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  • The Politics of Frenchness in Colonial Algeria, 1930–1954
  • Oniankpo Akindjo
The Politics of Frenchness in Colonial Algeria, 1930–1954 By Jonathan K. GosnellNew York: Routledge, 2002. 234 pp. ISBN I-58046-105-0.

Assimilationist ideology, fueled by the republican ethos of universalism, has been the cornerstone of colonization and the trait that makes it stand apart. But how the distant subjects are to become French is a very complex matter. That is the issue at stake in Gosnell's study, with the focus on the specific case of Algeria. The book is divided into six very informative chapters. Chapters one and two discuss the notion of "French Algeria" and how it has been employed within the colonial educational system. Chapters three and four examine the diverging constructions of France and Frenchness in Algeria, whereas chapter five focuses on both vertical and horizontal conceptions of Frenchness among the populations in the colony. The final chapter analyzes the development of an Algerian colonial identity, which comes as a result of the fluctuating policies discussed in the preceding chapters. Following representation theories developed by cultural theorists, the analysis is based on a corpus of judicial and administrative documents concerning the colony, newspapers, essays and literary productions from colonial authors, as well as on elementary school texts for colonial Algeria. [End Page 152]

The study highlights the contradictions inherent in, and the lack of coherence of, the politics of Frenchness in Algeria. That flaw stems from the hidden desire to monopolize power for the European settler populations who are all made French citizens, to the detriment of the majority made up of Arabs and Berbers who cannot get the naturalization laws reformed in their favor, despite the repeated "impôt du sang"—or "blood tax"—they paid during the World Wars. The ambivalence of that politics, Gosnell contends, has created a volatile dynamics between the assimilable and the unassimilable populations within Algeria on the one hand, and on the other hand between the metropole and Algeria, the focal point of the Greater France project, French sentiment ebbing and flowing with the tide of circumstance. Painstakingly, the author leads the reader through an intricate policy of Frenchness, alongside the Way of the Cross leading from assimilation to naturalization to citizenship, with shortcuts allowing some happy Elect to become citizens without being assimilated, and all the accompanying frustrations for the Muslims. Nevertheless, for this reviewer, the last paragraph on Algérianité is skewed in favor of the European minority.

Chapter six focuses only on the emerging Algerianness of the European settlers who developed an authentic Algerian expression and identity that excluded the Arabs and Berbers, from the turn of the century through the 1950s. As we all now know, the protestations of Ferhat Abbas against this exclusive European Algerianness were only the tree hiding the forest. Thus, either the author's methodology has blinded him from alternate representations of Algerianness in the early 1950s or he has chosen to cover only one side of a two-sided story in this chapter. Subsequently, with that "invisible" but operational Algérianité out of the picture, it is difficult to comprehend the motives of the war that broke out in 1954, and only one main goal stands out: the vindication of the Pied Noir. Nonetheless, this perceived weakness notwithstanding, this book is an invaluable resource for those who want to investigate the enduring relationships between France and its Empire today.

Oniankpo Akindjo
The Ohio State University


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pp. 152-153
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