- Transnational Spaces and Identities in the Francophone World
On 2 November 2009 the first of a series of debates on the subject of l’identité nationale took place in departmental préfectures across France. Organized under the auspices of Eric Besson’s ‘grand débat républicain’, these discussions sought to, in the words of Besson, ‘réaffirmer les valeurs de l’identité nationale et la fierté d’être français’ (Libération, 27 October 2009). While a key theme in the discussions was the advantages brought to the French nation by immigration, there has been growing anxiety that the Sarkozyean promotion of ‘national identity’ is a manifestation of hostility towards immigrants, an anxiety exemplified by the resignation of eight historians from the Cité nationale de l’histoire de l’immigration (June 2007). In light of such concerns in the Hexagone, the publication of Transnational Spaces and Identities in the Francophone World is timely. The collection of essays, largely drawn from a conference held at Texas Tech in March 2002, examines how migratory movements throughout the francophone world have generated national and transnational cultures. Together, the contributors cover an impressive range of geographical spaces, chronologies (from the colonial to the postcolonial), disciplines, and genres, elucidating the multiplicity of francophone contexts where cultural confrontations have taken place. Organized into six sections — ‘Colonialism and Immigration’, ‘Immigrant Spaces and Identities’, ‘Writing Algerian Identities’, ‘Jewish Migrations and Identities’, ‘Francophone Spaces and Multiple Identities’, and ‘Postmodern Sites and Identities’ — the volume moves chronologically and thematically, highlighting cultural, historical, and geographical links. In the first two sections, ‘mythical cultural’, physical, and political spaces are interrogated to demonstrate how migration flows redefine any notion of a Republican ‘raceless’ literature, culture, and history, and how the French ‘predicament of multiculturalism’ (p. xiii) has its roots in the colonial era. Thus, while Philip Dine’s chapter analyses Camus’s Le Premier Homme with reference to the French colonial myth of a pan-Mediterranean civilization, Todd Shepard’s chapter on Harki migration to France explores how the evolution of political categories sought to impose a particular religious, ethnic, and racial identity on a community doubly exiled with the declaration of Algerian independence. Examining the physical space of the Nanterre bidonvilles, Neil MacMaster’s contribution shows how such ‘autoconstruction’ (p. 74) allowed Algerian [End Page 379] migrants to adapt to the built environment of metropolitan France. The ‘spaces’ analysed in subsequent chapters are more amorphous, referring to literary or cultural contexts as individual authors investigate multiple and hybrid identities, from Robert Aldrich’s examination of Jean Sénac’s political writing to Joseph Militello’s exegetical treatment of the oppressed and marginalized woman rendered mad by an unhappy marriage in the novels of the Senegalese writers Myriam Warner-Vieyra and Mariama Bâ. While all chapters appropriately demonstrate how ‘francophonie’ links the Hexagone to a wider world, and that ‘identities’ are necessarily constructed, contingent, fluid, and multiple, the variety of uneven ways in which ‘identity’ is used in the volume is somewhat problematic. As Frederick Cooper cautioned in Colonialism in Question (2005), we must be mindful of the ‘sheer ambiguity’ of the term ‘identity’.