Reproducing the French Race

Immigration, Intimacy, and Embodiment in the Early Twentieth Century

Reproducing the French Race

Book Pages: 240 Illustrations: 10 illustrations Published: September 2009

Gender and Sexuality, History > European History, Theory and Philosophy > Race and Indigeneity

In Reproducing the French Race, Elisa Camiscioli argues that immigration was a defining feature of early-twentieth-century France, and she examines the political, cultural, and social issues implicated in public debates about immigration and national identity at the time. Camiscioli demonstrates that mass immigration provided politicians, jurists, industrialists, racial theorists, feminists, and others with ample opportunity to explore questions of French racial belonging, France’s relationship to the colonial empire and the rest of Europe, and the connections between race and national anxieties regarding depopulation and degeneration. She also shows that discussions of the nation and its citizenry consistently returned to the body: its color and gender, its expenditure of labor power, its reproductive capacity, and its experience of desire. Of paramount importance was the question of which kinds of bodies could assimilate into the “French race.”

By focusing on telling aspects of the immigration debate, Camiscioli reveals how racial hierarchies were constructed, how gender figured in their creation, and how only white Europeans were cast as assimilable. Delving into pronatalist politics, she describes how potential immigrants were ranked according to their imagined capacity to adapt to the workplace and family life in France. She traces the links between racialized categories and concerns about industrial skills and output, and she examines medico-hygienic texts on interracial sex, connecting those to the crusade against prostitution and the related campaign to abolish “white slavery,” the alleged entrapment of (white) women for sale into prostitution abroad. Camiscioli also explores the debate surrounding the 1927 law that first made it possible for French women who married foreigners to keep their French nationality. She concludes by linking the Third Republic’s impulse to create racial hierarchies to the emergence of the Vichy regime.


Reproducing the French Race is an important and timely contribution not only to the critical debate about immigration in France, but also to the historiography of French Republicanism in general.”
— Ali Behdad, Contemporary French Civilization

“[T]his is a thought-provoking book that highlights the complexity of ideas about race and racial identity at the levels of both private and public life, and simultaneously incorporates theoretical insights from cultural studies, critical race studies and gender studies. The dynamic topics addressed in the short chapters may appeal to students. For scholars, this book contributes to our understanding of the ways immigration and depopulation troubled the ideals of French republicanism.” — Sara L. Kimble, Gender & History

“By bringing together anxieties about race, gender, and immigration into one analytic field and analyzing their sometimes surprising interplay, Camiscioli makes an important contribution to the history of 20th-century France.” — Susan B. Whitney, Labour/Le Travail

“Camiscioli’s originality lies in the sustained attention that she also gives to race as constitutive of French citizenship, particularly between the two world wars. . . . [A] fascinating book. . . .” — Mary Dewhurst Lewis, Journal of Modern History

“Impeccably researched and clearly argued, this book will be of great benefit to any scholar with an interest in the history and politics of twentieth-century France, as well as to those working on the histories of gender, sexuality and population in modern Europe.” — Andrew J. Counter, Modern and Contemporary France

“This is a very fine brief volume (with 159 pages of text), informative on many areas of interest to historians of politics, labour, migration, science and colonialism. It is, as well, a timely study in light of current French debates, and debates elsewhere, about immigration, citizenship and multi-culturalism, which eerily recall the racialized discussions of almost a century ago.”
— Robert Aldrich, European History Quarterly

Reproducing the French Race is well written and studiously argued. . . . Camiscioli’s work is worth reading and offers a cogent summary of the discursive origins of contemporary anti-immigration politics in France as well as the vitriolic debate over French national identity. . . . I recommend Camiscioli’s work as one of the more important studies of immigration and identity formation in early twentieth century France.” — James E. Genova, Left History

Reproducing the French Race skillfully weaves together the discourses of empire, corporeality, racialization, citizenship, and intimacy in a bold and innovative look at the foundational actions of republican citizenship, gendered identities, and the racial grammar of early twentieth-century France. Camicsioli’s command of the feminist scholarship about sexuality and empire renders the book accessible to non-Francophone specialists, a welcome addition to our knowledge of the imperial roots of contemporary immigration.” — Michelle McKinley, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“Camiscioli’s Reproducing Empire offers a very rewarding and pithy illumination of race and sex and the anxieties they produced in the French Third Republic (1870–1940). It is an impressive work. . . . This book gives longevity and intellectual breadth and depth to acute contemporary debates about the French nation and its jealously-guarded identity.” — Patricia O'Brien, Journal of Women's History

“Elisa Camiscioli’s book is an intriguing examination of the importance of race and gender to late-nineteenth- and early twentieth-century French anxieties about population decline and national degeneration. . . . On the whole, Reproducing the French Race is a careful, well documented, and persuasively argued investigation. . . . [I]nsightful contribution to the growing literature on French universalism.” — Naomi J. Andrews, Canadian Journal of History

“Elisa Camiscioli’s Reproducing the French Race makes a significant contribution to the historiography of interwar France. It does so by integrating two fields that have too often been dealt with separately: gender and immigration. . . . Beyond recasting the historiography of interwar France, Reproducing the French Race provides an important basis for comparing the mutual implication of sex and immigration in France today.” — Judith Surkis, H-France, H-Net Reviews

“In this book, Camiscioli goes far beyond a skillful analysis of interwar immigration discourse and policies. . . . Camiscioli’s [argument is] smart, carefully constructed, thoroughly and widely documented. . .” — Brett A. Berliner, American Historical Review

Reproducing the French Race is an original, insightful, and very important contribution to the historiography of twentieth-century France. One of the best explorations of the intersections between race, gender, and national identity that I have seen, it has no parallel in existing histories of modern France.” — Tyler Stovall, coeditor of The Color of Liberty: Histories of Race in France

Reproducing the French Race skillfully traces underlying connections among immigration, gender, and national identity in interwar France, while fundamentally refiguring seemingly settled scholarship on pronatalism and labor rationalization by demonstrating the still under-recognized centrality of race to them. Elisa Camiscioli has written an accomplished and ambitious work that integrates issues typically treated separately into an innovative argument about ‘embodiment’ that challenges conventional assumptions about French republicanism as essentially abstract and universal.” — Gary Wilder, author of The French Imperial Nation-State: Negritude and Colonial Humanism Between the Two World Wars


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Elisa Camiscioli is Associate Professor of History and Women’s Studies at Binghamton University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction. Embodiment and the Nation 1

1. Immigration, Demography, and Pronatalism 21

2. Labor Power and the Racial Economy 51

3. Hybridity and Its Discontents 75

4. Black Migrants, White Slavery: Metissage in the Metropole and Abroad 99

5. Intermarriage, Independent Nationality, and Individual Rights 129

Conclusion. Gender, Race, and Republican Embodiment 155

Notes 161

Bibliography 197

Index 223
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4565-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4548-0
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