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Colonial Culture in France since the Revolution

Translated by Alexis Pernsteiner. Edited by Pascal Blanchard, Sandrine Lemaire, Nicolas Bancel, and Dominic Thomas

Publication Year: 2013

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.

Published by: Indiana University Press


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pp. 1-3


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p. 5-5


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pp. v-viii

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Introduction: The Creation of a Colonial Culture in France, from the Colonial Era to the "Memory Wars"

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pp. 1-48

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, ...

Part 1. The Creation of a Colonial Culture

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Foreword: French Colonization: An Inaudible History

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pp. 51-55

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 colonialismem (2003).1 ...

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1. Antislavery, Abolitionism, and Abolition in France from the End of the Eighteenth Century to the 1840s

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pp. 56-74

Before getting to the heart of the matter, it is important to clarify the terminology: “antislavery” and “abolitionism” are not equivalent terms, even if there exists admittedly a continuity between the two. Strictly speaking, though one could not be abolitionist without being antislavery, there is a qualitative difference between one term and the other. ...

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2. Milestones in Colonial Culture under the Second Empire (1851–1870)

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pp. 75-89

During the twenty-year period between the second abolition of 1848 and the Third Republic’s colonial saga, Napoleon III headed France’s imperial policy. History, however, does not recall this period in terms of its great ultramarine destiny, or because of its leader’s successful or unsuccessful attempts at conquest. ...

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3. Exhibitions, Expositions, Media Coverage, and the Colonies (1870–1914)

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pp. 90-97

In L’Exposition de Paris, an illustrated publication prepared for the Universal Exposition of 1889, rich in visuals, scenes, reproductions of art objects, machines, drawings, and engravings by the best artists, one could read the following: “One of the most popular areas of the exposition is the annex devoted to the history of dwelling places. ...

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4. Science, Scientists, and the Colonies (1870–1914)

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pp. 98-105

During the nineteenth century, the will to make an inventory of all that nature had placed at the disposition of humankind resulted in the invention of “cabinets of curiosity,” collections more exhaustive than they were spectacular. From the outset, they proved essential to the task of describing, comparing, and hierarchizing nature’s elements. ...

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5. Literature, Song, and the Colonies (1900–1920)

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pp. 106-115

Colonial writing both could have and should have been the ancestor of the current trend of “surprising traveler” novels. However, it is not. Today, colonial literature has been all but forgotten, and even when it is evoked, it is to reaffirm its negative status. ...

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6. Entertainment, Theater, and the Colonies (1870–1914)

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pp. 116-123

During the first half of the nineteenth century, theatrical representations of the colonies depicted lands where slavery reigned. The plays were essentially melodramas condemning the cruelty of colonials and their unpitying harshness. After 1848 and the abolition of slavery, the theme quickly grew out of fashion. ...

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7. School, Pedagogy, and the Colonies (1870–1914)

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pp. 124-131

In the aftermath of a war in which two provinces were lost, and in the context of a Europe throughout which nationalities were being formed, the role of school was primarily to establish feelings of patriotism. It did so by calling upon both scholarly representations of history and popular legend. ...

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8. Dying: The Call of the Empire (1913–1918)

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pp. 132-140

On July 14, 1913, during the patriotic High Mass that the Longchamp military parade had become, the president of the Republic, Raymond Poincaré, awarded the Legion of Honor to the first regiment of Senegalese tirailleurs (First RTS ). The act was significant, as this is the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a unit. ...

Part 2. Conquering Public Opinion

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Foreword: History's Mark (1931–1961)

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pp. 143-149

One often recalls one’s “first love.” Without the eternal emotions to which it gives life, whole swaths of our culture would fall: song would practically disappear, poetry would be but a shadow of itself, miles of film would become obsolete, thousands of actors would be without lines to repeat, without secrets to tell, ...

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9. Dreaming: The Fatal Attraction of Colonial Cinema (1920–1950)

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pp. 150-161

In one of his last studies on colonial cinema, Marcel Oms inquires into the question of the genre’s aims and limits.1 Pertinently, he highlights the near-absence of allusions to military conquest, from Algeria to sub-Saharan Africa to Indochina. Watching these films, one has the impression that these things never even happened, ...

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10. Spreading the Word: The Agence Générale des Colonies (1920–1931)

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pp. 162-170

The desire to inform the public about the abundance of resources overseas and to increase the number of bilateral exchanges between France and its territorial possessions led to the formation of the Agence Générale des Colonies (General Bureau of the Colonies), an oft-misunderstood organization, ...

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11. To Civilize: The Invention of the Native (1918–1940)

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pp. 171-179

The Other is a recurring anthropological figure in every field of social science. On the one hand, because figures of exteriority are the mirrors through which the substance and borders of collective identities are formed, transformed, firmed up, and reaffirmed.1 The Other is endowed with “characteristics” that vary with the times, ...

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12. Selling the Colonial Economic Myth (1900–1940)

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pp. 180-188

In 1815, at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, France found itself with a colorful assortment of colonies: a few islands in the West Indies, Réunion in the Indian Ocean, islands in the Pacific, and two outposts on the coast of Senegal. Throughout the nineteenth century, France positioned itself in order to reconstruct its empire. ...

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13. The Athletic Exception: Black Champions and Colonial Culture (1900–1939)

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pp. 189-199

Black athletes from the French colonies began to appear in metropolitan France in the early twenties.1 They were represented in the media according to two models: black American champion-athletes, who had become popular in France toward the end of the nineteenth century, and black colonial subjects. ...

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14. The Colonial Bath: Colonial Culture in Everyday Life (1918–1931)

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pp. 200-208

Colonial Culture in France did not begin in the interim between the two world wars, though this period did establish rather definitive contours of that culture, and even saw its insertion into everyday life. It is not possible here to detail all the aspects related to the dissemination of colonial representations— ...

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15. The Colonial Exposition (1931)

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pp. 209-216

From the early days of the Third Republic until 1931, the perception of overseas territories occupied by soldiers, settlers, and French administrators in metropolitan France was founded on the received idea that these territories and their inhabitants were part of an imperial entity: “Greater France.”1 ...

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16. National Unity: The right and left "Meet" around the Colonial Exposition (1931)

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pp. 217-232

The ambiance surrounding the 1931 exposition in the French capital was quite strange, to say the least. The context in metropolitan France had been changing over the prior two years. Between 1929 and 1931, the number of colonial newspapers went from seventy to seventy-seven, the news media became colonial in the space of a few months, ...

Part 3. The Apogee of Imperialism

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Foreword: Images of an Empire's Demise

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pp. 235-249

In the field of history, the practice of analyzing (and utilizing) images began in the 1990s, with classifications and typologies. The sensorial shock of an image can both influence the course of one’s life and change one’s perception of history. With respect to the end of the Algerian War, Jean-François Sirinelli rightly asks, ...

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17. Colonizing, Educating, Guiding: A Republican Duty

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pp. 250-256

It is easy to mock colonial propaganda from today’s perspective. For us, who are accustomed to integrationist discourse, who have been taught to reject racial rhetoric, it seems easy to reject the system of signs—the images, the modes of representation, the discourse—from the colonial Empire. ...

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18. Promotion: Creating the Colonial (1930–1940)

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pp. 257-267

Logically, the production of the most dramatic forms of propaganda began to wane after the International Colonial Exposition of 1931—an event that corresponded with the height of Republican financial, material, and human propaganda on the colonies. ...

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19. Influence: Cultural and Ideological Agendas (1920–1940)

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pp. 268-275

The 1930s mark the apogee of the French Empire, and the euphoria accompanying the International Colonial Exposition of 1931 is perhaps the most obvious sign of the public’s obsession with the colonial enterprise. The propaganda generated by the Agence Générale des Colonies gives us a sense of the kind of pro-colonial discourse in circulation, ...

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20. Education: Becoming "Homo Imperialis" (1910–1940)

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pp. 276-284

Novels, comic strips, movies, an abundance of colonial iconography all testify to the existence of a very specific cultural apparatus that worked to deeply inscribe the “imperial” into metropolitan culture.”1 Moreover, this imperial culture, through targeted means of forming and educating the youth, was a major factor in the creation of a “Homo imperialis” in metropolitan France. ...

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21. Manipulation: Conquering Taste (1931–1939)

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pp. 285-295

On the occasion of the International Colonial Exposition of 1931, Lambert-Ribot, a spokesperson for the colonial lobby, stated, “Production is one thing, but we must also make known what has been created: there are raw materials in our colonies, and yet we look for them abroad. ...

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22. Control: Paris, a Colonial Capital (1931–1939)

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pp. 296-306

The presence of immigrants from the colonies became “visible” in France in the late 1930s, particularly in Paris. Though this novel and much criticized—by the right and the extreme right, as well as by some on the left, and almost the entirety of immigration “specialists”—phenomenon is rarely associated with colonial history, ...

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23. Imperial Revolution: Vichy's Colonial Myth (1940–1944)

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pp. 307-319

“Invaded and defeated under the most troubling and painful circumstances in its history, France has little option but to withdraw herself with dignity. As such, in the depths of her tragic misfortune, France turns to her Empire, looking for comfort and consolation, and most of all for a reason to be proud and to believe in the nation.”1 ...

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24. The Colonial Economy: Between Propaganda Myths and Economic Reality (1940–1955)

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pp. 320-332

Over the course of the Second World War, the Empire became increasingly perceived in the popular imagination as an extension of the national territory. Inextricably bound to an affirmation of imperial culture, this notion was legitimized in and through the colonial space, which for its part was seen as indispensable to the nation’s future. ...

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25. French Unity: The Dream of a United France (1946–1960)

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pp. 333-340

With the Constitution of 1946, one could no longer officially speak of France and its colonial Empire. There was now one entity, the French Union, which included both metropolitan France and the overseas territories. The term highlights a desire for solidarity between the two entities and an assumption of egalitarian association. ...

Part 4. Toward the Postcolony

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Foreword: Moussa the African's Blues

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pp. 343-346

Gustave Flaubert once wrote: “Those who read a book in order to know if the baroness marries the count are fools.” I would add: those who read this text in order to find out how France is doing will have the right to feel cheated, for if you want a prognosis, or if you want to develop some kind of perspective on the situation, ...

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26. Decolonizing France: The "Indochinese Syndrome" (1946–1954)

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pp. 347-363

Understanding the role of the Indochina War in the history of French society from the second half of the twentieth century, and the fracture it caused to the cultural universe of what we used to call the “metropole,” is not a simple task. Research has typically focused on the political choices taken, ...

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27. Immigration and an Emerging African Elite in the Metropole (1946–1961)

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pp. 364-371

The 1950s mark a caesura in the manner in which sub-Saharan Africans were perceived in France. After the figure of the “tirailleur as overgrown child” from the interwar years, and before that of the mute and docile “immigrant laborer” from after the independence movements, ...

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28. North Africans Settle in the Metropole (1946–1961)

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pp. 372-379

Muslim North Africans accounted for a significant number of French forces from 1943 to 1945, with around 200,000 men on active duty during this period and closer to 300,000 if one includes various operations beginning in late 1940. However, their efforts went all but unnoticed after the war. ...

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29. Crime: Colonial Violence in the Metropole (1954–1961)

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pp. 380-387

Over the course of imperial history, colonial violence in France has been primarily anti-Algerian. This can in part be explained by the scale of Algerian immigration to the metropole. Officially, more than 250,000 Algerians were living in France in the early 1950s, mainly in greater Paris, though also in the northeast and in the cities of Marseille and Lyon. ...

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30. Modernism, Colonialism, and Cultural Hybridity

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pp. 388-398

For all of aesthetic modernism’s self-containment, and for all of colonialism’s faraway-ness, the two activities were twinned. In parallel fashion they rose in the mid-nineteenth century, flourished for about a hundred years, and crashed together in the third quarter of the twentieth. ...

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31. The Meanders of Colonial Memory

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pp. 399-410

In her postabolition analysis of the memorial process of slavery in the “former colonies,” Myriam Cottias describes a “politics of forgetting.”1 Can the same description be applied to colonial history? The expression “politics of forgetting” suggests a conscious will to cover up; in the case of colonial history, ...

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32. The Impossible Revision of France's History (1968–2006)

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pp. 411-419

A collaborative book published in 2005, La Fracture coloniale, emphasized the role of the “national narrative” in the French reluctance to recognize alterity.1 The debates surrounding the law of February 23, 2005, which highlighted the “positive” role of French colonization, resulted in a media frenzy regarding the issues at stake ...

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33. National History and Colonial History: Parallel Histories (1961–2006)

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pp. 420-431

“The colonies. A French debate.” This was the title of Le Monde 2’s special edition on this “French malaise,” which featured five articles alongside older material: an interview with Pierre Nora, “La France est malade de sa mémoire” (France Suffers from Memory Illness), an interview with Éric Deroo, ...

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34. The Illusion of Decolonization (1956–2006)

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pp. 432-437

For the most part, the facts are known. Far from constituting a rupture, the independence of the vast majority of sub-Saharan French territories to arise with the emergence of the Fifth Republic (including the mandated territories of Togo and Cameroon, which went to France after the First World War), ...

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35. The Difficult Art of Exhibiting the Colonies

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pp. 438-452

Collecting and colonizing went hand in hand from the early days of European discovery and takeover of overseas domains. The first explorers, adventurers, and traveling scientists as well as the conquerors planting the flags of their nations over faraway lands acquired and returned to Europe with hundreds of thousands of exotic objects.1 ...

Part 5. The Time of Inheritance

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Foreword: The Age of Contempt, or the Legitimization of France's Civilizing Mission

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pp. 455-461

In these troubled times when the question of memorial laws triggers emotional and polemic responses and when a president of the Republic (in this case Jacques Chirac) reclaimed the term “Civilization,” it seems legitimate to examine the anamnesis of a process that for too long has been buried in our subconscious ...

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36. Trouble in the Republic: Disturbing Memories, Forgotten Territories

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pp. 462-472

I am less concerned with untangling the relationship between collective and personal memories, or between memory and history, than with showing once more the reticence on the part of the French academic “nomenclature” to integrate the colony into discussions, notably, at a time of public debate on the slave trade, slavery, and colonialism. ...

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37. Competition between Victims

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pp. 473-481

In comfortable Western societies, we are able to run from suffering and after success, happiness, health, and eternal youth. Though we do not say it out loud, we long for immortality, and our faith in ever-evolving progress has led us to believe in a future without suffering. ...

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38. The Army and the Construction of Immigration as a Threat (1961–2006)

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pp. 482-490

The army is far from being “une grande muette.”1 It communicates a lot, sometimes even on activities it presents as “secret,” and regularly generates reports on “threats”2 and how to handle them, which are then disseminated as widely as possible throughout various networks. ...

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39. Postcolonial Culture in the Army and the Memory of Overseas Combatants (1961–2006)

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pp. 491-496

In 1962, France withdrew from Algeria back to the French mainland, leaving behind several centuries of colonial history and almost a hundred years of permanent presence on all continents. The army was on the front lines of these events. The whole army. Not just a group of specialized troops. ...

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40. Republican Integration: Reflections on a Postcolonial Issue (1961–2006)

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pp. 497-509

In the 1980s and 1990s, integration became a catchword, an incontrovertible refrain in political discourse for government intervention, used by nonprofit organizations, social experts, and researchers.1 Though historically a highly charged term, this “notion” has annihilated the possibility of critical distance. ...

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41. Colonial Influences and Tropes in the Field of Literature

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pp. 510-517

The focus of this chapter will be provided by a consideration of a postcolonial approach to literature and its utility to French literary studies. A postcolonial methodology considers colonial influences and tropes in literary production, and works to reveal them. ...

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42. From Colonial History to the Banlieues (1961–2006)

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pp. 518-526

The expression “A leopard can’t change its spots” comes to mind while thinking of the social unrest that took place in France’s banlieues housing projects during the autumn of 2005 when Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin resorted to a 1955 law in order to impose a curfew. ...

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43. Can We Speak of a Postcolonial Racism? (1961–2006)

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pp. 527-535

To the question of whether or not we can speak of a postcolonial racism, we ask another: How can we not? How can we speak of contemporary forms of racism without referring to their primary genealogies: systems of slavery and colonialism? ...

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44. From Colonial Stereotypes to the Postcolonial Gaze: The Need for an Evolution of the Imaginary

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pp. 536-545

There exists no communication without a representation of the Other, because the Other is never a “reality,” but a virtuality. Admittedly, this virtuality was able to acquire the (illusory) image of a “reality” in the colonial space, because the colonized Other had a status, actually a nonstatus, that was relatively coherent within the dominant colonial stereotype. ...

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45. Postcolonial Cinema, Song, and Literature: Continuity or Change? (1961–2006)

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pp. 546-551

In 1962, a young, slightly chubby pied-noir, still quite clumsy in front of the cameras, sang for the first time on French television: “I have left my country / I have left my home / My life, my sad life / Drags on without reason.” This was of course Enrico Macias. ...

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46. Ethnic Tourism: Symbolic Reconquest? (1961–2006)

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pp. 552-561

Does ethnic tourism lend itself to postcolonial analysis? One must attempt to understand the construction of the gaze on “exoticism” in order to verify the hypothesis of a symbolic inheritance from the colonial era. With this in mind, my analysis relies on the discourse and images found in the brochures of twelve tour operators ...

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47. Francophonie and Universality: The Evolution of Two Intertwined Notions (1961–2006)

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pp. 562-574

Depending on the geographical, historical, or political context, “Francophonie” has acquired different meanings.1 For Onésime Reclus, the geographer who coined the term in the nineteenth century, it referred to the place “where French rules.”2 Anticipating the definition that was to be adopted more than a century later, ...


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pp. 575-606


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pp. 607-614


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pp. 615-633

E-ISBN-13: 9780253010537
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253010452

Page Count: 648
Publication Year: 2013