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1 In the collective imaginary, North African immigrants’ retours au bled (returns to their region and country of origin) during the summer holidays conjures images of long queues of cars at the border, the roof overloaded with luggage, and family members crammed inside. In this book, Jennifer Bidet studies a wide range of contrasting experiences hidden behind this cliché. Her study centres on the summer holidays of the ‘second generation’ of descendants of Algerian immigrants, a group whose supposed homogeneity she endeavours to deconstruct. The book’s subtitle, with its reference to the ‘double presence’ of the children of immigrants, inverts the notion of immigrants’ ‘double absence’, both from their society of origin and from the host society (Sayad, 1999). [1] The use of this expression reflects the author’s interactionist approach to ethnicity (Barth, 1969). [2] According to this approach, it is in interactions—here, in the context of holidays—that ethnic groups define and distinguish themselves and each other, and the sense of belonging is produced.

2 This study is part of a recent renewal of research on social mobility in the context of migration, and of reflection on the adequacy of the framework of the nation to capture class relations. As a research object, the ‘holidays in the bled’ [3] of descendants of immigrants offer a rich context for exploring dynamics of class and status within and between two national spaces—France, country of residence, and Algeria, country of parental origins—as well as at the borders between them. It allows Bidet to explore how ‘national social spaces are linked together to form social hierarchies that extend across the borders of the nationstate’ (p. 302). Moreover, holidays in the bled, a particularly original research object, also place this book in another field: the sociology of leisure. Here, the experience of family holidays in Algeria across multiple generations combines with the history of the acculturation of the immigrant working classes to the social practice and temporality of holidays. Forms of interaction and prevailing norms on the beaches of Algeria encounter the sociology of recreational practices— ones that are both classed and classifying.

3 Bidet’s method is mainly ethnographic. Her study is based on direct observation and on interviews with 56 descendants of immigrants, born in France (aside from a small subset who arrived as children) to immigrant parents between 1958 and 1989. In fieldwork conducted first in the Lyon region and then the Sétif region of Algeria, over three summers of observations, Bidet attends carefully to both facets of the phenomenon of migration. Her reflexive consideration of her own positionality in the field also sheds light on what is at stake socially, in terms of gender, ethno-racial and class relations, as her presence spurs her participants into naming and making explicit their own categories. If anything, as a reader one is left wishing to learn still more about the effects of ethnographic study in terms of interpersonal relationships. The analysis is complemented by archival work on the newspaper of the Amicale des Algériens en Europe (Association of Algerians in Europe) and on reports produced by the Algerian state about its residents abroad. In contrast to statistical studies on visits by members of the ‘second generation’ to their parents’ country of origin (Beauchemin et al., 2016), [4] Bidet does not seek to measure the transnational practices of the descendants of immigrants and analyse how they do or do not conflict with integration. Her aim instead is to leave behind the ‘class ethnocentrism’ (p. 9) of approaches where the notion of integration is patterned on the top of the social hierarchy, and focus instead on the lived experience and social meaning of these transnational holidays, exploring how ethnic relations overlap and interact with class and gender relations.

4 The book is divided into seven chapters. The first two are sociohistorical and highlight a ‘twofold generational effect’ (p. 110): first, the evolution of the ‘myth of return’ of Algerian immigrants and its gradual disappearance as families establish themselves in France (Chapter 1); and second, the evolution of these families’ relationship to leisure, as working-class immigrant families are socialized to seaside and international tourism (Chapter 2). Change in the character of these summer round trips, which have shifted over time from being ‘trips to the home country [bled]’ into holidays understood as such, is closely connected to the sociopolitical context. In France, with the establishment of the 10-year residency card in 1984 and improvements in the standard of living of immigrant working classes came long-term settlement. And in Algeria, the ‘dark decade’ of civil war in the 1990s made return migration impossible.

5 The next two chapters explore questions of ethnic and national belonging, and their perpetually renegotiated boundaries. Bidet thinks these affiliations through the study of individuals’ relationship to their family history (Chapter 3) and examines their embodiment in interpersonal interactions through a study of border crossings and of the experience of Ramadan in immigrant parents’ country of origin (Chapter 4). The author draws on an original form of material: holiday photos, commented on by the respondents themselves. Bidet shows that it is mainly upwardly mobile descendants of immigrants who have an introspective and memorial relationship to Algeria as a country of ‘roots’, whereas working-class respondents, in particular the youngest, have a more immediate relationship to their parents’ origins, which function as identifying traits in the context of young people’s socializing. In practice, descendants of immigrants on holiday in their parents’ country of origin experience dynamics of both inclusion and exclusion, being treated as neither French nor Algerian, or as both French and Algerian.

6 Beyond questions of identity and affiliation, Bidet investigates leisure practices by studying holiday sites and homes (Chapter 5) as well as seaside tourism (Chapter 6). Holidays in the bled are part of an economy of kinship and reflect logics of the household, kinship networks, and lineage (Weber, 2002). [5] The home embodies all of these, both as a ‘centre of daily relations’ while on holidays (p. 206) and thus a space of solidarity and exchanges, and as ‘an element of intergenerational transmission’ (p. 207). As an inheritance, it is unevenly distributed and appropriated within sibships. After starting from these within-family inequalities, Bidet’s analysis moves on to inequalities between families. These are brought to light by practices on the beach, where ‘immigrants’ (young descendants of immigrants from working-class neighbourhoods in France) coexist with blédards (upper-middle-class Algerian families). This spatial proximity acts to reveal social distance and national hierarchies, as the first group is dominated in class terms and the second in terms of nationality.

7 The book’s final chapter is devoted to gender relations and how they are revised during holidays in Algeria. The analysis is mainly focused on female roles, which, due to the ethnographer’s own status as a woman, were no doubt easier to observe. Female descendants of immigrants experience intensified control of their outings and social interaction partners during their Algerian holidays, but these gender divisions can only be understood in interaction with class, age, marital status, and migration history. Bidet finds that individuals with greater experience of socialization in the local context have more resources to adapt to gendered constraints. She mainly approaches the question of gender from the perspective of family relations (between parents and children, spouses, etc.), setting aside relations between peers, including the couple formation that can occur during these holidays. More than half of descendants of Algerian immigrants form a union with a person from Algeria or who is also a descendant of immigrants, and nearly 20% meet their spouse outside France (Hamel et al., 2015). [6] For these descendants of immigrants who are embedded in differentiated social and national spaces, the social interactions between young people that unfold during holidays in Algeria, along with the associated construction of the sense of belonging and recognition, may jointly constitute a crucial context for choosing a spouse.

8 Jennifer Bidet’s book thus shows that, contrary to a widely held image, the summer holidays do not represent an idyllic suspension of social relations. For the descendants of Algerian immigrants, transnational holidays are a time of the (re)definition of social positions and affiliations. They illustrate social mobility processes among these members of a second generation that cannot be completely transposed between national spaces.


  • [1]
    Sayad A., 1999, La Double absence. Des illusions de l’émigré aux souffrances de l’immigré, Paris, Seuil.
  • [2]
    Barth F., 1969, Ethnic groups and boundaries: The social organization of culture difference, Boston, Little Brown.
  • [3]
    The French word bled is a slang term for the place of origin of (particularly North African) migrants or their families.
  • [4]
    Beauchemin C., Lagrange H., Safi M., 2016, Liens transnationaux et intégration: entre ici et là-bas, in Beauchemin C., Hamel C., Simon P. (eds.), Trajectoires et origines. Enquête sur la diversité des populations en France, Paris, INED, 87–115.
  • [5]
    Weber F., 2002, Pour penser la parenté contemporaine, in Debordeaux D., Strobel P. (eds.), Les solidarités familiales en questions: entraide et transmission, Paris, LGDJ.
  • [6]
    Hamel C., Lhommeau B., Pailhé A., Santelli E., 2015, Former un couple en contexte multiculturel, in Beauchemin C., Hamel C., Simon P. (eds.), Trajectoires et origines. Enquête sur la diversité des populations en France, Paris, INED, 291–322.
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