This became materialized in a slogan of imperial autarky. The notion of autarky was to
favor exchange between the metropole and the colonies, and for France to make a priority of importing
raw materials, whether they were strategic or not. In the troubled context of the era, Greater France
concretely became an important resource. The imperial succeeded in penetrating French daily life
thanks to the firm support of the fields of literature, cinema, and the press. The second withdrawal,
which took place in 1938 and 1939, once again put the Empire at the forefront of the political scene, on
the one hand because of international interest and on the other because of what it represented for the
defense of the metropole against the threat of conflict.
Thus, in 1939, L’Illustration conducted a massive survey titled “L’Empire français. Réalité
vivante” (The French Empire. A living reality), and began its series of articles thus:

It would be of little use to remind L’Illustration’s readers of the fatal reason for which
colonial issues slowly gained public interest. [ … ] interest in the empire was first expressed in
public opinion as a feeling that France had at its disposition a thing that it had been keeping in
reserve and that, either through negligence or because we were too busy elsewhere, we had not
yet made a concerted effort to use it to our advantage. Then, at the very moment when our
country suddenly realized its power overseas, the Empire became threatened. In response, the
nation immediately unified itself behind the cause of protecting this national good. Two things
then happened, which President Daladier’s visit to North Africa have strikingly confirmed: two
facts that would henceforth affect all external politics. The first was the living reality of the
Empire, as it was proclaimed and renewed by a hundred different peoples whose only
commonality was our flag. The second was the wild realization of the French that they
possessed this far-away good. They would perhaps never see this overseas domain. But it was
already enough for them to know that it and their distant cousins existed. [ … ] When some
pretend to extend a hand toward these territories, others furrow their brows and grumble. When
somebody tries to touch his field, Jacques Bonhomme picks up his pitchfork.26The long process that, between 1851 and 1931, had transformed France from an exclusively hexagonal
society into an imperial culture continued in the years that followed, and became ingrained in the
collective psychology.
A multifaceted colonial culture rooted itself into French society in the years 1931–1961, in spite
of political upheaval, the crisis of the 1930s, the major trauma that was the Second World War, and the
violent process of decolonization. The impregnation of this culture into society during these three
decades can be broken into several stages. However, it is important not to equate the progression of
these stages with a regular and uniform process. They were more like successive “waves” that over
time became part of common sense, invaded the collective consciousness, and formed mentalities.
Three stages are particularly distinguishable: the ubiquity and the apogee of the imperial in French
society up until the Second World War; a utopian period of grandeur during the Second World War
wherein the Empire became seen as crucial in efforts to save the nation and secure its future, and then
later when the project of the Union demonstrated a will to unite hexagonal France with France
overseas; finally, the period of crisis, with the conflicts between the process of de-colonization and
persistent imperial notions, in spite of the changes that occurred during this time. Sandrine Lemaire
writes (Chapter 18):

The word “Empire” entered the vocabulary in the early thirties. At the outset, the word carried
no political connotations; it was used to designate peoples related to the mother country. Other
popular terms were France Overseas, External France, France of the Five Parts of the World,
the France of One Hundred Million Inhabitants, “Greater France,” Total France. These
expressions all referred to the notion that the colonies were but an extension of the Hexagon.
The context placed the Empire at the center of national political conflict, and especially with respect to
“international issues and that of the French imaginary.” In the late 1930s, the term could be found in
most newspaper articles, and had become the expression used to connote regained greatness.
As Nicolas Bancel and Daniel Denis point out with reference to the ways in which the school
system and textbooks worked to create the colonial (Chapter 20),

the colonies were used as a space on which to project what the metropole wanted for itself:
economic progress, unification of social strata, abolition of racial divides around one shared
project (modernity), enthusiasm for a Republican utopia, and the far-off notion of equality. In a
sense, it can be argued that France’s “civilizing mission” goes back to the educational ideal
itself, and that it takes its cues directly from the curriculum. For it insisted on the possibility of
transforming the “natives,” who were typically portrayed as children who needed to grow up,
through education.
Several aspects of culture were layered over one another in such a way as to become a multiform (but
internally coherent) whole. More than a political configuration, this was a silent cultural impregnation
of society: spectacular events were no longer needed, for, thanks to a variety of materials and vectors,
the culture was already part of daily life.
In such a context, it becomes clear that the concept of empire-nation, which marked the passage
from the colonial concept to the imperial concept, was central to the way in which citizenship was
constructed in France. This concept crossed the political divide, and as David Murphy, Elizabeth Ezra,
and Charles Forsdick have shown, “the French Empire had unprecedented political support, with the
right and the left united behind a vision of the nation’s greatness. Such was also the case in the cultural
domain, for the idea of Empire fascinated many artists and intellectuals [ … ] and exerted enormous
influence over their work” (Chapter 19). Imperial culture is thus this omnipresence of the colonial
domain within French society. In the 1920s and 1930s it had been “Greater France,” but by the late
1930s and under Vichy, it was progressively rebranded under the term “Empire.” Then it became, in
the official vocabulary, France overseas, then the French Union, the Federation, the French
Community… In the media and for the public, “colonies” and “Empire” remained the dominant terms
used to describe this “other France,” in spite of the variety of other designations.
From Colonial Migration to the Imperial Revolution
At the same time, the context in France was paradoxical. A law was voted on August 10, 1932, which
reinforced the restrictions previously put into place in 1924, established quotas for immigration in
France (a progressive closing of the borders), and introduced measures favoring French workers.Nevertheless, this period was marked by a process of immigration that changed the very nature of
imperial culture, making it more palpable, more real, more a part of daily life. Tens of thousands of
“natives” were now living in France, notably in Paris, and “Paris became the leading city of ‘exotic’
immigration in Europe. As a result, its cultural and political identities were profoundly altered. This
period, during which the ‘three colors of the Empire’ migrated to France, was the beginning of a
halfcentury of continuous migration, which would forever change the nature of French society. Today,
along with the question of integration, immigration is one of the ‘particularities’ of French identity in
Europe” (Pascal Blanchard and Éric Deroo, Chapter 22). During the same period, Georges Mauco
published his controversial book Les Étrangers en France (Foreigners in France, 1932), in which he
integrated national prejudices to his methodology and wrote of the “potential for assimilation” of each
immigrant population, whereby some foreigners were deemed desirable (and assimilable), and others
There was a patent rejection of exotic peoples, which underscored the disconnect between
discourse targeting the overseas territories and concrete practices on metropolitan soil. This “fracture”
began to emerge alongside an official discourse that referred to the burgeoning colonial edifice in
terms of a fusion among different peoples in the medium-term. Though often overlooked by researchers
of contemporary history, this was a founding moment for national identity, one which shaped France for
generations to come. The concomitance of these arguments, which have formed the basis of
immigration policy in both the Fourth and Fifth Republics, is demonstrative of the formal contradiction
that arose in a nation searching for its identity.27 A palpable contradiction was to be found in the
press, with its regular campaigns against these “undesirables” who were often considered a threat to
the nation’s unity when in the metropole, whereas the colonies themselves were seen as essential in
fortifying the nation’s power and its unity.
However, in spite of this rejection of migrants from the Empire, which was in any case opposed to
the demands of employers seeking cheap labor, to be in favor of the Empire was to take part in the
reinforcement of a unified national sentiment—that is, until the “Algerian” blow to national unity—in a
mission, in a common destiny. In this sense, the Second World War was a turning point in the public’s
perception of the Other, and reciprocally, in the colonizeds’ perception of the French. The Vichy
regime did everything to associate the fate of the French nation with that of the French Empire (see
chapters 23 and 24).
The Vichy regime saw the return of the colonial message and of a promising slogan: La France
continue. The defeat of the French by the Germans and Marshal Pétain’s arrival in power brought the
colonial to the forefront of the collective consciousness. Happenings in Dakar, Mers el-Kébir,
Madagascar, and Syria initiated a chain of events that favored the Empire. In it was crystallized the
hope of an “eternal France,” of the nation’s very survival. For Vichy, the Empire represented the hope
of conserving a role as a major power, in spite of the defeat, and it was an essential asset in the
regime’s negotiations with the occupying forces. The Vichy period was thus marked by an
intensification of official propaganda. In addition to the press, which was under governmental control
and which disseminated a daily dose of propaganda on the Empire, this period was abuzz with the term
“Empire,” and literature, comics, movies, and newsreels all became obedient zealots of imperial
revolution. Under the aegis of the Agence Économique des Colonies (Economic Bureau of the
Colonies), the regime organized colonial propaganda events that were particularly effective in
infiltrating the quotidian in the metropole. Restructured in 1941, the Agence Économique des Colonies
became an organism devoted to the colonial territories.
Historiography on Vichy has not, given what the regime signified both ideologically and politically,
sufficiently accounted for the stakes of the imperial during this period. Yet this was a major period
with respect to the colonial issue in France. It prefigured fifteen utopian years and the subsequent
crises. Meanwhile, the regime had practically lost the Empire. The colonial myth was more than ever
but an illusion.28 Indeed, imperial culture did not really need actual colonial spaces to exist since it
relied on utopian visions, projections, and beliefs. In the case of Vichy, it was the reification of a
dream and represented the hope of power regained. The Empire had become the consoling myth of a
fallen nation. In light of this context, it is easier to understand why the colonial idea remained, and why
propaganda intensified. Posters and events put out and organized by the regime (during the Colonial
Week of 1941, the Imperial Fortnight of 1942, on the various routes of the colonial exposition-train
from 1941–1944) promoted both the imperial ideal and new colonial projects around major themes that
“captured hearts,” like the Eurafrican and Trans-Saharan railroads.
As Pascal Blanchard and Ruth Ginio point out in Chapter 23, the regime’s technocrats incessantly
emphasized the need to make the nation colonial. For them, imperial culture was still superficial andthis superficiality needed to be fought through propaganda and the promotion of the imperial ideal.
Robert Delavignette (1897–1976, former director of the École nationale de la France d’outre-mer)
claimed, for example: “No colonization without a conscious metropole!” Henceforth, all French people
were to take part in the colonial game. The fact that no one called this process into question during the
war has been seen, in the euphoria of Liberation, as a weakness, especially in light of the repression in
Constantine, Algeria.
From the Dream of a Unified France to the First Imperial Rifts
Imperial culture in 1945 was thus the culmination of several overlapping influences, intermediaries,
and interactions. This composite culture impacted generations of French who were, after the war, more
than ever won over to the extra-hexagonal cause, to the imperial. This was precisely the moment when
struggles for independence began to multiply. As Jacques Frémeaux suggests in Chapter 25, colonial
culture was ripe ground for the idea of a “united France,” which promised to mend the nation broken
by four years of war. Thinking the “French Union” was to forget the national disjunction caused by the
Second World War, notably in the intense divisions between collaborators and resistance figures.
May 8, 1945 is undoubtedly the most representative event of France’s paradoxical situation during
this time since the day of Allied victory over Nazism was also the day when violence broke out in
Sétif, Algeria, ending in twenty-one European deaths. In the days that followed, other uprisings sprung
up in Guelma, Batna, Biskra, and Kherrata, resulting in an additional one hundred three European
deaths. The response was brutal and paralleled only the violence of initial conquest, one hundred
fifteen years earlier: one thousand and five official deaths, though the actual figure was probably closer
to six or eight thousand. Repression and war were the brutal response to autochthonous emancipation
movements in Indochina, Madagascar, Algeria, and Cameroon. This eventually led to a revision of the
loi-cadre (Overseas Reform-Act) in AOF (French West Africa), AEF (French Equatorial Africa), and
Madagascar, which cleared the way for less violent decolonization while preserving French influence
in the regions for a long time.
The Second World War also marked a historic rupture. The colonial system began to show signs of
decline (see Benjamin Stora, Foreword to Part 3): a stated anticolonial stance by both the United
States and the USSR, recognition by the United Nations (UN) of newly independent countries (India in
1947 and Indonesia in 1949), the reinforcement of nationalist parties in all the French colonies.
Politically speaking, the Brazzaville Conference (1944) gave hope to colonized peoples seeking to
gain access to elections in the colonies and increased control over the management of local affairs. A
progressive project was initially proposed, but faced a counter-offensive by the colonial lobby, which
was backed by all those with vested interests in colonization. The text that was finally adopted in 1946,
after the Fourth Republic’s Constitution was voted, was a compromise between doctrines of
assimilation and association, and did not correspond with the wishes of the colonial representatives.
Voting remained separated, with the colonials on one side and the colonized on the other, even though
local elites gained more responsibility in the territorial assemblies, to which autochthon
representatives could be elected.
The French Union essentially revoked back to old colonial institutions and upheld a principle of
inequality between Europeans and the colonized. In Indochina, relations between the Viet Minh and the
metropole disintegrated, leading to war in December 1946. This was the beginning of a long conflict,
which slowly undermined the Fourth Republic. In this context, a new message emerged in colonial
propaganda which praised colonial modernization. Pre-war racial typologies had entirely dropped out
of official discourse and France now presented itself as the advocate for colonial economic
development. In this context, the “native” was an instrument for this policy.
As Herman Lebovics points out (Chapter 30), the imperial idea had sufficiently penetrated French
society to have created cultural habits, many of which remain in evidence to this day. Daniel Hémery
provides an analysis of the complex mechanisms that eventually led to a “decolonization of French
mentalities [ … ] within the metropole” (Chapter 26) and Jean-Luc Einaudi discusses the gradual
diffusion of colonial violence, as led by Algerian groups during the conflict, into the metropole
(Chapter 29). All of these contributions point to the specificity of this dynamic to France—
characterized by the colonial migrations of the 1950s. These findings are also emphasized in the focus
on sub-Saharan African (Chapter 27) and North African (Chapter 28) migration into the metropole,
including a consideration of the impact of athletes from the overseas territories on metropolitan France
(Chapter 13). However, the violent conflicts did nothing to slow the production of colonial culture or
its propaganda.In the face of the new international context and the increasingly strong demands for independence
on the part of the colonized, colonial institutions were forced to change. The French Union embodied
this change, though was founded on a myth: that of a real union between the French living in the
metropole and the populations overseas. Meanwhile, big colonial business committed itself to a
politics of economic development in the colonies (Chapter 24). Development was supported by the
state in policies like the first ten-year plan by the FIDES (Fonds d’investissement pour le
développement économique et social [Investment Fund for Social and Economic Development],
created in 1946), which relied heavily on public funds. Colonial propaganda thus began to devote itself
to the material results of this politics (the construction of infrastructure, the mechanization of
agriculture, education, hygiene, etc.) and exaggerated the real results of these projects in order to
convince the public of the “civilizing mission’s” success. The relatively late awakening of colonial
capitalism, mixed with strong state intervention, expanded the timid experimentation of the interwar
years (especially in Algeria) and under the Vichy regime.
France thus transitioned from a colonial configuration to an imperial one at the very moment when
decolonization was becoming a reality—in Indochina, Morocco, and Tunisia. In Algeria, however,
France sunk into a spiral of violence and repression.
A Deep Caesura: Algeria
A deep rupture emerged with the Algerian war—as Benjamin Stora’s scholarship on the question has
convincingly shown—that later gave way to another kind of caesura, that of forgetting. The conflict in
Algeria brought to the fore the limits of the metropole’s double speak: namely that “over there” was
like “here,” or on the way to becoming so. In the present context, this leitmotiv of colonial propaganda
appeared absurd, incomprehensible. After all, the colonized were expressing a palpable will to
separate from the metropole. Furthermore, the colonial propaganda that had been circulating up to that
point made the situation in Algeria incredibly difficult for the French to understand. Indeed, the
colonies had been presented in terms of a realization of French Republican unity and were
characterized by an absence of class conflict, the collective cooperation of all toward the same ideal of
progress (economic, social, cultural, civilizational), a metaphor for harmony otherwise unattainable in
the metropole.
The Algerian War broke the illusion of a colonial utopia. Protests and other reactions of alarm with
respect to torture in Algeria (Témoignage chrétien, Les Temps modernes, Esprit, L’Express, Le
Monde…) were symptoms of the incredible shock felt by the public. De Gaulle did not decisively
commit to reforms—universal suffrage, massive economic aid—in Algeria until very late, much later
than the reforms imagined for French sub-Saharan Africa, which followed the promulgation of the
loicadre. Republican colonial discourse thus found itself tangled in illusionism, deformation, and lies,
especially when it concerned Algeria. Not to mention the betrayal of pieds-noirs and the fate of the
Harkis. And, more than anywhere, because it was the “colonial model,” the “jewel of the Empire,” the
“extension of France,” Algeria was particularly devastated by these contradictions, which eventually
led to civil war (with the OAS), crimes committed by the state (like October 17, 1961 in Paris), events
that have still not been entirely acknowledged, as the recent and ongoing debates surrounding the
conflict and with respect to the memory of colonial Algeria show.29
For half a century, the specter of the Algerian War has continued to haunt French political life. So
much so that at times it appears to have “vampirized” the history of immigration, and even in the long
term to have veiled part of the colonial past. Yet the polarization of positions with respect to the
Algerian issue is far from a mechanical division between political parties. The fact that the French
socialist left “betrayed its values” during the conflict still remains a source of incredible trauma.
Similarly, the history of the end of Algeria’s decolonization by de Gaulle—who first suggested reforms
in Algeria and then rather quickly accepted the nation’s independence—is only just becoming a topic of
discussion. When de Gaulle’s position on Algeria “evolved,” he separated himself from a certain
heritage, and attempted to turn a page of France’s history. However, he did not take into account the
extent to which that history was rooted in French society. Finally, the mythology of France’s extreme
right is still very much bound up in the memory of the Algerian War. It is as though this were the
linchpin of a doctrinal identity, similar to the four years under Vichy. After this incomplete process, the
colonial failure has been difficult for the French to understand and objectively observe. The struggle
against a “repentance” of the collective imaginary is inscribed in a defensive strategy that aims to make
the socialization of colonial history generally, and Algerian history particularly, difficult.
The real or imagined heritage of the colonial Empire remains a sore point in French nationalconsciousness. As Herman Lebovics explains, after the trauma of decolonization, France wanted to
“start again,” as it had after Vichy. However, France’s ongoing inability to face the legacy of
colonization, its insistence on forgetting “a whole colonial empire immediately on its dissolution”
remains “careless,” imprudent, and dangerous (Chapter 30). The same holds true when it comes to the
“traces of this memory,” namely with the disappearance of the Musée des Colonies at the Porte Dorée.
In its stead, one now finds the Cité Nationale de l’Histoire de l’Immigration (CNHI), a “museum”
dedicated to the history of immigration in France. In the intervening time, Lebovics goes on to explain,
“While we Americans never tire of discussing the crimes committed in our name—as if guilt-talk were
equal to actually correcting a past injustice—historical memory in France has tended to erase the
unpleasant and the divisive from the national story until the moment arrives when French intellectuals
are compelled to discuss nothing but the past malfeasance.”
Today, the issue of memory has become one of the primary debates of our times.30 The debate
initially broke out in February 2005 when two decrees were voted on in the French National
Assembly, and these “memorial issues” have remained at the heart of the national conversation.31 It is
now possible, as Henri Rousso writes in his work on the memory of the Vichy period, to begin to think
a “colonial” memory: “For the work of memory, the organization of memory and forgetting, the a
posteriori ordering of the past, functions within a political group just as it does in the case of
individuals: it conditions the preservation of the identity. In the form of tradition or myth, memory
allows for the transmission of values from one generation to the next. By means of forgetting,
repression, the feeling of alterity can be concealed with respect to the changing times. Moreover, and at
times at a high cost, it absorbs and accepts lived, suffered, and inflicted trauma.”32
Beyond Empire
Issues related to the question of “heritage” and the return of repressed memory in France have received
considerable attention in recent years, and the final period broached in the present collaborative work
must be placed in the perspective of these issues. In this instance, we are interested in how (and in
what form) certain elements of our culture get perpetuated, reconfigured, reinforced, and concealed in a
colonial culture, the seeds of which were planted in the eighteenth century.
The following question is essential to understanding this last period: Can colonial genealogy—in
such diverse fields as memory and history, in terms of the formation of a “national identity,” and in
cultural apparitions in literature, cinema, music, ethnic and humanitarian tourism, government (the
politics of Francophonie, the specificities of postcolonial “African politics”)—provide the necessary
framework for rendering these historic phenomena intelligible?
It is our contention that the postcolonial perspective in the contemporary period has the capacity of
being heuristic, for it situates itself on a continuum with the preceding colonial and imperial periods,
without being governed by systematism and teleonomy. In other words, the postcolonial perspective
must, in as much as it can, integrate into its historical analysis the plurality of factors that come to play
in the phenomena of interest to us here. It must also measure the changes, specify the transformations,
explain the reconfigurations, understand the fractures and ruptures. For the last part of this book, we
found it important to assert these theoretical details, particularly in light of the kinds of
misinterpretations that have arisen among French historians, who have not wanted to posit mechanic
analogies between the colonial and postcolonial periods, with respect to the postcolonial perspective.
The summary rejection of the most daring intellectual adventures of the past two decades—the reasons
for this rejection are complex, and we will not go into them here—ignores all the theoretical and
empirical advances of postcolonial studies and have contributed to the preservation of a misguided
intellectual comfort.33
Our approach to the “postcolonial” relies on research done over the long-term, and goes back to the
very source of the colonial idea in France.34 We do not feel ourselves bound to any one of the
postcolonial theories being debated today (theories that are, moreover, all but absent from the field of
historiography in France, and that for the most part appear exclusively in English-language research).
Though they clash with certain conservative attitudes and scientific doctrines in France, these theories
have, in the fields of history, comparative literature, politics, and geopolitics, undeniably contributed
to the radical decompartmentalization of the issue of colonization and its overarching effects, both here
and elsewhere.35 They have been able to do so through an inversion of perspective on colonization, by
demonstrating its dialectic character of flow and counter-flow between the metropoles and their
empires (flows of culture, goods, value, meaning, populations). This movement appears to have
favored the constant mixing, both within the colonial worlds and within the former metropoles,characteristic of our modernity.36 This approach defies the traditional chronology of events, the clear
separation between the colonial and postcolonial periods. It goes beyond the usual
compartmentalization between “cultural” historians (history of Africa, of Asia, etc.), specialists of
“metropolitan” ideas and politics (sociologists, political scientists, ethnologists), and researchers
studying contemporary French society (in France, these divisions are mostly the result of the
institutional organization of research within the CNRS, but that is another issue). These cleavages are a
handicap to “postcolonial studies,” quite simply because they encompass issues from different fields of
Moreover, the vast production of postcolonial research coming out of the Anglophone world
avoids systematic constructions. It is also true—though this is an Anglo-Saxon tradition—that these
theories do not always rely on well defined empirical bodies. Indeed, at times this research appears to
favor relatively ethereal intellectual constructions. It is, however, important to underscore the fact that
postcolonial theory in Anglophone research is far from closed: quite the contrary, this is, as Jean-Marc
Moura indicates (Chapter 41), an extremely dynamic field. In fact, today, it contributes to a series of
theoretical and critical inflections in the field of literary studies, in which postcolonial theory is
beginning to be taken seriously. Postcolonial studies thus constitute a wide array of research dealing
with a geopolitical and cultural space and a certain time-frame (colonization, postcolonization).
Moreover, it also inquires into various human sciences.
Beyond Postcolonial Studies
Although there have been heated debates in France in recent years on the question of “postcolonial
studies,” the last part of Colonial Culture in France since the Revolution does not engage specifically
with these. In fact, it may be too soon to conduct such an analysis since there have not yet been enough
concrete studies to mobilize a twofold dialectical point of view (the interrelated effects of the colony
and the postcolony within the former Empire and the former metropole) and a chronological
transgression (a relativization of the “radical break” between the colony and the postcolony in the
metropole). In short, a well founded theorization of these operations would be anachronistic.
Nevertheless, we must admit that we remain skeptical when it comes to systematic intellectual
constructions given that historic density always ends up undermining them. It is also important to note
that, in France, the postcolonial remains a source of misunderstanding. Some historians refuse to admit
that France has also been “colonized by its Empire” and will not cede that the colonial experience—
for example, with respect to representations of human diversity, government, institutions, politics,
power, etc.—has had consequences in the metropole itself. And yet this is a fact, although but one
which according to detractors does not attain the dignified status of “object worthy of research.” This
position is the result of two theoretical orientations.
The first one is fairly classic and is grounded in the supposedly inalterable tools of intelligibility:
the primacy of the “economic,” for example, whereby all cultural phenomena in light of “class
divisions” is over-determined by the violence of market capitalism. The “return of the colonial” into
the metropole would thus be only “marginal.” The crystallization of identity and memory would be
seen as negligible, and would in any case be explained as part of the “superstructure.” Marxism for the
poor, we have to admit, which is not really an object of discussion here: as always, historical
phenomena are multifactorial.37 Using the same example, different manners of thinking “community,”
history, and memory are added to specific social situations (class and class fraction), and superposed
in layers of meaning by the individual in question, in order to give meaning to his or her own life.
Different ways of representing and thinking formerly colonial populations in the host society are also
added, and generate concrete forms of discrimination, as well as point to the genuine fragility of the
social positions of these populations.
The second point of view posits a radical rupture between the metropole and its colonies. This
perhaps reflects the fact that the intellectual tools used to think about the metropole were developed
prior to the existence of colonial societies, and are thus not really applicable. Here, the question is not
specifically one of power (the colonial situation is a striking example of asymmetrical power between
the colonizer and the colonized, though strategies of resistance, indifference, deferment, and alliances
with the colonial powers have been the topic of much study), but relates instead to the specificity of
colonial and postcolonial immigration and to intercommunal relationships. Naturally such relationships
exist (and increasingly self-identify in these terms), but because France is a Republic, individual
communities within the social body remain unimaginable. While this historic evolution may be
regrettable, it has nevertheless become more apparent over the past few years, and sociologists havebegun to take interest in these developments. Similarly, an old universalist Republican belief continues
to shape public debate, with the consequence that France, in its very “essence,” can “escape” the
ugliness of the accusation of racism. This incredibly powerful blind spot effectively discourages a real
critique of the colonial heritage in the construction of racism.38
In spite of this strong resistance, how can one not see that colonization as a genealogy of a
differentialist mental universe and a socially unequal world (founded on race) plays a critical role in
the postcolony? Similarly, how can one possibly fail to recognize that the biopolitics applied to the
colonies—with their innumerable justifications with respect to racial and/or cultural inequality
between the colonizers and the colonized—did not somehow impregnate the collective imagination,
did not impact conceptions of the Other in the metropole?39 The denial of these questions is of course
frightening, though can most likely be attributed to the ethnocentric conceptions in evidence with
respect to the nation, the state, and history.
Finally, the existence of what we have described in terms of a “colonial fracture” in France is
central to our analysis. This fracture is made up of several dimensions: a historic dimension
(surrounding the rupture of 1962 and independence), a memorial dimension (namely the “conflicts” of
memory related to this past), an identity-related dimension (surrounding the relationship between the
Republic and colonization), and a “social” dimension with respect to the situation of populations from
the former colonial Empire and the discrimination with which they are faced. We also argue that any
rigid or definitively theorized characterization of the “colonial fracture” would be impossible given
that the concept of “fracture” signifies both the tension and the effects of postcolonialism. In a blend of
ideological perspective and historical critique, some have disparaged this concept, though these voices
have also tended to recognize the importance of the colonial heritage. Others have posited that evoking
this fracture might weaken the Republic, and have thus interpreted this research as a simple
transposition of the colonial situation onto the present. Beyond these localized critiques, colonial and
postcolonial issues have asserted themselves, and the reality today is that our understanding of the past
can no longer ignore the colonial enterprise and its effects on the metropole.
As the aforementioned considerations make clear, the debates on whether the postcolonial
perspective is “anticolonialist” or not—not to mention the entirely far-fetched notion of
“antirepublicanism”—do not make much sense. We are simply interested in understanding how the
colony “returns” to the metropole. This seems like a useful clarification, especially in light of the
debates in recent years, which have on occasion turned into veritable caricatures between supposed
“anticolonialist” historians and others emphasizing the “complexity” of the colonial situation, while
arguing for the “real advances” that France’s “civilizing mission” was able to achieve. This
polarization of positions—which could be a useful measure of the relationship between the writing of
history with politics and the elaboration of the national narrative—is of little use to us because the
colonial perspective adopted here constitutes a part of France’s history, its contact with other worlds,
and its history of expansion.40 For us, these factors, both here and there, can lead to a political and
ideological, rather than historiographical, impasse.
Between Heritage and Rupture
Beyond the current polemics, we are interested in stimulating new and innovative topics for further
research on the question of colonial/postcolonial articulations in the metropole and, incidentally, in
fostering disciplinary decompartmentalization. In the French context, at least, given the relative
absence of research on postcolonial issues (and the fact that researchers and academics are not
recruited in this field), this represents a drastic measure. In the end, if Colonial Culture in France
since the Revolution can achieve this simple aim, we will of course be thrilled.
Having noted these precautions, we should also re-emphasize our positions with respect to what
could be called the “postcolonial process.” Process of course signifies transformation. This means that
we cannot think the “postcolonial process” in terms of transpositions, linear lines of continuity through
which situations proper to the colonial get “reproduced” in the postcolonial. These kinds of analogies
are often reductive and/or false. It is thus important to understand the ways in which this process is
genealogically rooted in the colonial period and how our contemporaneity inherits from this process—
this would be incomprehensible outside the long-term perspective implied by the colonial/postcolonial
—; and finally to determine how some aspects of this process (through mixing and transformation)
extend to us today. For example, it would be difficult to contest the colonial genealogy of France’s
policy toward Africa after independence.41
We thus propose to extend this perspective to other fields in order to analyze a broad range ofpostcolonial processes. The proposal’s audacity is of course only relative, for this kind of work has
been underway for at least the past twenty years in the domain of Anglophone scholarship. Moreover,
numerous researchers located outside of France, have been applying such a framework to France for
quite some time. To this end, Colonial Culture in France since the Revolution enters into dialogue in
productive ways with scholarship on these questions in a genuinely transnational and transdisciplinary
Having said this, the development of such a structure—a dialectical perspective on the colonial, a
transgression of canonical chronologies—has of course not been eliminated. This is true for instance
when it comes to the construction of categories of perception related to the colonized, which can be
situated in a much longer history, as we have seen with “human zoos,”42 even though the colonial
situation favored the crystallization of these categories through its institution of systemic inequality
between the colonized and the Europeans. The colonial/postcolonial chronology must therefore be put
into question (as indeed the various chapters gathered in this book do) in order to account for the
singularity and particularities of the various phenomena under investigation, and their respective
chronology which do not neatly fall into the periodization “colonial/postcolonial.”
Firstly, we have attempted to broach issues concerning the difficulties of integrating into national
history the heterogeneous narratives constituted by colonization, the postcolony, and slavery. For
example, in her analysis of French historian Pierre Nora’s multi-volume book Les Lieux de mémoire
(memory sites, or realms of memory) and the ceremonies surrounding the bicentennial of the French
Revolution, Suzanne Citron demonstrates how, in spite of the historiographic renovations outlined by
“new history,” a mythological vision of the “national narrative” nevertheless persisted (Chapter 32).43
The roots of this vision can be found in a genealogical elaboration of this narrative outlined at the end
of the nineteenth century by Ernest Lavisse.
Meanwhile, in light of the results of a survey conducted on colonial memory in Toulouse in 2003
and research by Sandrine Lemaire on a corpus of French school textbooks, she suggests the need for a
reappraisal of the relationship between “national history” and “colonial history.”44 For Lemaire,
while colonial history is better integrated into school textbooks today, its interpretation is still
governed by a principle of extraneity: colonial history is a far-off, disembodied history that is not
really an important part of national history. Along the same lines, Françoise Vergès looks into the
social and historiographical debates rocking France, and proposes a critical analysis of the divide
between “legitimate knowledge” and “illegitimate knowledge,” investigating the traces of slavery in
modern Western societies, and showing how the process of writing a national history often excludes
those, from near and from far, who are linked to colonization and slavery (Chapter 36).
Robert Aldrich illustrates historiographical and ideological impasses through a look into the
difficulties that emerged in France surrounding the creation of a museum dedicated to colonization
(Chapter 35). His evaluation begins by considering the patrimonial politics of the colonial period and
the accumulation of collections, before analyzing the trajectory of the Musée de la Porte Dorée,
beginning with its construction in 1931 until the inauguration of the CNHI in 2007. Aldrich shows that
between the Musée du Quai Branly, the project for a Mémorial de la France d’Outre-Mer in Marseille,
and other museographical ventures, patrimonial politics prove incapable of grasping the specificity of
the colonial period, or for that matter of executing a project in line with its historiographical and
cultural stakes.45
Certainly, it would seem, the “concurrence des mémoires” (competition between memories) also
plays a role in these impasses. Esther Benbassa examines today’s memorial and victimary claims
through a look into the specificity of the construction and recognition of Jewish memory, particularly as
it relates to the tragic events that marked the history of diaspora and the genocide of millions of
European Jews during the Second World War (Chapter 37). As she demonstrates, this memory is
articulated around a “paradigm of suffering” that has influenced other memorial claims related to
historic events such as slavery and colonization, and this generalized “victimization” is in the process
of becoming an ethical form that is subsuming older points of reference.
Finally, the traces of colonization in the army are also important. Mathieu Rigouste discusses the
ways in which defense is deeply marked both by strategies of control developed during the colonial
era, particularly from the Algerian War, and by changes to the idea of the “global enemy” after the fall
of the Soviet Empire (Chapter 38). Since this period, the internal “enemy within” has been embodied
by the postcolonial immigrant, notably the North African immigrant. Inturn Antoine Champeaux,
Christian Benoît, and Éric Deroo write about the ways in which colonial memory has been carefully
preserved (or reinterpreted) in several military bodies and used to ferment a sense of belonging among
soldiers, as well as a source of regimental pride about the colonial past (Chapter 39).With regard to memory and representation, Saïd Bouamama and Pierre Tevanian explore the
contemporary legacy of racism. Looking at several surveys, they start out by insisting on the distinction
between “racism” and “xenophobia,” in order to show the specificity of postcolonial racism, and how
it targets formerly colonized groups. They posit that the specific discrimination targeted at these groups
has historic and institutional roots, and also undertake a critical analysis of the rhetoric of denial that
surrounds the historic foundation of this kind of discrimination. Drawing on a plethora of examples of
colonial situations here and now in order to demonstrate the present state of postcolonial affairs, they
are able to show how the motives behind the claims that seek to decontextualize this form of
discrimination are of paramount importance since they imply that ethnic minorities are victims of weak
cultural and cognitive capacities (Chapter 43). Similarly, Vincent Geisser explores the construction of
the doctrine of “integration,” focusing on what he sees as its dual origin, located on the one hand in the
model of colonial assimilation put forth under the Third Republic, and on the other in the doctrine of
integration developed during the Algerian War. According to him, these models emerged in a context of
crisis with respect to national identity, and therefore served to “renationalize” French identity
particularly during the crisis between 1983 and 1986 when the state’s discourse on integration trickled
down through the whole of the social body (Chapter 40).
Beyond the aforementioned forms of research, we have also sought to open further avenues of study
pertaining to the workings of colonial heritage in contemporary society. Jean-Marc Moura, for
example, argues that postcolonial studies constitute a useful tool in the field of literature, and proposes
ways of enlarging the scope of postcolonial inquiry, and suggests a comparative, transcolonial
approach (Chapter 41). Colonial studies first concentrated on Anglophone literature, later on
Francophone literature, and today they have emerged in other, little explored domains, such as in the
case of Lusophone postcolonial literature. Postcolonial analysis has contributed to the
decompartmentalization of traditional disciplines: focusing on colonial and postcolonial situations
(marked by the asymmetrical north-south relationship, the organization of the literary market, the
borders of African states, etc.), the field of literary criticism intersects with those of history, sociology,
historical linguistics.
Delphine Robic-Diaz and Alain Ruscio are interested in understanding the relationship between the
colonial and postcolonial periods in literature, song, and cinema (Chapter 45). Citing a number of
examples, the authors point to elements of continuity between the “colonial” and “postcolonial,” and in
the case of cinema, for example, they show the continued presence in postcolonial movies of both the
indefectible relationship between the metropole and its colonies and a moral of “educating the
natives.”46 Meanwhile, music and literature have, for the most part, distanced themselves from the
colonial. These divergent tendencies underscore the complexity of the “postcolonial” in the field of
culture and emphasize the absence of teleonomy.
Nicolas Bancel writes on the phenomenon of “ethnic tourism,” suggesting a circumscription of the
touristic phenomenon from historicity, and showing that the periodization (or chronology) provided by
the colonial/postcolonial is perhaps not adapted to a study of this tourism (Chapter 46). In his
intertextual analysis of the discourse and images printed in tourist brochures, he demonstrates how,
from the nineteenth century until today, “discursive units” have been repeated and reproduced and how
some of the units, as a result of what can be considered properly contemporary preoccupations, have
been transformed. In her analysis of the history of Francophonie (Chapter 47), Gabrielle Parker shows
how the “politics of language” was articulated during colonial expansion, and to what extent the loss of
the Empire activated a desire to develop Francophone international institutions, through which France
could continue to pursue a policy of rayonnement culturel (cultural influence). Dominique Wolton, a
media specialist, describes the difficulty of uncovering “postcolonial stereotypes” (Chapter 44), a
conclusion he attributes to the fact that the stereotypes themselves must be analyzed with regard to
radically different historic situations that often mean that their origins are to be found in a plethora of
hybrid exchanges. In his Foreword to Part 5, Bruno Étienne unpacks the relationship between
Republican thought, political morality, and the colonial enterprise over a period that spans two
centuries. Like the other forewords to each of the five parts of Colonial Culture in France since the
Revolution, written by Marc Ferro, Benjamin Stora, Didier Daeninckx, and Abdourahman A. Waberi
—the goal is to determine the extent to which one can stand outside colonial culture in order to situate
it in a larger context with respect to French society. In other words to shine a sort of “spotlight” that
helps to highlight the issues raised by colonial culture in today’s society, and in current political
The Silence of MemoryIn the present context, in which positions on the “colonial” have become radicalized, colonial culture
seems particularly susceptible to occultation and manipulation. As in the case of Vichy (up until the
1980s), this past is one which has proven difficult to come to terms with. The relationship between the
two historic moments is demonstrative of what is at stake in exploring them. The first, Vichy, produced
an unprecedented rupture in contemporary history; the second, colonial culture, can be found in a
number of European countries (including in countries that do not, strictly speaking, have a colonial past
[such as Switzerland]), has been an intellectual point of contention in France since the 1990s, and is
especially visible today in debates pertaining to the integration of populations from the former
colonies. With the exception of the Algerian War, no “colonial moment” figures in French collective
memory, almost as if it remained a taboo.47 Indeed, only rarely is the conquest of Algeria or the Egypt
expedition between the French Revolution and the Commune ever mentioned; there is no mention of
Tonkin, of Tunisia or of Madagascar between Sedan and the Dreyfus Affair; no mention of Morocco or
colonial expositions on the eve of the Great War; no mention of the centennial of Algeria, the Colonial
Exposition of Marseille of 1922, or the one held in Paris in 1931, no mention of the Rif War, of Yen
Bai, of the conflict in the Levant on the eve of economic crisis; no mention of events in the French
Union (with the exception of the “Indochina conflict”) between Vichy and the Algerian War. Indeed,
there is almost no mention—just a referendum on New Caledonia in 1988—of anything between May
1968 and France’s victory in the 1998 Soccer World Cup with its black-blanc-beur
(black-whiteArab) generation of athletes … Suffice it to say that the colonial and the postcolonial appear to have
been expunged from French collective memory.
Colonization thus has no place, or at best an extremely limited one, in what would today constitute
the pantheon of French history. Indeed, the colonial past is still barely audible. This could be attributed
to the fact that the work of time, that famous “work of mourning” that takes place over two or three
generations, has not yet come to an end. Moreover, colonial history calls into question a number of the
referents that constitute our political and civic identity. This is a problem, for it demands a
(re)foundation, a (re)formulation of these referents and demands that history be rewritten in order to
integrate colonization into the national history.
The very notion of colonial culture is still marginalized in the Francophone world of colonial
historiography and the very notion of postcolonialism, as we have already mentioned, remains for the
most part insufficiently theorized in the social sciences in France, even though there are more and more
debates on the subject these days.48 As Marc Ferro rightly (and ironically) recalls: “In France, the
Republican tradition has come to make of our country a place that embodies liberty, equality, fraternity,
human rights, and civilization in the context of colonial expansion. France’s embodiment as the
Republic with all its virtues, its great history and also claim to have revolutionized the world has
remained unquestioned, and all eyes have been turned upon her… Those who were not French could
only hope to become so. This is why, in the colonies, for example in Algeria, French nationality was
bestowed sparingly, as a great reward.”49 In other words, the colonized all dreamed of being French,
and were the manifestation of France’s successful “civilizing mission.” Jaurès affirmed as much in
1884 at a speech he gave at the Alliance Française in Albi:

When we take possession of a country, we must bring the glory of France with us. And be sure
that it is welcome, for it is as pure as it is great, filled as it is with justice and goodness. We
can tell these peoples, without any trickery, that we have never voluntarily harmed their
brothers; that from the outset we have brought the liberty of whites to men of color, and have
abolished slavery [ … ]. Where France goes, she is loved. She is missed in the places she
passes through. Everywhere her light shines, she does good; there where she does not shine, she
has left behind a long and sweet evening where gazes and hearts remain attached.
It is thus possible to formulate the hypothesis that the arguments put forth by Jules Duval (Les
Colonies et la Politique coloniale de la France, published in 1864), Paul Leroy-Beaulieu (notably in
De la colonisation chez les peuples modernes, published in 1874, a reprint of a work from 1870),
Ernest Renan (in La Réforme intellectuelle de la France, 1871) were digested, adapted, and
integrated by the most illustrious of Republicans, both from the left and the right, from Jules Ferry to
the Prince of Arenberg, from Maurice Rouvier to Gambetta, from Declassé to Poincaré. An entire
generation of politicians were convinced of the importance of the colonial enterprise for France’s
destiny and grandeur.
However, the limits of this discourse with respect to the submission of the Other are quickly made
apparent. As Olivier Barlet and Pascal Blanchard have shown,
Native peoples were strongly encouraged to “evolve,” to become civilized, but barely any
were able to do so: clearly, Republican values of equality and fraternity were not enough to
bridge the difference between cultures. The “evolved” are never adults in colonial films:
rather, they are turbulent children or overachievers in the classroom. The difference could only
continue on, lurking inexorably in the shadows; distance was to be maintained at all times.
Maintaining the colony as a place of dreams rather than understanding it in its reality made any
real comprehension impossible. Instead reigned the notion of seduction, that double phobia of
mixing and the loss of one’s integrity, which is still so prevalent today, and which demonstrates
the extent of the failure of colonial assimilation. Colonial cinema, a mirror of the impossible,
makes visible the contradiction inherent in an adventure that could only be a thing of drama,
foreshadowing, through its very character as fiction, decolonization. (Chapter 9)
Conclusion: From Fracture to Rupture
Over the past decade, the specter of colonialism has continued to haunt French society. The diverse
contributions to Colonial Culture in France since the Revolution have collectively explored the
complex manner in which colonialism was constructed, fabricated, manufactured, and ultimately
disseminated. Over time, colonial culture has come to infiltrate the cultural, political, and social
unconscious. Traces and vestiges are to found everywhere; yet, only by adopting a multi-disciplinary
approach to the economic, cultural, political, and social manifestations of colonial culture can we
even begin to deconstruct how this apparatus was conceptualized. In turn, with these rich and
thoughtprovoking insights, we find ourselves better equipped to further advance the process of improving our
understanding of the ways in which it continues to impact contemporary social formations. Colonial
Culture in France since the Revolution is, broadly speaking, circumscribed by a historical framework
that extends from the French Revolution at the end of the eighteenth century all the way until the early
years of the twenty-first century. This more recent period is now inseparable from both the “memory
wars”—revisionist attempts aimed at ascribing a “positive” dimension to the French colonial
experience—and the 2005 social uprising and urban riots that served to draw attention to inequities in
French society linked to class and race.
Somewhat paradoxically, rather than fostering dialogue on the root causes of these societal
problems, the French authorities have become increasingly intolerant to difference and cultural
diversity.50 As we shall see, a long list of issues and questions have surfaced, to all of which
individual chapters could have been devoted. Incorporating each and every new development to
Colonial Culture in France since the Revolution would of course have expanded what is already a
vast project, but also potentially have distracted from the project’s primary objective, namely of
bringing specialists from different disciplines and varied institutional frameworks into conversation
around the question of the formation of colonial culture in France. Arguably, this background and
contextualization has enhanced the feasibility of new and innovative research projects by highlighting
the range of comparative methodological tools available, while also offering a roadmap for the
purposes of delineating the contours of new investigations into colonial culture.
Colonial Culture in France since the Revolution provides an examination of the background to the
foundations and therefore the legacies of colonial culture in France today. Invariably, the chapters
operate in dialogue with one another, both chronologically and thematically, whether the focus is
provided by the 1931 International Colonial Exposition, French policy making in Algeria or Indochina,
or transitions in immigration laws.51 Certainly, since Nicolas Sarkozy was appointed minister of the
interior in 2005, a position he held until his election as French president in 2007, questions pertaining
to “belonging” in French society have been at the forefront of heated public debate. These questions
have proved to be both controversial and divisive, exacerbating tensions between members of French
society, and especially between metropolitan France and overseas departments and territories.
Arguably, one of the landmark moments in what have been a series of disquieting measures was the
creation of a Ministry of Immigration, Integration, National Identity, and Co-Development in 2007. As
a document published by the inaugural minister (Les orientations de la politique de l’immigration),
Brice Hortefeux, confirms, France was now poised to implement an array of new policies aimed at
privileging an immigration choisie (controlled, chosen, and selective) over an immigration subie
(endured or uncontrolled).52 The ministry started outlining deportation and expulsion quotas and
targets, and also publishing statistics so as to underscore the success of these policies.53 Much of the
focus was provided by a narrative in which French Republican ideals and values found themselves
under threat from immigration, to which of course most of society’s ills (crime, security issues,terrorist alerts, and so on) could also be attributed.54 Naturally, these measures aggravated social
tensions, leading some critics to argue that the authorities were effectively instrumentalizing
xenophobia for political gains.55 Social advocacy associations and groups and various other
initiatives, such as the Conseil Réprésentatif des Associations Noires (CRAN), Les Indigènes de la
République, and the Appel pour une République multiculturelle et postraciale became particularly
outspoken when it came to these disquieting efforts at promoting differences between français de
souche (French people of pure stock) and ethnic minorities.56
In 2009, Éric Besson replaced Brice Hortefeux at the helm of the ministry, and in November he
launched a “National Identity Debate” framed by the following question: What does it mean to be
French today? Naturally, the debate was less about the heuristic dimension of the question, but in
actuality sought to determine—or at least to raise question or suspicion on another formulation: “Who
is French today?”57 As Gérard Noiriel has stressed, the French government set itself “the task of
selecting today’s immigrants according to criteria relating to ‘republican values,’ while affirming at the
same time that one is protecting French identity in the future.”58 In a similar vein, Didier Fassin has
addressed the growing evidence of such stratifications and disquieting hierarchies, arguing that “By
External borders, I have in mind the limits of the national territory or, increasingly, of a supranational
European territory. [ … ] Whereas by internal boundaries, I am thinking of the limits between the
racialized social categories inherited from the double history of colonialism and immigration.”59
Although the ministry was dissolved in 2010, its institutional role remained since it was merely
subsumed into Ministry of the Interior, Overseas, Local Authorities, and Immigration, ironically enough
now under the leadership of Hortefeux himself. He was eventually replaced in February 2011 by
Claude Guéant (a longtime Sarkozy advisor) who went about “seducing” the supporters of the National
Front with the 2012 presidential elections in mind. On March 17, 2011, he stated on Europe 1 radio
that “as a result of uncontrolled immigration, French people no longer feel at home in France, and have
to put up with imposed practices that don’t correspond to our way of life,”60 and then on February 4,
2012, that “in view of our Republican principles, not all civilizations, practices, or cultures, are
equal.”61 Observers of French politics and historians alike will of course recognize in Colonial
Culture in France since the Revolution the precursors to these kinds of formulations.
The French authorities have also been proactive in extending immigration policy and enhanced
border control initiatives to the European Union itself. In 2008, the European Council adopted the
European Union Pact on Migration and Asylum, an initiative sponsored by the French government.62
Stricter border control and concerted efforts aimed at containing migration have resulted in a dramatic
increase in detention zones, or camps.63 Of course, as Achille Mbembe has argued, “This surge of
legislative and repressive arrangements prevent entry into the country, of course, but each new law
also renders ever more precarious the lives of foreigners who are already established in France.”64
The tenuous relationship between insiders and outsiders is very much connected to these policies, and
it has become increasingly difficult to decouple the “domestic” from the “foreign” since immigration
policy today addresses simultaneously the internal dynamics of race relations and integration and the
control over external migratory flows.65 Furthermore, the Union for the Mediterranean project has
also revived age-old debates concerning “identities,” in particular when it comes to defining Europe’s
relationship with the African continent.66 In point of fact, the notion of colonial culture has much to
offer when it comes to understanding the ways in which this relationship is molded. Colonial culture
has inserted itself into the unconscious to such a degree that it has become increasingly questionable as
to whether or not one can actually disentangle the perceptions and worldview that are the logical
outcome of such thinking from policy making itself.
Let us briefly examine one example. On July 26, 2007, shortly after assuming the presidency,
Nicolas Sarkozy traveled to Dakar, the Senegalese capital, in order to deliver a speech at the
prestigious Cheikh Anta Diop University, in which he proposed to outline the parameters of
FrenchAfrican relations.67 Observers were astounded by the reductive and paternalistic representations of
Africa he offered and the recycled racist stereotypes from colonial times. Vestiges of a language and
signifiers initially developed in the nineteenth century that have been reactivated and updated today so
as to describe clandestine and illegal immigrants.68 “The tragedy of Africa,” Sarkozy claimed,

is that the African has not fully entered into history. The African peasant, who for thousands of
years has lived according to the seasons and whose life ideal has been to live harmoniously
with nature, has only ever known the eternal renewal of time, punctuated by the endless
repetition of the same gestures and the same words. In this imaginary world where everything
starts over and over again there is no place for human adventure or for the idea of progress.In subsequent years, the “Discours de Dakar” has emerged as a gravitational point for numerous
groundbreaking publications seeking to address the historical symbolism of this discourse, while also
providing the opportunity to reflect—assisted in this regard by the emblematic celebrations of the
fiftieth anniversary of Independence—on the contact between France and Africa over a long history.69
Indeed, these reflections have also been augmented by a growing interest in the “postcolonial”
nature of Franco-African connections—partially influenced of course by the kinds of claims for
transparency that informed what has become known as the “Arab Spring”—and the questionable
components of neocolonial practices. In terms of postcolonialism’s geopolitical dimension,
JeanPierre Dozon has investigated the persistence, until very recently, of France’s influence over its former
“backyard,” Africa (Chapter 34). The author shows how the metropole, having cultivated Gallicized
elites during the colonial period, went on to construct a “Franco-African state” in Africa. He describes
how this peculiar relationship between France and this part of its former empire helped make it an
international power. However, because of the devaluation of the CFA franc and globalized
competition, this relationship appears to be on the brink of radical transformation. Recent events in
both North and sub-Saharan Africa, the rejection by a significant part of Francophone African public
opinion of the former metropole, and the increasing scrutiny of French neocolonialist activities (known
as françafrique), may very well point to the beginnings of an as yet unachieved rupture.70
All of these examples and points serve as indicators as to the innumerable ways in which colonial
culture functions as an umbrella term that can be deployed in order to understand the foundations and
origins of the contemporary cultural, political, and social landscape. Colonial culture—its images,
discursive strategies, and sounds—continues to inform the narration of identity, history, and the
colonial past, elements that enjoy a symbiotic link.71 Each time a new “memory war” is started or a
riot is triggered in a banlieue by a racial incident, colonial culture emerges as a centrifugal
mechanism with which to address and confront the specter of colonial history. Increasingly, France’s
failure to decolonize the mind has been all the more glaring when one considers the kinds of inroads
that have been made on these questions in the United Kingdom, among other contexts.72 Colonial
amnesia leaves space for mythification and “colonial nostalgia.”73 It allows a discourse to prevail that
positions itself against a hypothetical notion of “repentance.” Colonial Culture in France since the
Revolution invites the reader to revisit colonial culture over the long term—in order to determine the
extent to which it has been and become a part of our collective culture. This work does not claim to be
exhaustive but rather a step toward assessing the impact of centuries of colonization on the French
hexagon. We know what this history has meant in formerly colonized countries and in the DOM-TOM,
but we are only beginning to understand the magnitude of its impact on the former colonial metropoles.
Although the French authorities have proven adept at manipulating public opinion, often competing
among themselves to promote acrimony, collective undertakings such as Colonial Culture in France
since the Revolution reveal at once the widespread interest there is for these questions and also the
common desire to provincialize France.74 Initiatives such as these provide opportunities for
stimulating exchanges, challenging preconceived ideas, while also making it possible to renounce
monolithic interpretations of history in favor of more encompassing frameworks that, hopefully, will
contribute to a more comprehensive, nuanced, and rigorous understanding of French history, and
therefore of course to a more accurate contextualization of the legacy of colonialism in France and the
Francophone world. As Frantz Fanon so elegantly suggested, “Now, comrades, now is the time to
change sides. We must shake off the great mantle of the night which has enveloped us, and reach for the
1. Nicolas Bancel, Pascal Blanchard, and Laurent Gervereau, eds.,I mages et colonies:
Iconographie et propagande coloniale sur l’Afrique française de 1880 à 1962 (Paris:
2. A major exhibition (curated by Lilian Thuram, Pascal Blanchard, and Nanette Jacomijn Snoep),
“Exhibitions. L’invention du sauvage” (November 29, 2011–June 3, 2012), was held at the Quai
Branly Museum in Paris. The book Human Zoos: The Invention of the Savage (Paris: Actes Sud and
Musée du Quai Branly, 2011), was published to coincide with the exhibition, edited by Pascal
Blanchard, Gilles Boëtsch, and Nanette Jacomijn Snoep.
3. See especially Pascal Blanchard, Nicolas Bancel, and Sandrine Lemaire, eds.,L a Fracture
coloniale: La société française au prisme de l’héritage colonial (Paris: La Découverte, 2005), and
Nicolas Bancel, Pascal Blanchard, Françoise Vergès, Achille Mbembe, and Florence Bernault, eds.,Ruptures postcoloniales: Les nouveaux visages de la société française (Paris: La Découverte, 2010).
4. On the eve of the defeat at Sedan, the French colonial domain extended over a little more than a
million square kilometers. Algeria was the largest territory outside the colonies inherited from the
Ancien Régime, which included the West Indies and Guyana in the Caribbean; Réunion and the five
trading posts in India and the Indian Ocean; Tahiti, Tuamotu, the Marquesas Islands, and New
Caledonia in the Pacific. Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for a modest number of territories, with
Senegal and posts in Conakry, Assinie, Grand-Bassam, Cotonou, and Libreville. Finally, France was
beginning to colonize parts of Asia, such as Cochinchina and Cambodia.
5. See Gilles Manceron, ed., 1885: Le tournant colonial de la République. Jules Ferry contre
Georges Clemenceau, et autres affrontements parlementaires sur la conquête coloniale (Paris: La
Découverte, 2007).
6. The term “Hexagon” is commonly used to refer to mainland or metropolitan France (because of
its physical shape) as a way of distinguishing this particular geographic area from its overseas
departments and territories (such as Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Réunion).
7. It is worth noting that between 1914 and 1918, almost one million “colonials” (including
Chinese recruits and settlers of European origin) came to the metropole.
8. See Nicolas Bancel and Pascal Blanchard, De l’indigène à l’immigré (Paris: Gallimard, 1998).
9. The definition of “mass culture” provided by Jean-Pierre Rioux and Jean-François Sirinelli,
eds., La Culture de masse en France de la Belle Époque à aujourd’hui (Paris: Fayard, 2002), might
be helpful in elucidating the meaning of “colonial culture.” They demonstrated, with respect to mass
culture and its polymorphous nature, both the complexity of cultural history and the importance of such
research in order to understand certain major phenomena in French history.
10. Raoul Girardet, L’Idée coloniale en France de 1871 à 1962 (Paris: Éditions de la Table
Ronde, 1972).
11. Many organizations that supported colonization were created at this time, namely: Colonisation
Française (French Colonization), the Ligue Coloniale de la Jeunesse (Colonial Youth League), the
Action Coloniale et Maritime (Colonial and Maritime Action), the Société d’Expansion Coloniale
(Colonial Expansion Society), and, in 1900, the Comité de l’Asie Française (French Asia Committee),
then, in response to clerical pressure, in 1905, the Comité d’Action Républicaine aux Colonies
(Committee for Republican Action in the Colonies).
12. See Dominique Kalifa, La Culture de masse en France: 1860–1930 (Paris: La Découverte,
13. See Pascal Blanchard, Éric Deroo, and Gilles Manceron,L e Paris Noir (Paris: Hazan,2001),
Pascal Blanchard, Éric Deroo, Driss El Yazami, Pierre Fournié, and Gilles Manceron,L e Paris
Arabe: Deux siècles de présence des Orientaux et des Maghrébins 1830–2003 (Paris: La
Découverte, 2003), and Pascal Blanchard and Éric Deroo, Le Paris Asie: Du rêve d’Asie à
Chinatown, 1854–2004 (Paris: La Découverte, 2004).
14. See Robert Aldrich, Vestiges of the Colonial Empire in France: Monuments, Museums and
Colonial Memories (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005).
15. During the same era, in his book L’Espèce humaine (1861), Armand de Quatrefages had
analyzed the capacity of African peoples to become “civilized.” On this topic, see Sandrine Lemaire
“Gustave d’Eichthal ou les ambiguïtés d’une ethnologie saint-simonienne: Du racialisme ambiant à
l’utopie d’un métissage universel,” in Études saint-simoniennes, ed. Philippe Régnier (Lyon: Presses
Universitaires de Lyon, 2002), 153–175.
16. This is an oft-forgotten episode, indeed one that demonstrates the fragility of the colonial
enterprise in the early days of the Third Republic. The debate following the change in the legislature, in
December 1885, was a major turning point in the French colonial tempo. The commission, with
Pelletan and Hubbard at its head, was composed of 33 members, and was prepared to sever all
operations in Madagascar and Tonkin, a decision that would effectively have put an end to colonization
in these two countries. The colonial lobby organized itself, and in the end the motion for continued
funding for the operations in the two countries passed by a slim majority of four. Shortly thereafter an
undersecretary to the colonies was appointed, and with the leader of the colonial lobby, Eugène
Étienne, now in government, the issue never came up again.
17. See also the work of Jacques Marseille, Empire colonial et Capitalisme français: Histoire
d’un divorce (Paris: Albin Michel, 1984).
18. Cited in Gilbert Meynier and Jacques Thobie, eds., Histoire de la France coloniale, vol. 2:L’Apogée, 1871–1931 (Paris: Agora, 1996), 100.
19. On this issue, see Girardet, L’Idée coloniale en France.
20. As exemplified by one of its leaders, Louis Marin, the head of the Republican Federation and a
proponent of conservative anthropology, an unforgettable figure in the scholarly geography societies
and an influential member of the Colonial Party.
21. See Alice Conklin, A Mission to Civilize: The Republican Idea of Empire in France and West
Africa, 1895–1930 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1997), and Éric Deroo and Sandrine
Lemaire, L’Illusion coloniale (Paris: Tallandier, 2006).
22. On this topic, see Olivier Le Cour Grandmaison, “Colonisés-immigrés, ‘clandestins’ et ‘périls
migratoires,’” Rue Descartes 4, no. 58 (2007): 120–125.
23. The term maurrassien refers to the ideas developed by the French right-wing nationalist
politician and writer Charles Maurras (1868–1952).
24. See Sandrine Lemaire, Nicolas Bancel, and Pascal Blanchard, “1931, tous à l’expo!” inL e
Monde diplomatique, January 2001, 4, Herman Lebovics, True France: The Wars over Cultural
Identity, 1900–1945 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1992), and Patricia Morton, Hybrid
Modernities: Architecture and Representation at the 1931 Colonial Exposition (Boston: MIT Press,
25. “Les dernières heures de l’Exposition coloniale,” L’Illustration, November 21, 1931, 360.
26. “L’Empire français: Une réalité vivante,” L’Illustration, March 25, 1939, 344.
27. For more details on this issue, see Nicolas Bancel, Pascal Blanchard, and Françoise Vergès,
La République coloniale: Essai sur une utopie (Paris: Albin Michel, 2003).
28. See Deroo and Lemaire, L’Illusion coloniale, as well as Sandrine Lemaire, “L’utopie d’un
empire républicain,” in Histoires coloniales: Héritages et transmissions (Paris: Library of Public
Information–Centre Pompidou, 2007), 65–74.
29. Benjamin Stora, La Guerre des mémoires: La France face à son passé colonial (La Tour
d’Aigues: Éditions de l’Aube, 2007).
30. Pascal Blanchard and Isabelle Veyrat-Masson, eds., Les Guerres de mémoires: La France et
son histoire. Enjeux politiques, controverses historiques, stratégies médiatiques (Paris: La
Découverte, 2008).
31. See the recent work on this debate and its politicization: Pascal Bruckner, La tyrannie de la
pénitence: Essai sur le masochisme occidental (Paris: Grasset & Fasquelle, 2006), and Daniel
Lefeuvre, Pour en finir avec la repentance coloniale (Paris: Flammarion, 2006).
32. Henry Rousso, Vichy, l’événement, la mémoire, l’histoire (Paris: Gallimard, 1992).
33. On recent debates and the difficulties faced by postcolonial studies in France, see
MarieClaude Smouts, ed., La Situation postcoloniale (Paris: Presses de la FNSP, 2007), and Laurent
Dubreuil, ed., Faut-il être postcolonial?, special issue of Labyrin the 24, no. 2 (2006). In terms of the
impact on the field of African studies, see Mamadou Diouf, “Sortir de la parenthèse coloniale: Un défi
fondateur pour les historiens africains: L’Afrique des africanistes,” Le Débat 1, no. 118 (2002): 59–
65, and Didier Gondola, L’Africanisme: La crise d’une illusion (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2007). Readers
interested in exploring the harshest critiques of postcolonial studies in France can consult Jean-Loup
Amselle’s L’Occident décroché: Enquête sur les postcolonialismes (Paris: Stock, 2008), or
JeanFrançois Bayart’s Les études postcoloniales: Un carnaval académique (Paris: Karthala, 2010).
34. Nicolas Bancel, ed., Retours sur la question coloniale, special issue of Cultures Sud 165
(April–June 2007).
35. See Neil Lazarus, Penser le Postcolonial: Une introduction critique (Paris: Amsterdam,
2006), and Françoise Vergès, Le Mémoire enchaînée: Questions sur l’esclavage (Paris: Albin
Michel, 2006).
36. See Florence Bernault, “L’Afrique et la modernité des sciences sociales,” Vingtième Siècle,
no. 70 (2001/2002): 127–138, and Achille Mbembe, On the Postcolony (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 2001).
37. Gérard Noiriel, Le creuset français: Histoire de l’immigration, XIXème–XXème siècles
(Paris: Seuil, 1988), for example, completely ignores the power of colonial inheritance and even
denies the specificities of colonial and postcolonial immigration (thereby making it extremely difficult
to think the present) because of his tenacious belief in the virtues of “integration,” which he assimilates
to the famous “French melting pot.”38. See Pascal Blanchard, Sylvie Chalaye, Éric Deroo, Dominic Thomas, and Mahamet Timera,L a
France noire: Trois siècles de présences des Afriques, des Caraïbes, de l’océan Indien, et
d’Océanie (Paris: La Découverte, 2011).
39. On this topic, see André Pichot, La Société pure: De Darwin à Hitler (Paris: Flammarion,
2001), in which the author traces the links between colonization and conceptions of racial inequality
found in the human sciences, particularly in physical anthropology, evolutionary biology, and the field
of eugenics.
40. One can find this kind of reaction in the following works, all written by intellectuals and
scientists who have no background in the history of colonization, but who seem to have understood how
colonial history might question “national grandeur”: Jean-Pierre Rioux, La France perd la mémoire
(Paris: Perrin, 2006), René Rémond, Quand l’État se mêle de l’histoire (Paris: Stock, 2006),
PierreAndré Taguieff, La République enlisée (Paris: Éditions des Syrtes, 2005), Alain-Gérard Slama, Le
Siècle de monsieur Pétain (Paris: Perrin, 2005), Max Gallo, Fier d’être français (Paris: Fayard,
2006), and Paul-François Paoli, Nous ne sommes pas coupables (Paris: Éditions de la Table Ronde,
41. See Dominic Thomas, Africa and France: Postcolonial Cultures, Migration, and Racism
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013).
42. Nicolas Bancel, Pascal Blanchard, Gilles Boëtsch, Éric Deroo, Sandrine Lemaire, and Charles
Forsdick, eds., Human Zoos: Science and Spectacle in the Age of Colonial Empires (Liverpool:
Liverpool University Press, 2009).
43. Pierre Nora, ed., Les Lieux de mémoire (Paris: Gallimard, 1984–1992).
44. For the summary of the results of this study, see Nicolas Bancel, Pascal Blanchard, and
Sandrine Lemaire, “Méthodologies de l’étude ‘Mémoire coloniale, mémoire de l’immigration,
mémoire urbaine’ menée à Toulouse en 2003,” and “Synthèse des principaux résultats de l’étude de
Toulouse,” in Blanchard, Bancel, and Lemaire, La fracture coloniale, 263–267 and 269–300
45. See also Herman Lebovics, Bringing the Empire Back Home: France in the Global Age
(Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2004), and Dominic Thomas, ed.,M useums in Postcolonial
Europe (New York: Routledge, 2010).
46. See Panivong Norindr, Phantasmatic Indochina: French Colonial Ideology in Architecture,
Cinema, and Literature (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1996).
47. On this subject, see Marc Ferro, Les tabous de l’histoire (Paris: NiL Éditions, 2002).
48. See the space dedicated to colonial culture in the two dictionaries devoted to colonization
published in recent years: Claude Liauzu, Dictionnaire de la colonisation française (Paris: Larousse,
2007), and Jean-Pierre Rioux, ed., Dictionnaire de la France coloniale (Paris: Flammarion, 2007).
49. Ferro, Les tabous de l’histoire, 28.
50. See Achille Mbembe, “La République désœuvrée: La France à l’ère post-coloniale,”L e
Débat, no. 137 (November–December 2005): 159–175.
51. See “Textes de lois relatifs à la mémoire et à l’histoire,” in La colonisation, la loi et
l’histoire, ed. Claude Liauzu and Gilles Manceron (Paris: Syllepse, 2006), 161–167.
52. Brice Hortefeux, “Préface,” in Les orientations de la politique de l’immigration (Paris: La
Documentation française, 2007), 7–9.
53. Gérard Noiriel, in his book A quoi sert “l’identité nationale” (Marseille: Agone, 2007), has
characterized these developments in terms of the introduction of a vocabulaire de menace (vocabulary
of threats), 2. See also Alexis Spire, Accueillir ou reconduire: Enquête sur les guichets de
l’immigration (Paris: Raison d’Agir, 2008).
54. See Pierre Tevanian, La République du mépris: Les métamorphoses du racisme dans la
France des années Sarkozy (Paris: La Découverte, 2007), Laurent Mucchielli, ed., La frénésie
sécuritaire: Retour à l’ordre et nouveau contrôle social (Paris: a Découverte, 2008), Laurent
Mucchielli, L’invention de la violence: Des peurs, des chiffres et des faits (Paris: La Découverte,
2011), Éric Fassin, Démocratie précaire: Chroniques de la déraison d’État (Paris: La Découverte,
2012), and Cette France-là, Sans-papiers et préfets: La culture du résultat en portraits (Paris: La
Découverte, 2012).
55. Cette France-là, Xénophobie d’en haut: Le choix d’une droite éhontée (Paris: La Découverte,
2012) and Jérôme Valluy, “L’Empire du rejet: xénophobie de gouvernement et politiquesantimigratoires entre Europe et Afrique,” in Douce France. Rafles, rétentions, expulsion, ed. Olivier
Le Cour Grandmaison (Paris: Seuil/RESF, 2009), 121–143.
56. See Lilian Thuram, et al., Appel pour une République multiculturelle et postraciale, special
issue of Respect Mag, no. 10 (January–March 2010), Mary Dewhurst Lewis, The Boundaries of the
Republic: Migrant Rights and the Limits of Universalism in France, 1918–1940 (Stanford, Calif.:
Stanford University Press, 2007), and Christiane Taubira, Egalité pour les exclus: La politique face à
l’histoire et à la mémoire coloniales (Paris: Éditions du Temps Présent, 2009).
57. See Michel Le Bris and Jean Rouaud, eds.,J e est un autre: Pour une identité-monde (Paris:
Gallimard, 2010), Albin Wagener, Le débat sur “l’identité nationale”: Essai à propos d’un fantôme
(Paris: L’Harmattan, 2010), and Achille Mbembe, “Pièce d’identité et désirs d’apartheid,” in Je est un
autre: Pour une identité-monde, ed. Michel Le Bris and Jean Rouaud (Paris: Gallimard, 2010), 15–
58. Noriel, A quoi sert “l’identité nationale,” 99.
59. Didier Fassin, “Frontières extérieures, frontières intérieures,” in Les nouvelles frontières de la
société française, ed. Didier Fassin (Paris: La Découverte: 2010), 5–24.
60. See Élise Vincent, “La politique migratoire a été nettement durcie en 2011,” Le Monde,
January 10, 2012, 12.
61. See Carole Barjon, “La métamorphose de Monsieur Claude Guéant,”N ouvel Observateur,
March 24, 2011.
62. See “A Common Immigration Policy for Europe: Principles, Actions and Tools.”
reference=MEMO/08/402&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en, June 17, 2008.
63. See “The encampment in Europe and around the Mediterranean Sea,”
(2009), Henri Courau, Ethnologie de la Forme-camp de Sangatte: De l’exception à la régulation
(Paris: Éditions des Archives Contemporaines, 2007), Olivier Le Cour Grandmaison, Gilles Lhuilier,
and Jérôme Valluy, eds., Le retour des camps: Sangatte, Lampedusa, Guantanamo (Paris: Autrement,
2007), Michel Agier, Gérer les indésirables: Des camps de réfugiés au gouvernement humanitaire
(Paris: Flammarion, 2008), Jérôme Valluy, Rejet des exilés: Le grand retournement du droit d’asile
(Bellecombe-en-Bauges: Éditions du Croquant, 2009), Carolina Kobelinsky and Chowra Makaremi,
eds., Enfermés dehors: Enquêtes sur le confinement des étrangers (Bellecombe-en-Bauges: Éditions
du Croquant, 2009), Olivier Le Cour Grandmaison, ed., Douce France: Rafles, Rétentions,
Expulsions (Paris: Seuil/RESF, 2009), and Michel Agier,Le couloir des exilés: Être étranger dans
un monde commun (Bellecombe-en-Bauges: Éditions du Croquant, 2011).
64. Achille Mbembe, “Provincializing France?” trans. Janet Roitman, Public Culture 23, no. 1
(2011): 92.
65. Dominic Thomas, “Sarkozy’s Law: The Institutionalization of Xenophobia in the New Europe,”
Radical Philosophy 153 (January–February 2009): 7–12. One should also note that stigmatization of
“outsiders” has also been further complicated by the treatment of certain “insiders”—such as Roma
populations—as “outsiders,” when in fact they are juridically E.U. citizens and as such protected by
regulations pertaining to the freedom of circulation. See for example “E.U. Warns France of Action
over Roma.”, September 29, 2010.
66. See Etienne Balibar, We, the People of Europe: Reflections on Transnational Citizenship,
trans. James Swenson (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2004), Didier Bigo, “Contrôle
migratoire et libre circulation en Europe,” in L’enjeu mondial: Les migrations, ed. Christophe
Jaffrelot and Christian Lequesne (Paris: Presses de la Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques,
2009), 165–176, Rachid Chaabita, ed., Migration clandestine africaine vers l’Europe: Un espoir
pour les uns, un problème pour les autres (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2010), Isidore Ndaywel È Nziem,
“L’Union pour la Méditerranée: Un projet pour diviser l’Afrique et tourner le dos à la Francophonie,”
in Petit précis de remise à niveau sur l’histoire africaine à l’usage du président Sarkozy, ed. Adame
Ba Konaré (Paris: La Découverte, 2008), 268–280, and Abdelkhaleq Berramdane, “L’émergence
d’une politique européenne commune d’immigration et son externalisation progressive,” in La
politique européenne d’immigration, ed. Abdelkhaleq Berramdane and Jean Rossetto (Paris:
Karthala, 2009), 39–59.
67. Nicolas Sarkozy, “Address at the University Cheikh Anta
Diop,”,July 26, 2007. Translation slightly altered.
68. See Achille Mbembe, “Nicolas Sarkozy’s Africa,” trans. Melissa
Thackway,, August 8, 2007.
69. Laurence de Cock, Fanny Madeline, Nicolas Offenstadt, and Sophie Wahnich, eds.,C omment
Nicolas Sarkozy écrit l’histoire de France (Marseille: Agone, 2008), 15–19, Makhily Gassama, ed.,
L’Afrique répond à Sarkozy: Contre le discours de Dakar (Paris: Philippe Rey, 2008), Adame Ba
Konaré, ed., Petit précis de remise à niveau sur L’histoire africaine à l’usage du président Sarkozy
(Paris: La Découverte, 2008), and Charles Thomas Kounkou, “L’ontologie négative de l’Afrique:
Remarques sur le discours de Nicolas Sarkozy à Dakar,” Cahiers d’études africaines 50, no. 198–
199–200 (2010): 755–770.
70. See for example François-Xavier Verschave, La Françafrique: Le plus long scandale de la
République (Paris: Stock, 1998), Jean-Pierre Dozon, Frères et sujets: La France et l’Afrique en
perspective (Paris: Flammarion, 2003), Samuël Foutoyet, Nicolas Sarkozy ou la Françafrique
décomplexée (Brussels: Tribord, 2009), Makhily Gassama, ed., 50 ans après, quelle indépendance
pour l’Afrique? (Paris: Philippe Rey, 2010), Christopher L. Miller, “The Slave Trade,L a
Françafrique, and the Globalization of French,” in French Global: A New Approach to Literary
History, ed. Christie McDonald and Susan Rubin Suleiman (New York: Columbia University Press,
2010), 240–256, Xavier Harel and Thomas Hofnung, Le scandale des biens mal acquis: Enquête sur
les milliards volés de la françafrique (Paris: La Découverte, 2011), Gilles Labarthe, Sarko l’Africain
(Paris: Hugo, 2011), and Dominic Thomas, “The Adventures of Sarkozy in Eurafrica,”C ontemporary
French and Francophone Studies: SITES 16, no. 3 (June 2012): 393–404.
71. See Pascal Blanchard, “L’identité, l’historien et le passé colonial: Le trio impossible,” in Je
est un autre: Pour une identité-monde, ed. Michel Le Bris and Jean Rouaud (Paris: Gallimard, 2010),
72. Ngùgì wa Thiong’o, Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature
(Lon don: James Currey, 1986). See also Pierre Tevanian, “Le legs colonial,” in Une mauvaise
décolonisation: La France: de l’Empire aux émeutes des quartiers populaires, ed. Georges Labica,
Francis Arzalier, Olivier Le Cour Grandmaison, Pierre Tevanian, and Saïd Bouamama (Paris: Le
Temps des Cerises, 2008), 59–74, Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch, Enjeux politiques de l’histoire
coloniale (Marseille: Agone, 2009), and Alain Ruscio, Y’a bon les colonies? La France sarkozyste
face à l’histoire coloniale, à l’identité nationale et à l’immigration (Paris: Le Temps des Cerises,
73. In an article published in Le Monde newspaper on March 19, 2002, “La mémoire retrouvée de
la guerre d’Algérie,” Benjamin Stora commented on the numerous commemorative events that have
taken place in France since the death of François Mitterrand in 1996. The transition from a “feeling of
absence” to a “kind of overabundance” of memorialization runs the risk of suffocating colonial history
and of creating a dichotomy between the “colonial fact” and the “Algerian War,” thereby introducing
parallel “communitarian” memories. The consequence of this process might very well be a decoupling
of the Algerian War from colonialism, leading Benjamin Stora to conclude that “the work of memory
on the Algerian War is not complete.” Most likely, it will make sense only when it is finally inscribed
in a broader colonial framework.
74. Mbembe, “Provincializing France?” 85–119.
75. Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Richard Philcox (New York: Grove, 2004
[1961]), 235. See Achille Mbembe, Sortir de la grande nuit: Essai sur l’Afrique décolonisée (Paris:
La Découverte, 2010).PART 1
French Colonization: An Inaudible History
Marc Ferro
This foreword is based on a 2005 interview conducted with the historian Marc Ferro, a specialist on
the issue of colonization and the reception of this past in French society, namely in books such as
L’Histoire des colonisations (1994), Les tabous de l’Histoire (2002), and Le Livre noir du
colonialisme (2003).1 He has described the current situation—a situation in which the French public
has turned its back on the work of historians—as a form of “self-censorship by citizens,” paired with a
“censorship by the governing authorities.” This sort of postcolonial posture, which characterizes
France at the beginning of the twenty-first century, cannot and does not want to accept that “the
Republic betrayed its core values” because to do so would be to question the “Republic” itself.
In his introduction to Le Livre noir du colonialisme, Ferro points to the “aftershocks” of this
history today:

The events of September 2001, the shocks of Algeria, the demonstrations calling for repentance
in France, are these not all the aftershocks of colonization, of colonialism? [ … ] At the dawn
of the twenty-first century, before and after September 11, 2001, one notices that the sickness
caused by colonization, which has been reincarnated in new forms—neocolonialism,
globalization and accelerated globalization, multinational imperialism—affects both the
territories and peoples formerly under European domination, and also the metropoles.2
Fifty years after the end of colonization, we must begin to inquire into the colonial aftershocks in the
“metropoles,” along with what they mean for the field of historiography. The interview is thus
interspersed with excerpts from some of Ferro’s recent work, to highlight not so much a “French
taboo,” but rather a historical approach proper to the École des Annales.
The Republic Betrayed Its Core Values

Colonization was obviously a great scandal. The Republic betrayed its core values in
Indochina and in Africa. Colonial peoples were never granted the full rights of citizens. Never
mind the question of forced labor… But today there reigns a sentiment of “culpability,” which I
find particularly striking, since a portion of public opinion acts as though this history had been
entirely hidden from them. This is simply not true. It is just that previously it did not shock the
sensibilities in the way it does today. Before, we were less concerned with human rights than
with the Nation-State. At the time, people considered that the progress of “civilization” was at
stake and that if we killed people, it was in the name of civilization!3
All those whose actions have put into question the legitimacy of their behavior— in terms of moral,
ethical, and cultural norms—have a difficult time with the writing of their history. It took the Germans
twenty years to produce serious books on Nazism. Only today do the Polish acknowledge that they
were just as anti-Semitic as the Germans during the Second World War. The Russians also have a
complicated relationship with their history: a riot practically broke out in 1994 with the release of
Nikita Mikhalkov’s film Burnt by the Sun, because in it he showed the complicity of Russians in
Stalinist crimes. Societies are not fond of self-flagellation.
Similarly, when it comes to colonization, France also resists its own history. This is
understandable, if we consider the extent to which the decolonization process was largely an internal
issue. For example, in the 1950s, with the crisis in Algeria, anticolonialist groups spoke out against
torture, the comportment of the army and political personnel overseas, the mobilization of military
recruits to fight against a people struggling for their freedom—they were protesting our institutions.
However, at the time, few asked the question “What do the Algerians want?” Movements on the
mainland rarely took up indigenous points of view, or considered what it was they were fighting for.
The fact is that the French did not have a firm grasp on Algerian political parties. They did notinternalize the problems facing colonized peoples. Moreover, anticolonialist movements in the
metropole turned a blind eye on crimes committed by these victims. In a way, for these movements,
terrorist acts and crimes perpetrated in the name of liberation were legitimized by the simple fact that
they were committed by these victims. Instead, they were more vocal about French repression in
Algeria, which is to say the repression of terrorism, than with terrorism itself. While these issues were
once taboo, they are being reconsidered today. Terrorism attacked institutions and killed innocent
people, either in a random fashion or as part of a violent political policy seeking to liberate Algeria
that even went so far as to target Algerian civilian populations. Quite clearly, this was a fact that the
French did not wish to reckon with.
Furthermore, it would be wrong to hold the French army solely responsible for violence during this
conflict, for the colonial system generally, and the Europeans who had been living in Algeria for some
time, shared in this responsibility. These blind spots all contributed to the way in which the writing of
this period took shape, as well as to the specificities of collective memory.
“History’s Taboos”

Today, we have developed the habit of using the word “taboo” for all situations. For example:
“Torture during the Algerian War used to be a taboo.” No. It has often been evoked. [ … ] The
topic was censured for a time, sure, then there was a long silence on the matter, and finally
various events brought the issue to the fore. In Algeria, before the war, people spoke of the
“mistreatment” of “Arabs”; meanwhile, the “Algerian problem” was indeed a taboo subject in
many circles.4
In fact, this taboo even put into question the French presence in Algeria. The manner in which
colonial history is taught in schools is absurd. It is broken down into two periods: “Conquest and
Colonization” and “Independence Movements.” The continuity between the two periods is never
established. Moreover, there is a clear effort to “uproot” the idea that colonization could have been
criticized from as early as its very inception.
Let us again consider the case of Algeria to better understand the situation. There, autochthonous
uprisings against colonization existed at every stage. By “cutting history into slices,” to cite Fernand
Braudel, we make it impossible to understand colonization in its totality. Today, colonization is
understood only through the prism of “torture in Algeria.” We have thus bracketed other traumatic
facts: the massacres that took place in Madagascar, the carnage in sub-Saharan Africa, to name just a
couple. Moreover, this is a simplistic vision of colonization that strips the overall situation of its
complexity. Simply put, it is an abbreviated and false perspective.
One could compare it to textbooks in Japan, in which almost everything is false, for their aim is to
legitimize the imperial tradition. Even in today’s Japan, it is extremely difficult to revisit this history,
for the elites have all been brought up on these apologetic visions of history. In France, when it comes
to colonization, the situation is analogous, which makes a more complex approach to colonial history
rather difficult, even though anticolonialism is one of the oldest families of thought in this country.
Self-Censorship by Citizens and Censorship by the Governing Authorities

All of these facts [abuses of power in the colonies] were known, public. However, if
denouncing them put into question “France’s actions,” then their existence was categorically
denied: the government can make mistakes, but my country is always right… This conviction,
internalized by the French, still exists today; it survives because of self-censorship on the part
of the people and because of official censorship: for example, none of the movies or television
programs “denouncing” the abuses committed in the colonies figure on the list of the 100
greatest hits, either in sales or in audience ratings.5
Today, there is a lot of talk about colonial history. It has become an important topic. Several major
events have made this possible, notably the fall of communism, which led to a reevaluation of the
nation-state and, through a ricochet effect, of “imperialist policy.” Indeed, the ideology of the
nationstate, which was still a dominant ideology in the period between 1950 and 1970, has since ceded the
ground to an ideology of human rights.
It is essential to understand that during the colonial period, the aspects of colonization that appearso scandalous today were still considered acceptable. A few decades ago—from the colonial period
until about the end of the 1960s— colonial history was for the most part taught in textbooks, and though
they were euphemistic, they did not hide the truth when it came to violent acts. However, these violent
acts were not considered problematic, since they were legitimized by colonization as an emancipatory
project. There was almost unanimous consensus when it came to colonization: according to the
dominant ideology of the nation-state, the colonial act was fully legitimate. We cannot forget this
ideological context: today we are at another point in history, in which an ideology of human rights has
supplanted that of the nation-state. We therefore see colonial crimes in a completely different light from
before, when they were tolerated, and “tolerable,” as a means to the “ends” of colonization.
It is also worth noting the conspicuous absence of a history of immigration. Such a history could
help us to better understand the historic depth of xenophobia, recorded since at least the sixteenth
century. Integration also has a long history. Today’s receding state has given way to
microcommunities, often formed around specific roots, around provinces, regions, and also—for immigrants
— around shared nationalities or origins. All of this appears definitively disconnected from the
expected outcomes of history lessons.
The General Public Is in a Structural Rut
“The real problem in the postcolonial period is the general public’s self-censorship. The public will
not go to see a movie that speaks poorly of them, or of their fathers, cousins, country, army. The public
prefers instead to see movies that glorify them.”6 Regarding scholarly research, let us take, for
example, the reception of Le Livre noir du colonialisme in France. This book was fairly well received
by the general public, but poorly received by the academic community. Historians of colonization had,
in sum, the following to say: “What is Marc Ferro doing on this territory?” Many scholarly readers
expressed reluctance toward the book, or outright hostility, especially toward the parts where I
compared colonialism to totalitarianism, an idea that had not occurred to many historians. The problem
is that many of these readers are overly specialized in a chosen field, subject, or country, and refuse to
stray from these narrow confines. However, we can make progress only if we begin to work on
different subjects, on different terrains.
For example, in Le Livre noir du colonialisme, I was surprised by the similarity in structure
between two films: Le Juif Süss and La Charge de la brigade légère. In Le Juif Süss, either the Jew
has to stay in the ghetto and remain contemptible, or he has to integrate himself and be considered
dangerous. In the second movie, the idea is the same: either the Indian remains outside of colonial
society and is contemptible, or he assimilates and becomes a threat. I thought to myself, “My! The Nazi
mentality and that of the colonists had a lot in common.” This realization drove me to compare Nazism
with colonialism, and it was this idea, which came from colonial history and its ghetto, that caused
some jealousy within the field. In sum, it is absurd to separate colonial studies from postcolonial
studies either in the countries that were colonized or in the former colonizing powers. I remain
convinced that we cannot study contemporary societies without taking into account their colonial

In France, the Republican tradition makes of our country the embodiment of revolution, liberty,
equality, fraternity, human rights, and civilization within a frame of colonial expansion.
Because France was supposed to be the incarnation of these virtues, the world had its eyes
turned upon her—France with her great history—and expected her to revolutionize the world.
The various European countries were thought to look upon France with envy and the
Republican regime was considered by the French to be a kind of inspirational model for other
peoples. Those who were not French could only one day hope to become French. This is why,
in the case of France’s colonies (for example, in Algeria), French nationality was only granted
in small doses, as an ultimate reward. In other words, the Republican tradition upheld the
notion that, deep down, colonized peoples only wanted one thing: to become full-fledged
French citizens. This was certainly the case for some, but not for all.7
1. Marc Ferro, “Le colonialisme, envers de la colonisation,” in L’Histoire des colonisations, ed.
Marc Ferro (Paris: Seuil, 1994), Les tabous de l’Histoire (Paris: NiL éditions, 2002), and as editor,
Le Livre noir du colonialisme. XVIe–XXIe siècle: De l’extermination à la repentance (Paris: Robert
Laffont, 2003).2. Ferro, “Le colonialisme, envers de la colonisation,” 47.
3. Marc Ferro, “La République a trahi ses valeurs,” Les collections de l’Histoire, no. 11 (April
2001): 3.
4. Ferro, Les tabous de l’Histoire, 11–12.
5. Ferro, “Le colonialisme, envers de la colonisation,” 13.
6. Marc Ferro, “Le filtre de la fiction,” La Revue: Forum des images (2005).
7. Ferro, Les tabous de l’Histoire, 28.