As the French public debates its present diversity and its
colonial past, few remember that between 1946 and 1960 the
inhabitants of French colonies possessed the rights of French
citizens. Moreover, they did not have to conform to the French
civil code that regulated marriage and inheritance. One could, in
principle, be a citizen and different too. "Citizenship between
Empire and Nation" examines momentous changes in notions of
citizenship, sovereignty, nation, state, and empire in a time of
acute uncertainty about the future of a world that had earlier been
divided into colonial empires.
Frederick Cooper explains how African political leaders at the
end of World War II strove to abolish the entrenched distinction
between colonial "subject" and "citizen." They then used their new
status to claim social, economic, and political equality with other
French citizens, in the face of resistance from defenders of a
colonial order. Africans balanced their quest for equality with a
desire to express an African political personality. They hoped to
combine a degree of autonomy with participation in a larger,
Franco-African ensemble. French leaders, trying to hold on to a
large French polity, debated how much autonomy and how much
equality they could concede. Both sides looked to versions of
federalism as alternatives to empire and the nation-state. The
French government had to confront the high costs of an empire of
citizens, while Africans could not agree with French leaders or
among themselves on how to balance their contradictory imperatives.
Cooper shows how both France and its former colonies backed into
more "national" conceptions of the state than either had
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