"The idea of the nation was superior to race": transforming racial contours, social attitudes, and decolonizing French Empire from La Réunion 1946-1973

Arts building, Danford Room
Tuesday 15 January 2013 (17:00-18:00)

Speaker: Héloïse Finch (National Maritime Museum)

Scholars assume the loss of Algeria in 1962 marked the end of French colonialism and a hardening of racialized categories of difference in France, overlooking how race and class categories became more porous in the French Overseas Departments (DOMs) after a new, welfare-led, French colonialism initiated by Prime Minister Michel Debré (elected deputy of La Réunion in 1963). Comparing social welfare provision in the DOMs before and after 1962 demonstrates that Debré’s new health insurance, family allocations and housing laws offered DOM populations improved social mobility beyond colonial-era racial boundaries. Welfare encouraged Réunion Islanders to support political attachment to France and undermined support for DOM autonomy movements. Combining scholarship on decolonization, French welfare and the social history of La Réunion, the article re-evaluates the place of Overseas French Departments in decolonization history, studies of French racial categories, and in modern France.

Part of the Fifty Years of African Studies series