Accepted Paper:

Challenging the nation: France and colonial history  

Author:

Christelle Gomis (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales)

Paper short abstract:

Over a decade, French colonial history and its moments of violence have been repeatedly "(re)discovered" and "exposed". I aim to show how in France the recognition of colonialism's racial histories challenges dominant "white" narratives.

Paper long abstract:

Over a decade, French colonial history and particularly its moments of violence have been repeatedly "(re)discovered" and "exposed". Films such as Indigènes (2006) or more recently Hors la loi (2010) provoked intense debates. I aim to show how in France the recognition of colonialism's racial histories challenges dominant "white" narratives.

Collective memory is essential in the construction of French nation. But its building rests on the neutralization of the French colonial past, from slavery to the second French colonial empire during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

An analysis of the debates in the public sphere but also in the academic sphere of historians over these histories reveals how racial components of French colonialism are assumed as present but the racial coordinates of empire never constitute matters of investigation. The different uses of the colonial pasts reflect new political intentions of shaping the French nation, either as exclusively white or multiracial. They produce rival identities based on race and constitute whiteness as the top of the social hierarchy.

The example of the French commemoration of slavery shows how associations and politicians use history to assign places and produce national consensus. Collective memory reproduces the racialization of French intern frontiers.

Panel P323
Spaces, memories, history, identity