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Accepted Paper:

Learning with French army. Echoes of colonialism in French Polynesia  
Claudia Ledderucci (University of Turin)

Paper short abstract:

The  Régiment du Service Militaire Adapté, or RSMA, is an educational military program tailor-made for the  struggling young indigenous population of the French overseas dependencies. As agents of change, French soldiers are today materially (co-)shaping Polynesians’ futures and aspirations.

Paper long abstract:

Originally designed in 1961 to domesticate the population of the French Antilles en masse, the  Régiment du Service Militaire Adapté, or RSMA, is an educational military program tailor-made for the  struggling young indigenous population. The program was initially created following the tensions  that shook the Antilles in 1959, and out of fear that the revolt would degenerate into a war of independence as had happened in Algeria in those same years. The RSMA exists today in all  French overseas territories and dependencies, and in French Polynesia, an overseas  collectivity in the Pacific region, the first RSMA branch was opened in 1989 in the Marquesas  Islands. As agents of change, French soldiers are today materially (co-)shaping Polynesians’ futures and aspirations. The almost stereotyped figure of the French soldier as an agent of modernity, dating back to the nuclear testing, is reimagined as an educator.

The fading military presence in  the Pacific notwithstanding, France is still symbolically and materially very present in French  Polynesia, developing new forms of soft power through the militarization of civilian tasks, as the  example of the RSMA demonstrates. This form of power is exerted through cultural and economic influences, often subtle and  invisible, exercised by the French government to maintain these Polynesian  islands under French hegemony. Notwithstanding their paternalistic role in which so easily they could fit as “modern colonizers”, I argue that the intimacies that take place inside the RSMA, and the surrounding communities, is uncannily perceived as the “best opportunity” for the Polynesian youth.

Panel P102a
Uncanny Colonial Reanimations: Ethnographies of post-colonial population control and resilient alternatives
  Session 1 Wednesday 27 July, 2022, -