Race, Law and Universalism: Empire and its Legacy in Modern France | DEMOS21

This is a virtual event on Zoom. Registration is mandatory.
Tuesday, March 9, 2021 - 18:00

The Center for Critical Democracy Studies at The American University of Paris and Professor Miranda Spieler invite you to the second symposium of a 7-part series on "Race, Law and Justice."

‘Of Course He Is Black And I Am White’: Women Defying Laws, Decrees, And Policing In French West Africa (Jennifer Anne Boittin)

This paper traces several women who resisted men’s policing of their sexual and sentimental lives in French West Africa (AOF). These cases reveal how women were surveilled, and the nature of the debates that raged among bureaucrats and members of the judiciary who - often in the name of French prestige, which some explicitly termed white prestige - sought to bind women by preventing their mobility. Officials tried to use existing laws and principles or to write new edicts, all in the name of preventing intimacy and domesticity between white and Black people in West Africa. Women, in turn, quickly realized that if in legal principle one’s “race” was not a legitimate legal barrier to companionship, in practice officials sought to stifle interracial relationships. Women reacted by resisting and creatively circumventing such interference, including by explicitly pointing to the double standards of such obstructionist tendencies on the part of representatives of a state and legal system supposedly dedicated to universalism.

Theorizing The Concept Of "Race" In Contemporary French Law: First Steps (Lionel Zevounou)

Why speak of "race" in French legal discourse? Or should we instead forego this term, as have many jurists in France. How can we distinguish the “race” of the sociologist from the “race” of the racist? Is it possible for scholars to detach the word race from its uses? In France, the term "race" has become a marker of, or synecdoche for the defects of American society that are otherwise derided as "separatism" and "identity politics;” In treating the term “race” as an alien excrescence, a deleterious American import, jurists and social scientists have managed, conveniently, to avoid reckoning with discriminatory practices that are deep-rooted in French society. French regulatory texts and legal statutes include anti-racist provisions; and yet, between these provisions and their interpretation by judges, there is often a huge gap. How to explain this? This paper seeks to answer this question by analyzing French positive law alongside ongoing debates on the topic of race in French legal academia.

Jennifer Anne Boittin

Jennifer Anne Boittin is an associate professor of French, Francophone Studies and History at the Pennsylvania State University. Her first book, Colonial Metropolis. The Urban Grounds of Anti-imperialism and Feminism in Interwar Paris (2010, University of Nebraska Press) is an innovative, intersectional history of radical interwar politics. Her current project, about female travelers in the French empire, is entitled Undesirable: Women Resisting Policing in the French Empire, 1919-1952. She was a resident fellow at the Institut des Etudes Avancées in Paris during the 2016-2017 academic year.

Lionel Zevounou

Lionel Zevounou is maitre de conférence of law at the University of Paris-Nanterre. He is the author of Les usages de la notion de concurrence en droit (2012) and is completing a second book about the history workplace discrimination in France. A frequent contributor to academic and popular journals, Professor Zevounou writes on topics that range from market regulation to reparations for slavery and African legal philosophy. He is the recipient of a five-year grant from the Institut Universitaire de France (2018-2023) and leads the African Sovereignty Project, a pan-African scholarly initiative funded by the Open Society Foundation.

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