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1In this short book, Emmanuel Blanchard manages to give a complete summary of the migration history linking Algeria to France, problematizing the subject despite not having the space in the given format to study all important aspects in detail. The author’s own analyses and those from the key works of Benjamin Stora and Gilbert Meynier are supplemented with insights from research done in the last decade. Blanchard takes full account of the complexity of the subject and draws on a wide-ranging bibliography that will be of use to readers in search of more extensive analyses.

2Immigrants from Algeria have been the target of hostile representations and practices from the moment sizeable numbers of them began arriving in metropolitan France. Yet the greatest share of immigrants on French soil since the 1980s have been Algerian-born, and France is by far the first-choice destination of Algerian emigrants. The chronological spans indicated in the chapter titles remain somewhat flexible, enabling the author to highlight instead a number of themes, though this does obscure some historical changes. He takes us from pre-1914 colonial migration to the public treatment of families and young people from 1960 to 1990, all the while discussing the themes of uprootedness, attitudes to Islam, politicization, and the image of the ‘immigrant worker’.

3Chapter 1 focuses on the longstanding ties between North Africa and Europe and the role of Islam as a main driver of immigration while pointing out the difficulties involved in quantitatively assessing the earliest migrant flows. Blanchard shows how colonization initially triggered internal immigration—a kind of first stage in a trajectory that would bring migrants to metropolitan France. Internal movements were tightly controlled by the colonial authorities, as were departures from Algeria to France or other Muslim countries. Nonetheless, at moments when indigenous resistance to colonial exploitation and expropriation was particularly strong, the authorities occasionally turned to emigration as a kind of social safety valve.

4Chapter 2 analyses how immigration evolved from the 1910s to the 1930s, highlighting the role of World War I, to which Algeria contributed one of the most considerable numbers of men. The country was also made to support the war effort economically, through the sale of grain at reduced prices and direct taxation. The effect of skimming off Algerian resources was to fully disorganize life in rural Algeria and throw local populations into what would prove persistent poverty, opening the way for massive departures. Algerians recruited as manual workers during the war experienced extremely difficult living and working conditions. However, migrating was also a way of escaping the most brutal forms of colonial domination and a strategy for attaining a better life in Algeria after the return trip. At the end of the war, however, these immigrants were perceived on the mainland as ‘unassimilable’, and tensions rose after the media covered a number of incidents. New arrangements for controlling and monitoring arrivals were put in place but proved unable to contain the rise of illegal immigration.

5Chapter 3, covering the period from the 1930s to the 1960s, discusses debates on the practice of Islam. The author shows how diversity in individual trajectories is reflected in the opposition between an appreciation for rigorist Islam—a view accentuated by immigration—and the idea that it would be desirable to destroy the foundations of traditional religiosity, also clarifying how difficult it is to apprehend the material and moral aspects of religion. On the one hand, French policy during the interwar period and later during the Algerian nationalist mobilizations worked to politicize Islam, thereby making it of great importance to immigrants. On the other, immigrants often became more lax in their religious practices, while some stopped practising altogether.

6Chapter 4 recounts how Algerians participated in political mobilizations from the 1920s to the 1980s. Emigration played a key role in defining the Algerian community. Political mobilization was weak initially, but that changed with the founding of the Section Française de l’Internationale Communiste in 1920, soon followed in 1921 by the creation of the Union Intercoloniale. From the call of Messali Hadj and the creation of the Étoile Nord-Africaine to the Front de Libération Nationale, and despite violent French repression, France’s Algerians gradually came to mobilize politically in favour of independence. After independence, they focused their activist efforts on conditions of socioeconomic integration in France, the Arab workers’ movement (1972–1976) and the ‘Marche des Beurs’ (1983), [1] an inheritance from the social movements of May 1968.

7Chapter 5 begins with a discussion of the term ‘immigrant worker’, often used to designate Algerian immigrants. Contrary to the legend that France had an official immigration policy for this group, Algeria-to-France migration flows were primarily a matter of ‘spontaneous immigration’: 80% of recorded entries from Algeria in the 1960s were not granted any official recognition by the national immigration office, which favoured recruiting European workers. This situation meant that employers had a flexible, cheap workforce at their disposal, facilitating the development of an Algerian ‘underclass’ sharply exposed to unemployment. That problem abated slightly in the late 1950s, but with the economic crisis of the 1970s, Algerian men and women were once again the first to be laid off, and in massive numbers. Most were manual workers in industry or construction and, as such, were monitored as a group and given specific tasks to perform. Their labour struggles helped structure the working class in France, particularly in the automobile industry. And even after France suspended labour immigration in 1974, newcomers continued to arrive, most of them through the country’s family-reunification policy.

8Chapter 6 covers the 1960s through the 1990s, qualifying the image of Algerian immigrants as primarily male manual workers. The sex ratio did remain skewed throughout the period, but the gap narrowed; the numbers of women immigrants were likely underestimated due to public disinterest in that category. Until the 1960s, women immigrants were generally better educated than their male counterparts; they also remained outside the framework of state migrantreception services. After independence, they were stigmatized as ‘needing education’ or ‘unassimilable’. Algerian immigrants’ children were likewise ignored by the public authorities for many years, before becoming a target of ‘moral panic’ after the 1976 order facilitating family reunification, for example. That law actually did not benefit Algerian families until 1986, nor did they make extensive use of it. What increased the size of the minority ‘from Algeria’ were births in metropolitan France. French fear of seeing these families settle permanently gave rise to housing policies that were unfavourable to them and moves to keep them from concentrating residentially in particular areas.

9Blanchard’s work clarifies the different versions of circulation logic that have long structured Algeria-to-France immigration flows. However, the social history of these groups is not so much integrated into the book as merely added to other types of historical accounts. And it would have been interesting to have more information on student migration, for example, or how access to French nationality evolved. The amount of space devoted to social aspects is nonetheless considerable and greatly enriches this short work. Blanchard highlights the difficulties that Algerian men and women encountered in a context of strictly controlled immigration to metropolitan France (though that control was less than effective) and the phobia associated with these people’s arrival, a phobia fuelled by disparaging, devaluing representations. He also shows those immigrants’ power to act, at both the individual scale, as they used immigration to succeed socially, and at the collective scale, as they mobilized politically throughout the 20th century.


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    [Beur: ‘Arab’ written ‘backwards’ in the French street language known as verlan; Beurs are French-born children of Arab immigrants: the ‘second generation’.]
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