Gillian Glaes, "African Political Activism in Postcolonial France: State Surveillance and Social Welfare" (Routledge, 2018)


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Gillian Glaes’s African Political Activism in Postcolonial France: State Surveillance and Social Welfare (Routledge, 2018) examines the experiences and agency of African immigrants in France from 1960 through the 1970s. Focused on the Africans who migrated to work and live in France during the post-decolonization period, the book tracks continuities with the colonial past while remaining attentive to changes in the French and wider global economies, the politics of the Cold War, and the emergence of new social movements. Sensitive to the challenges faced by individual Africans and their communities in France, including struggles with employment and working conditions, racism, housing, and health, the book highlights the relationship between the state and these immigrants, arguing that immigrants played meaningful roles in shaping public and social welfare policies during this period.

In its six chapters, the book moves from an analysis of the work of the Union générale de Travailleurs sénégalais en France (UGTSF) to rent strikes, protests, and other forms of political activity and community building within the African immigrant population concentrated in Paris and its surrounding banlieues. While the first part of the book is focused on African and their responses to immigrant life, the latter chapters zoom in on issues of state surveillance and policy, including various efforts to police African activisms, bodies, movement, and settlement. While the book will certainly fascinate those interested in issues of immigration and race in postcolonial France, it also holds broader implications for how we think about the history and power of vulnerable populations during this period and in its wake. As the author indicates in the book’s concluding pages, this history can help us to think more carefully and critically about the politics of immigration and refugees within and beyond France in our current moment of crisis including the displacement and precarity of millions of people around the world.

Roxanne Panchasi is an Associate Professor of History at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada who specializes in twentieth and twenty-first century France and its empire. She is the author of Future Tense: The Culture of Anticipation in France Between the Wars (2009). Her current research focuses on the history of French nuclear weapons and testing since 1945. Her most recent article, '"No Hiroshima in Africa": The Algerian War and the Question of French Nuclear Tests in the Sahara' appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of History of the Present. She lives and reads in Vancouver, Canada. If you have a recent title to suggest for the podcast, please send her an email (

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