Date of Award


Degree Type

Closed Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Denise Davidson

Second Advisor

Jared Poley

Third Advisor

Ian Fletcher


Examining the place of immigrants in French society between 1950 and 1990, this dissertation traces both official policies and public reactions toward immigration, and immigrant responses to their treatment. Increased negative perceptions of North Africans during the 1970s and 80s, and escalating acts of violence and discrimination against them, sparked a national debate on the compatibility of Islam with French identity. North Africans’ presence in France seemed to throw into question common notions of “Frenchness” because the practices that characterized Islamic culture differentiated Muslims from other ethnic and religious minorities. I investigated North African, West African, and Antillean immigrant communities in Paris through the intersection of race, religion, and culture in order to explore changing French attitudes toward ethnic minorities and their cultural identities. My dissertation focuses on how these communities were or were not accepted into the French “nation,” and what their integration or lack thereof said about conceptions of what it meant to be “French.” In addition to offering a study of the government’s role in establishing or modifying perceptions about French identity, I also evaluate race and culture from the perspective of the immigrants themselves. This project thus offers an analysis of immigrants of color and the discourses and policies of the institutions that helped define certain ethnic groups encoded as “racially other” as also culturally inassimilable. The dissertation argues that the state’s construction of racially distinct citizens and immigrant communities as different limited their access to the nation and their acceptance by the general public. In the 1980s, the growing popularity of extreme right political rhetoric glorifying the nation and its supposed heritage gave voice to racism and fears of losing a uniquely French culture. An implicit racial hierarchy prevented immigrant groups and ethnic minorities from fully integrating into the nation. At the same time, ethnic groups from North Africa, West Africa, and the Antilles worked to redefine “Frenchness” along more inclusive lines in order to minimize tensions and improve relations between these groups and those who seemed more unquestionably “French.”