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Empire’s Children

Race, Filiation, and Citizenship in the French Colonies

Empire’s Children

Race, Filiation, and Citizenship in the French Colonies

Europe’s imperial projects were often predicated on a series of legal and scientific distinctions that were frequently challenged by the reality of social and sexual interactions between the colonized and the colonizers.When Emmanuelle Saada discovered a 1928 decree defining the status of persons of mixed parentage born in French Indochina—the métis—she found not only a remarkable artifact of colonial rule, but a legal bombshell that introduced race into French law for the first time. The decree was the culmination of a decades-long effort to resolve the “métis question”: the educational, social, and civil issues surrounding the mixed population. Operating at the intersection of history, anthropology, and law, Empire’s Children reveals the unacknowledged but central role of race in the definition of French nationality.

Through extensive archival work in both France and Vietnam, and a close reading of primary and secondary material from the Pacific islands and sub-Saharan and North Africa, Saada has created in Empire’s Children an original and compelling perspective on colonialism, law, race, and culture from the end of the nineteenth century until decolonization.

344 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2012

History: African History, Asian History, European History


Empire’s Children is one of the finest recent examples of history à lafrançaise—its research deep, its arguments rigorous, and its erudition impressive. It is a must-read for anyone interested in how colonialism shaped modern Europe and racial thinking.”

Todd Shepard | Johns Hopkins University

"Empire’s Children is a brilliant and deeply researched exploration of the place of race in the French citizenship experience, focusing on the rights of ’mixed-race’ people in French Indochina and other colonies. Emmanuelle Saada deftly weaves together the perspectives of jurists, colonial officials, journalists and the "mixed-raced" individuals themselves to demonstrate why the French Empire -- and by extension, today’s France -- cannot be analyzed in black and white terms. A nuanced and important account, beautifully translated by Arthur Goldhammer."

Mary Dewhurst Lewis | Harvard University

“In this pathbreaking work of historical legal anthropology, Saada uses a vast array of primary sources to trace the deep racial logic of a new 1928 decree regulating the status of the métis, or person of mixed race, in Indochina. At a moment when much of the historiography of empire is focused on the crude violence of colonial rule, Empire’s Children persuasively argues for the critical role of law in the exercise of power overseas.”

Alice Conklin | Ohio State University

Table of Contents

Foreword by Frederick Cooper

Part I: Le Métissage: A Colonial Social Problem

Chapter 1: An Imperial Question
Chapter 2: A Threat to the Colonial Order
Chapter 3: “Reclassifying” the Métis

Part II: The Law Takes Up the “Métis Question”

Chapter 4: Nationality and Citizenship in the Colonial Situation
Chapter 5: The Controversy over “Fraudulent Recognitions”
Chapter 6: Investigating Paternity in the Colonies
Chapter 7: Citizens by Virtue of Race

Part III: The Force of Law

Chapter 8: The Effects of Citizenship
Chapter 9: Identities under the Law
Chapter 10: French Nationality and Citizenship Reconsidered


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