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The French Imperial Nation-State

Negritude and Colonial Humanism between the Two World Wars

France experienced a period of crisis following World War I when the relationship between the nation and its colonies became a subject of public debate. The French Imperial Nation-State focuses on two intersecting movements that redefined imperial politics—colonial humanism led by administrative reformers in West Africa and the Paris-based Negritude project, comprising African and Caribbean elites.

Gary Wilder develops a sophisticated account of the contradictory character of colonial government and examines the cultural nationalism of Negritude as a multifaceted movement rooted in an alternative black public sphere. He argues that interwar France must be understood as an imperial nation-state—an integrated sociopolitical system that linked a parliamentary republic to an administrative empire. An interdisciplinary study of colonial modernity combining French history, colonial studies, and social theory, The French Imperial Nation-State will compel readers to revise conventional assumptions about the distinctions between republicanism and racism, metropolitan and colonial societies, and national and transnational processes.

352 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2005

African Studies

History: African History, European History


“In this strikingly original work, Gary Wilder combines archival research, political theory, and literary analysis to issue a decisive challenge to reigning approaches to the study of French history. The result is a book remarkable both for its far-reaching theoretical implications in colonial studies and for the humane way it illuminates the dilemmas and engagements of a fascinating generation of thinkers.”--Laurent Dubois, Michigan State University

Laurent Dubois

“Wilder accomplishes what is rare enough in the new imperial history: he deftly illustrates both the constitutive impact of colonial modernity on metropolitan forms and the centrality of people of African descent to the story of European political and cultural development. His emphasis on the disjointed character of the imperial nation-state is as provocative as it is original, making this book a must-read for students of national, colonial, and postcolonial histories."--Antoinette Burton, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Antoinette Burton

“An exemplary piece of scholarship. Starting from an interest in French colonial history, Wilder seeks to reframe the way we think about the history of modern France as a whole. The author lays out a sophisticated theoretical framework that is both original and well grounded in several intellectual fields.”--Tyler Stovall, University of California, Berkeley

Tyler Stovall

“Gary Wilder’s historical anthropology of the French imperial nation-state is the work of a truly gifted scholar. It evinces quite an extraordinary mix of imagination, critical acuity, theoretical subtlety, and empirical depth. It is, in short, a fine history and an exceptional anthropology that is highly relevant to our understanding of both European nation-states and the U.S. imperium at the dawn of the twenty-first century.”--John Comaroff, University of Chicago

John Comaroff

“This highly original book is a major intervention on the scholarship of empire, race, colonialism, nationhood, and modernity. Meticulous in its detail, provocative, and imaginative in its interpretations, it identifies the key issues of administration, government, and citizenship to illuminate the cross-cutting currents that shaped both France and her African colonial empire.”

Mamadou Diouf, University of Michigan

"Wilder’s trenchant and insightful book will be of considerable interest to scholars of French and African history, particularly in the subfields of intellectual, cultural, and political history."

Elizabeth Schmidt | American Historical Review

"Wilder focuses on broad themes rather than furnishing a detailed case study, but his method of analysis will be of practical benefit to historians exploring interactions within the imperial nation-state, and will be excellent for use in graduate seminars on imperialism and French colonialism."

Jeremy McMaster Rich | Itinerario

"Wilder has fashioned an argument that ’empiricist historians’ will not find easy to dismantle, and this complex book deserves their engagement."

Owen White | Journal of Colonialsm and Colonial History

"This remarkably original and groundbreaking study renews and enriches our understanding of the interwar Negritude movement and its historical context. The volume’s wide-ranging interdisciplinary scope combines archival research, critical theory, and literary analysis to powerful effect. Gary Wilder surpasses all previous studies of Negritude in his scrupulous and theoretically resonant inquiry."

Nick Nesbitt | New West Indian Guide

Table of Contents

Part 1: The Imperial Nation-State
1. Introduction: Working through the Imperial Nation-State
2. Framing Greater France: A Real Abstraction
Part 2: Colonial Humanism
3. Toward a New Colonial Rationality: Welfare, Science, Administration
4. A Doubled and Contradictory Form of Government
5. Temporality, Nationality, Citizenship
Part 3: African Humanism
6. Negritude I: Practicing Citizenship in Imperial Paris
7. Negritude II: Cultural Nationalism
8. Negritude III: Critique of (Colonial) Reason
Conclusion: Legacies of the Imperial Nation-State

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