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Immigrants and Arguments in France and West Africa

  • Gregory Mann (a1)

In the summer of 1996, when French policemen stormed Paris' Eglise Saint-Bernard, evicting dozens of African immigrants and activists who had taken refuge in the church, people in both France and West Africa surged with anger. Many of those immigrants had lived in France for years, often with an ambiguous legal and bureaucratic status (hence their moniker sans-papiers, those without papers), and they had occupied the church in order to demand the regularization of their status.The sans-papiers' story is complex; see Balibar et al. (1999), Dubois (2000), Fassin et al. (1997), Goussault (1999), Rosello (1998), and Siméant (1998). Each of the leading spokespersons has written a memoir (Cissé 1999; Diop 1997; Sané 1996). My analysis most closely resembles that of Dubois. However, while his interest lies in the implications of the “culturalist” stance within the sans-papiers movement and in the colonial origins of universalism, I am pursuing the deployment of a particular argument materially grounded in the colonial period. Mine is also the only study of which I am aware that analyzes how the dispute was understood in the immigrants' countries of origin. West African, French, and international protests of the high-handed and violent government action called on both universal and particular arguments to support the rights of the sans-papiers. Editorialists lambasted the French government for disregarding the “Rights of Man” and for forgetting the sacrifices of West African soldiers—the tirailleurs Sénégalais—in the defense of France.The point had already been made by Konaté: “Everything has its price, including having been the country of the Enlightenment and a colonial power” (1994).

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Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
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