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  • La fracture coloniale: La société française au prisme de l’héritage colonial
  • Dominic Thomas
La fracture coloniale: La société française au prisme de l’héritage colonial Ed. Pascal Blanchard, Nicolas Bancel, and Sandrine Lemaire Paris: Editions La Découverte, 2005. ISBN 2-7071-4659-5. 311 pp.

The debate surrounding the intricacy of French colonial history is certainly not a new one; yet, the fact nevertheless remains that this debate has taken on new vigor in the early years of the twenty-first century as growing economic disparities have further underscored the struggles and challenges faced by France's ethnic minorities, controversial government-sponsored revisionist decrees have exacerbated tensions concerning the very process of recording national memory (these questions will surely inform the programs of the newly created Cité nationale de l'histoire de l'immigration [CNHI,] scheduled to open to the public in 2007), and divisive debates on the parameters of French identity continue to inform the political landscape.

The editors of this volume, founding members of the Association pour la Connaissance de l'Histoire de l'Afrique Contemporaine (ACHAC), have been active for many years in both documenting, recording, and bringing to public attention the legacy of the French colonial project. Through a distinguished list of contributors, including Achille Mbembe, Benjamin Stora, and Michel Wieviorka, this volume constitutes a major addition to scholarship in French in the field of postcolonial, transcolonial, and transnational studies. Indeed, in the opening essay, "Les origines républicaines de la fracture coloniale" 'The Republican origins of the colonial fracture,' Nicolas Bancel and Pascal Blanchard underscore the transcoloniality of colonial ideology. Central to the project of accounting for the "colonial fracture" is the responsibility of examining the various ways in which prevailing culturalist discourse had succeeded in structuring "difference" as a category to be remedied through the colonial civilizing mission. Instead, Bancel and Blanchard convincingly demonstrate how "racial inequality" operated as an intrinsic component of the colonial Republican mechanism—and how in turn this colonial discourse continues to inform official thinking on the question of immigration in France. These questions are further developed in Achille Mbembe's essay, in which he traces the mutation of the colony as an imaginative and concrete space located "elsewhere," to a phenomenon to be addressed and confronted within the borders of the hexagon itself. [End Page 239]

The extensive coverage of various facets of the (post)colonial question are addressed through a broad range of essays that focus on subjects as diverse as Islam, the banlieues, Haiti, Algeria, memory, revisionist history, the future of the French Republic, immigration history, and pedagogy. Perhaps one of the most revealing contributions is to be found in Sandrine Lemaire's essay on school textbooks, in which she argues that "durant la période coloniale, les auteurs de manuels furent de véritables promoteurs, tout en l'illustrant, de la colonisation. Les manuels d'histoire et de géographie, aussi bien que ceux de littérature ou de philosophie, reflétaient le sentiment impérial et prêchaient le gospel de l'Empire qui infiltrait déjà la presse populaire" 'during the colonial period, authors of school textbooks were the active promoters, as they illustrated it, of colonialism. History and geography textbooks, as well as those in literature and philosophy, reflected imperial sentiments and preached the gospel of Empire that was already making its way into the popular press' (95). Clearly, unless one is prepared to deconstruct the foundations of the colonial project itself and to counter its legacy, the project of decolonization itself will be impeded. The complexity of this task is corroborated by the findings of a study conducted in 2003 in the school system of the French city of Toulouse by Bancel, Blanchard, and Lemaire (reported in section 23 and annexe 2 of this volume) in which they attempted to gauge the degree to which colonial memory had survived into the contemporary era.

Ultimately, what emerges from this volume is the constitutive dimension of colonial and postcolonial relations. As such, these scholarly essays align themselves with those activists, artists, filmmakers, scholars, and writers concerned with the capacity of...


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