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The French Colonial Mind, Volume 2

Violence, Military Encounters, and Colonialism

Martin Thomas

Publication Year: 2012

Violence was prominent in France’s conquest of a colonial empire, and the use of force was integral to its control and regulation of colonial territories. What, if anything, made such violence distinctly colonial? And how did its practitioners justify or explain it? These are issues at the heart of The French Colonial Mind: Violence, Military Encounters, and Colonialism. The second of two linked volumes, this book brings together prominent scholars of French colonial history to explore the many ways in which brutality and killing became central to the French experience and management of empire.

Sometimes concealed or denied, at other times highly publicized and even celebrated, French violence was so widespread that it was in some ways constitutive of colonial identity. Yet such violence was also destructive: destabilizing for its practitioners and lethal or otherwise devastating for its victims. The manifestations of violence in the minds and actions of imperialists are investigated here in essays that move from the conquest of Algeria in the 1830s to the disintegration of France’s empire after World War II. The authors engage a broad spectrum of topics, ranging from the violence of first colonial encounters to conflicts of decolonization. Each considers not only the forms and extent of colonial violence but also its dire effects on perpetrators and victims. Together, their essays provide the clearest picture yet of the workings of violence in French imperialist thought.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

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pp. v-vii

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pp. ix-x

In this second collection of essays on aspects of attitudinal formation, normative standards, and ways of thinking and doing among French colonial officials in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, our focus is on violence, repression, and conflict. To be sure, the chapters treat these issues differently. Some do so singly...

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Introduction: Mapping Violence onto French Colonial Minds

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pp. xi

It was political scientist Alan Henrikson who introduced us to the term “mental maps” as a determinant of social action.1 The idea that the attitudinal outlooks embedded in minds as a result of cultural formation and past experience are integral...

PART 1 Cultures of Violence in the Empire

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1 Dahra and the History of Violencein Early Colonial Algeria

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pp. 3-25

On 17 June 1845 Colonel Jean Jacques Pélissier directed one of the most notorious atrocities of the early Algerian colony. As part of General Thomas Bugeaud’s push to pacify the Kabyle, Pélissier had been assigned the task of subduing the Ouled Riah, but at Dahra he faced a dilemma for the tribe had ensconced...

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2 Losing Their Mind and Their Nation? Mimicry, Scandal, and Colonial Violencein the Voulet-Chanoine Affair

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pp. 26-51

This chapter explores afresh the story of the “infernal colonne” led by two French colonial army officers, Voulet and Chanoine, across West Africa in 1898–1899.1 Accumulating some eight hundred slaves along their way, this roving column...

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3 Fear and Loathing in French Hanoi: Colonial White Images and Imaginings of “Native” Violence

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pp. 52-76

As Michael Taussig has so persuasively argued, violence was central to the colonial encounter.1 For three generations, from the French conquest to the Vietminh liberation, racialized physical violence saturated every aspect of life in colonial...

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4 Anti-Semitism and the Colonial Situationin Interwar Algeria: The Anti-Jewish Riotsin Constantine, August 1934

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pp. 77-111

In August 1934 the city of Constantine in Algeria became the site of the worst episode of anti-Semitic violence to occur on French territory during peacetime in the modern period.1 This violence broke out as French Algeria was drawn into the turmoil that beset France in the decade before the Second World War. For...

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5 Fascism and Algérianité: The Croix de Feuand the Indigenous Question in 1930s Algeria

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pp. 112-139

In Algerian novelist Robert Randau’s 1926 work Les Colons, one of the central characters proclaims: “I am an African. I am the law. I am neither a lazy Arab nor a Maltese dog. I am a colon.”1 Randau’s contention that the pieds-noir, the European settlers, constituted a new racial synthesis represented the...

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6 Colonial Minds and Colonial Violence:The Sétif Uprising and the Savage Economics of Colonialism

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pp. 140-174

This chapter revisits the tragic history of the rebellion that erupted across northeastern Algeria in May 1945. It does not rehearse the now familiar debates over the motivations behind the extreme violence of the so-called Sétif uprising, nor its precise timing at the close of World War II.1 Nor does it dwell at length...

PART 2 Colonial Minds and Empire Soldiers

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7 Conquest and Cohabitation: French Men’s Relations with West African Women in the 1890s and 1900s

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pp. 177-201

If there was an “official mind” of French imperialism it was often shaped in relation to unofficial practices, such as the cohabiting unions that countless French men across the empire entered into with local women.1 It is now commonplace...

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8 The French Colonial Mind and the Challenge of Islam: The Case of Ernest Psichari

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pp. 202-220

Among the young French intellectuals of the post-Dreyfus years who rebelled against the secular, scientific, and pacifist values of their fathers’ generation, none was more uncompromising than Ernest Psichari. A number of accounts, notably that of Agathon (pseudonym for Henri Massis and Alfred de Tarde), prominently...

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9 French Race Theory, the Parisian Society of Anthropology, and the Debate over la Force Noire, 1909–1912

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pp. 221-247

After three years of often acrimonious public debate, on 7 February 1912 France initiated a policy of compulsory military recruitment in West Africa designed to create la force noir for eventual use in Europe should the need arise. During the next four decades about 725,000 West Africans were conscripted...

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10 Colonial Minds Confounded: French Colonial Troops in the Battle of France, 1940

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pp. 248-282

People say some Senegalese have been massacred on the road from Chères. Is it true ? [ . . . ] a nun, her white habit spotted with blood, grabbed hold of me: “Over there”, she said, “to the left”. In the distance, near a ditch, we made out a yellowing mass, frightful-looking, the sunlight glistening here and there on patches of red. It was a...

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11 The “Silent Native”: Attentisme, Being Compromised, and Banal Terror during the Algerian War of Independence, 1954–1962

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pp. 283-303

Political scientist Stathis Kalyvas argues in his book The Logic of Violence in Civil War that conflict during civil wars has in most cases been about gaining information from local populations, intelligence that has been most widely accessed through informing and denunciation. The brutality of civil war has...

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12 Exposing the “Paradoxical Citizenship”:French Authorities’ Responses to the Algerian Presence in Federal Germany during the Algerian War, 1954–1962

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pp. 304-333

Throughout 1958 German newspapers large and small reported on the development of a new and worrisome refugee problem in the Federal Republic of Germany.1 Refugees were hardly a recent phenomenon in the country, which had absorbed...

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Conclusion: The Colonial Past and the Postcolonial Present

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pp. 334-356

In the subtitle of their edited 2004 collection, Mohammed Harbi and Benjamin Stora announced the “fin de l’amnésie” about the Franco-Algerian War, and other commentators, including English-language scholars such as the late William Cohen, David Schalk, Herman Lebovics, and the contributors to volumes...

List of Contributors

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pp. 357-360


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pp. 361-382

E-ISBN-13: 9780803238169
E-ISBN-10: 0803238169
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803220942
Print-ISBN-10: 0803220944

Page Count: 440
Illustrations: 1 graph
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Africa, French-speaking Equatorial -- Colonization -- History.
  • Africa, French-speaking West -- Colonization -- History.
  • France -- Colonies -- Africa -- History.
  • France -- Colonies -- Africa -- Administration -- History.
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