The Politics of Frenchness in Colonial Algeria, 1930-1954

The Politics of Frenchness in Colonial Algeria, 1930-1954

Jonathan Gosnell


University of Rochester Press



An examination of French citizenship and cultural identity in Algeria during the last quarter-century of colonial rule.
In recent years, a multicultural society and changing conceptions of French identity have been the source of considerable debate in scholarship, literature and the media in France. This book examines equally contested definitions of French identity from the past, but not those forged within the borders of the French 'Hexagon,' as French geographic space is sometimes called. It is the study of French sentiment in colonial Algeria of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, during the last quarter century of colonial rule in North Africa. It seeks to uncover elements of French identity that were generated past the Pyrenees and the Alps, beyond the bordering Atlantic Ocean, English Channel and Mediterranean Sea, outside the physical space so central to "Frenchness." It asks whether far-reaching state institutions could transform indigenous and settler populations in colonial Algeria -- Europeans, Jews and Muslims -- into French men and women. It examines what these individuals wrote of French sentiment in colonial Algeria. Did they articulate alternative definitions of French identity? The colonial "periphery" is clearly quite central to France's evolving postcolonial sense of self.
Colonial Algerian heterogeneity and the country's unique relationship to France make it an especially rich site in which to study French national and cultural identities. French military conquest and the occupation of the North African coast established one of the oldest and largest settler colonies within the French Empire. Unlike other colonies, Algeria lay relatively close to metropolitan France, a daylong journey by ship from Marseilles. No colony other than Algeria was granted French departmental status. No other land administered under the auspices of the French Empire had as numerous a European settler population, many of whom became naturalized French citizens. This study suggests that although Algeria had become officially French, "Algerie française", even at the pinnacle of its acceptance, was more diverse and more contested than its title suggests.


October 2002
9 black and white illustrations
248 pages
9x6 in
Rochester Studies in African History and the Diaspora
ISBN: 9781580461054
Format: Hardback
University of Rochester Press
BISAC POL009000, POL045000, HIS001030
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Table of Contents

L'Algerie francaise: An Imagined Community?
Colonial Schools and the Transmission of French Culture
The Colonial Press and the Construction of Greater France
An Indigenous Perspective on France and Frenchness
A Colonial Scale of Frenchness
Algerianite: The Emergence of a Colonial Identity


[An] important contibution to the scholarship on the Algerian war. AFRICAN STUDIES REVIEW

Organized as six interrelated chapters, Gosnell's book disentangles the harsh reality of trying to make Algeria French from the myth of l'Algerie française as represented through the socializing experiences of a centralized system of education and obligatory military service, among other things. . . Gosnell's book succeeds admirably in elaborating and exposing that colonial legacy from which Algeria continues to suffer today. AMERICAN HISTORICAL REVIEW, February 2004

Valuable new study. . . this is an ambitious book that addresses complex questions w ith admirable clarity -- a rare but essential quality in discourse analysis. JOURNAL OF MODERN HISTORY

This book provides an essential resource for students of Algerian and French colonial history. At a time when French cultural identity is again at the center of public debate in France, it provides a necessary examination of the ambiguities and contradictions, as well as the idealism and bad faith, that have long lain at the heart of definitions of Frenchness. JOURNAL OF COLONIALISM AND COLONIAL HISTORY 2006

Gosnell does a fascinating job of untangling the ethnic threats of Algerian society, revealing that each group and even sub-group of the population maintained its own culture and attitudes toward France. . . . The work is essential for any student of the French-Algerian crisis and a valuable addition to any library of twentieth-century French culture. FRENCH REVIEW, 2005 [Alice J. Strange]

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