The Invention of Decolonization: The Algerian War and the Remaking of France

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In this account of the Algerian War's effect on French political structures and notions of national identity, Todd Shepard asserts that the separation of Algeria from France was truly a revolutionary event with lasting consequences for French social and political life. For more than a century, Algeria had been legally and administratively part of France; after the bloody war that concluded in 1962, it was other—its eight million Algerian residents deprived of French citizenship while hundreds of thousands of French pieds noirs were forced to return to a country that was never home. This rupture violated the universalism that had been the essence of French republican theory since the late eighteenth century. Shepard contends that because the amputation of Algeria from the French body politic was accomplished illegally and without explanation, its repercussions are responsible for many of the racial and religious tensions that confront France today. In portraying decolonization as an essential step in the inexorable "tide of history," the French state absolved itself of responsibility for the revolutionary change it was effecting. It thereby turned its back not only on the French of Algeria—Muslims in particular—but also on its own republican principles and the 1958 Constitution. From that point onward, debates over assimilation, identity, and citizenship—once focused on the Algerian "province/colony"—have troubled France itself. In addition to grappling with questions of race, citizenship, national identity, state institutions, and political debate, Shepard also addresses debates in Jewish history, gender history, and queer theory.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Although he acknowledges that France's 'civilizing mission' never lived up to its press notices, Todd Shepard is probably correct when he notes that the war exposed once and for all the conceit that France's 'Republican universalism' could unite peoples of different races, cultures, and languages around a single vision of national unity."—Douglas Porch, Times Literary Supplement, September 21, 2007

"A detailed, inventive, and engaging analysis of the debates surrounding the thorny issue of who could be French and under what conditions that arose as eight years of armed conflict drew to a close."—French History

"With the tremendous interest in French colonialism and identity, in the relationship of the former colonies to the French nation and in colonial and postcolonial discourses, Todd Shepard's timely and significant work will be of interest to a wide range of scholars. Using Algeria as a case study, Shepard shows how the history of French imperialism and anti-imperialism was rewritten after Algerian independence by bureaucrats, politicians, and journalists in such a way as to present decolonization as 'a predetermined end point' that was inevitable, rather than as the failure of a genuine project of national integration in the colonies."—Modern and Contemporary France

"The need for historically specific accounts of decolonization has arguably never been more urgent. The Invention of Decolonization illuminates how 'the end of French Algeria' reconfigured the social, sexual, and political orders of postwar France. Todd Shepard thereby joins the story of the Algerian War and its aftermath not just to histories of postcolonialism, but as provocatively to contemporary debates about national belonging, racialized citizenship, confessional politics, and state-sponsored efforts at remembrance, repatriation, and reconciliation."—Antoinette Burton, Professor of History and Bastian Professor of Global and Transnational Studies, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

"Todd Shepard's examination of the way representations of Judaism, sexual orientation, and gender figured into political debates about decolonization is pathbreaking. Shepard makes a compelling analysis of how the war in Algeria and efforts to resolve the issues it raised were crucial to the making of the Fifth Republic. His excellent book is exemplary of new developments in conceiving and writing the history of France and Algeria."—Donald M. Reid, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

"Todd Shepard's powerful book shows both how the decolonization of Algeria became thinkable in metropolitan France and why the French failed to come to terms with the contradictions inherent to the republican project, as they simultaneously distanced themselves from responsibility for the war. Shepard convincingly reveals the war's crucial role in recasting definitions of French identity and citizenship, which continue to shape current debates about racial inequality, exclusion, assimilation, immigration, and the place of Islam in France."—Caroline Ford, University of California, Los Angeles

"Todd Shepard, in this highly original and well-researched account, uncovers how France, attempting to hold together its empire after World War II, tried to become more inclusive—extending citizenship rights and a form of affirmative action to Muslim Algerians, only to reverse itself after losing Algeria in 1962. Abolishing by fiat Muslims' citizenship rights, now acting as if 'colony' and 'metropole' were necessarily starkly separated, France redefined itself as a singular nation in a more unambiguous and more exclusionary manner than had been the case before."—Frederick Cooper, New York University, author of Colonialism in Question: Theory, Knowledge, History

"The Algerian War has attracted huge attention in France during the last ten years. Most historians, however, have assumed that their task is simply to describe the workings of an apparently unstoppable process and they have, to a large extent, concentrated on the behavior of the French army. Todd Shepard's book approaches this debate from a new angle. Partly by looking through a wide lens—one that encompasses everything from Brigitte Bardot to Gaston Monnerville—and partly by taking the arguments in defense of Algérie Française seriously, he shows how departure from Algeria helped to create a new idea of Frenchnesss. This is an important book with implications for the current state of France as well as for many aspects of French history between 1830 and 1962."—Richard Vinen, King's College, London

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801474545
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/2008
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 585,009
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Todd Shepard is Assistant Professor of History at Temple University.
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Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations
Chronology of French Occupation of Algeria


Part I; The Making and Forgetting of French Algeria
1. Muslim French Citizens from Algeria: A Short History
2. Inventing Decolonization
3. The "Tide of History" versus the Laws of the Republic
4. Forgetting French Algeria

Part II: Between France and Algeria
5. Making Algerians
6. Repatriation Rather Than Aliyah: The Jews of France and the End of French Algeria
7. Veiled "Muslim" Women, Violent Pied Noir Men, and the Family of France: Gender, Sexuality, and Ethnic Difference

Part III: The Exodus and After
8. Repatriating the Europeans
9. Rejecting the Muslims
10. The Post-Algerian Republic

Conclusion: Forgetting Algerian France

Bibliography of Primary Sources

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 2013

    Not even a half of a star, but I have to click on a star rating.

    This book was assigned for a modern European history graduate course. Not one of us said anything nice about it, including our professor who regretted choosing this book. It was a WASTE of $20 and I wish I could return it. The writing is horribly convoluted. The first chapter wastes too much time on the same topic in every single paragraph. Where was the editor to fix that?! I kept rereading the same sentence over and over again, looking for the thought that could actually mean something. The writing lacks clarity and eloquence.

    Why there is academic praise for this monograph? It is the worst book on decolonization! Don't waste your money on this book!

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