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Reviewed by:
  • The Boundaries of the Republic: Migrant Rights and the Limits of Universalism in France, 1918–1940, and: Policing Paris: The Origins of Modern Immigration Control between the Wars
  • Michael Miller
The Boundaries of the Republic: Migrant Rights and the Limits of Universalism in France, 1918–1940. By Mary Dewhurst Lewis (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007. xv plus 361 pp.).
Policing Paris: The Origins of Modern Immigration Control between the Wars. By Clifford Rosenberg (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006.xviii plus 241 pp.).

As immigration pushed to the front of French politics towards the end of the last century, historians increasingly turned their attention to the extent to which France had long been a nation of immigrants. Yet historians of the modern period, and especially those who wrote on the crucial interwar years when immigration first became a "problem," had simultaneously discovered that it was often impossible to write the history of nationals without bringing in, frequently at the very center of their accounts, the reception and treatment of foreigners. In the books under review, Clifford Rosenberg and Mary Lewis juxtapose these perspectives by returning to the core decades when the presence of foreigners and the wider national concerns of republican France first clashed and intruded on each other, yet in each case for the purpose of arguing that those reciprocal intrusions, worked out in the practice of defining, monitoring, and accepting or excluding foreigners, set the basis for the formulation of state immigration policy over the longer course of the twentieth century.

The remarkable similarity of these works is matched only by the equally remarkable differences in the histories that result. Both authors center their attention on the interwar period, but with the intention of uncovering the origins of modern immigration policy in France. Rosenberg sees those origins in the need to assemble an effective instrument of mass surveillance that, in day-to-day practice, created formal distinctions between nationals and foreigners and the [End Page 217] citizenship rights accessible by each. Lewis, however, turns to the ever uneven definition of rights, the contingency upon a multiplicity of circumstances, the ad hoc or improvised nature, then, of policy as these were constantly in flux, and the interchange between state and individual for the continuities that have joined prewar and postwar definition of the rights of foreigners resident on French soil. Both authors build their stories and analyses upon a close examination of cities, but Rosenberg focuses on the capital whereas Lewis concentrates on Lyon and Marseille, and consequentially is more comparative in her approach. Both are exceedingly good at showing how institutions like the police actually worked, how policy on paper was translated into practice on the streets, and how competing jurisdictions created interstices in which immigrants and refugees could find some breathing space. Rosenberg, however, is drawn to the political compromises that inform policy outcomes, and often to the personalities and career trajectories involved. Lewis is interested more in the interplay between the local and the national, especially as site-specific features or priorities affected it. Both dwell on the inequalities that permeated government controls or permissions, but Rosenberg sees the principal division between the regimes that emerged for European and North African immigrants whereas Lewis sees division as built-in the process, and ever mutable with it. Both write considerably about North Africans, but Rosenberg makes them the focus of the second half of his book while Lewis devotes a chapter to them as she does to the special category of refugees. Both suffer the same Act Two syndrome, with the greatest punch coming in the first half of their narratives. Rosenberg descends from broad general analysis to a more dissertation-like concentration on North Africans in Paris. Lewis, while more successful at sustaining the big picture, gazes too often at all the different trees, especially as twists and turns came fast and furious in the second half of the thirties.

Rosenberg's prime contention is that categorization of inhabitants into citizens and foreigners was a twentieth-century phenomenon that progressed in tandem with the evolution of the welfare state. As states awarded benefits to their populations, they needed to separate those who had access from...


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