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Citizens for Empire?

Quels citoyens pour l'empire ?

French Citizenship and Colonization in the 20th century (until 1946)

La citoyenneté française à l'épreuve de la colonisation dans la première moitié du XXe siècle

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Published on Tuesday, May 03, 2016


Les dimensions impériales de la citoyenneté française sont à la fois bien et mal connues. Des travaux récents ont rappelé que la césure entre citoyens et sujets s’est construite de façon progressive et par ajustements entre les enjeux de pouvoir à l’échelle locale et impériale, les logiques juridiques et les revendications portées par des acteurs mus par des intérêts différents, sinon contradictoires. La multiplication des recherches d’histoire sociale, politique et culturelle de la colonisation permet désormais d’écrire une histoire plurivoque des dimensions impériales de la citoyenneté française en se demandant comment tous ces acteurs formulent la question qui sert de titre au colloque « quels citoyens pour l’empire ? » et quelles réponses ils lui apportent, ou comment ils font en sorte d’empêcher qu’elle soit débattue.


Paris, 8 - 10 décembre 2016


French imperial citizenship is not an entirely new question, but much remains to be learned on its developments and on what was at stake. Major changes brought by the abolition of slavery in 1848, and one century later, by the rejection of the distinction between colonial subjects and citizens in 1946, have recently been thoroughly investigated. What happened in between has not been explored yet. The status of French subjects was reintroduced in 1865 to acknowledge that Algerians should be French without submitting to French common law. In 1881, a law in Algeria and a decree in Indochina invented the infamous “indigénat”, extending the list of offences colonial subjects could be charged with and allowing colonial civil servants to sentence and to punish them for these offences. Such punitive measures were then adopted throughout the French empire, through decrees regularly revised to match any circumstances. Becoming a citizen meant being released from this harshly derogatory status. However, for most colonial subjects this was only achieved in 1946. At the beginning of the XXth century, access to citizenship was organized and indeed locked up, in order to remain a rare reward granted to very few native partners designated by local colonial authorities. The first half of XXth century thus turned out to be quite an important moment for French conceptions and practices of what could and should be an imperial citizenship. The conference will focus on this peculiar, yet neglected moment.

Much research has been recently conducted on the social, political and intellectual history of modern French colonialism. It provides quite a rich array of materials and prospects to explore the many ways and the intricate changes of French imperial citizenship in the first half of the XXth century. Who exactly was interested in becoming a French citizen? Is it possible to tell the complementary story of those colonial subjects who conspicuously, or more quietly, refused such a move? What were the debates on imperial citizenship and who got involved in them? Who claimed the monitoring of colonial requests? Who actually shared some part in it? In other words, how, where, and when did the question “which citizens for the empire” reverberate? And conversely, who eventually tried and succeed, or not, to muffle such a question?

World War one obviously marked an ambiguous step. Colonial members of parliament asked for an enlarged access to citizenship for the thousands of colonial subjects fighting for France. They also tried to challenge the power to grant and to contest citizenship seized by local colonial authority, as did the most prominent of them, Blaise Diagne, by successfully introducing two laws in 1915-1916 to restore the disputed citizenship of the inhabitants of the famous four “communes” of Senegal. Yet by the end of the war, the 1919 law only granted local citizenship to Algerian veterans. It also asserted that this was enough as most colonial subjects supposedly rejected citizenship to keep their native customs. Hardly new, this argument became more elaborate and silenced the claims for citizenship as well as the openly racist disavowals of imperial citizenship proclaimed in the decade preceding the war. This modernization of French color-blindness in the first half of the XXth century should also be questioned.

At least, four perspectives shall be explored in the conference:

  • Who got involved with French imperial citizenship during the first half of the XXth century? Theoretical issues as well as practical involvements shall be studied.
  • Are there significant cases, affairs, moments, pushing for changes?
  • How to deal with the obvious, even if denied, racialization of imperial citizenship? Did it raise any debates? How did it work out, at the time and in the long run?
  • Comparisons with the question of citizenship in other colonial empires are welcome.


Proposals shall be submitted before 10 June 2016

at the latest by e-mail to quelscitoyens@gmail.comin the form of a one page long abstract with a short CV (no more than two pages).

If you need any more information, please write to quelscitoyens@gmail.com

Scientific Committee 

  • Audrey Célestine (Université Lille 3) ;
  • Alice Conklin (Ohio State University) ;
  • Frederick Cooper (New York University) ;
  • Mamadou Diouf (New York University – Science Po) ;
  • Sarah Fila-Bakabadio (Université de Cergy-Pontoise) ;
  • Claire Fredj (Paris-Ouest Nanterre, IDHES) ;
  • Françoise Lemaire (Archives nationales) ;
  • Marie-Anne Matard-Bonucci (Paris 8, EA 1570) ;
  • Sylvain Pattieu (Paris 8, EA 1570) ;
  • Emmanuelle Sibeud (Paris 8, IDHES) ;
  • Tyler Stovall (University of California à Santa Cruz).


  • Université Paris 8 | Université Paris-Ouest | Archives Nationales (Site de Pierrefite)
    Paris, France (75)


  • Friday, June 10, 2016


  • citoyenneté, empire, colonisation, race, indigénat, assimilation, nationalisme, racialisation, métissage


  • Emmanuelle Sibeud
    courriel : esibeud [at] univ-paris8 [dot] fr

Information source

  • Emmanuelle Sibeud
    courriel : esibeud [at] univ-paris8 [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Citizens for Empire? », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Tuesday, May 03, 2016, https://doi.org/10.58079/v1w

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