ASlow End to Empire
The social and cultural aftershocks of the end of French empire in Algeria reverberated throughout the former colony and metropole long after independence in 1962. This dissertation illustrates the process of decolonization between the start of the Algerian war in 1954 and the election of François Mitterrand to the presidency in 1981. Rather than “forgetting Algeria” after 1962, French administrators, social aid workers, and the public were constantly confronted by traces of empire, and especially by the presence of Algerian migrant workers and families on metropolitan soil. I trace the evolution of a group of private social aid associations that were created to help integrate newly arrived families in the colonial era, and that continued their work even after it ended. These social aid associations acted as mediating bodies between Algerians and the French welfare state. They offered services to a growing population of Algerian workers and families to help them become more at home in France. As the number of Algerian families grew in the post-independence era, the colonial modernizing mission justified social aid associations’ interventions to “emancipate” Algerian women through social aid and education. The “slow end to empire” demonstrated by the growth of social aid for Algerians even after they were no longer citizens highlights the importance of studying not just the empire and the colony in a single analytic field, but also the post-empire and the post-colony. Furthermore, this dissertation reveals the social logic behind increasingly restrictive immigration protocols toward Algerians. Historians have argued that colonial and ex-colonial subjects created the potential for France’s economic growth during the Thirty Glorious Years. It would not have been possible without access to this cheap labor. Though the availability of employment helped to pave the way for migration initially, family and worker migration far surpassed this threshold in the 1960s and 70s. The perceived inability of Algerian families to integrate, which had allowed for the growth of social aid also led to its downfall. Paradoxically, the failures of social aid associations justified contracting Algerian family migration in the 1970s. Attention to integration alongside immigration reveals how the perceived social burden of welcoming Algerian families also conditioned their ability to resettle there. Against the backdrop of a faltering global economy and disintegrating Franco-Algerian relations, support for the specialized social welfare network for Algerians began to collapse in the late 1970s. As a result, the network reoriented its services to the whole body of migrants arriving in France. This “universalizing” republican approach to welfare conceived of social aid as a structural problem without regard to nationality. This approach, I argue, served the purpose of helping the French forget their colonial past in the years immediately preceding its supposed “resurgence.” The winnowing of the specialized social welfare network provided support for this revival, but not because France had yet to reckon with its colonial past. Rather, the French administration had litigated this past since Algerian independence in the context of social aid for Algerian families. The powerful return of “neo-republicanism” in the 1980s thus occurred as a result of the long process of decolonization.