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Abstract

This is a dissertation about youth and the horizons of belonging in postwar France as France attempted to negotiate its position between its old African empire and the new Europe after World War II. I argue that postwar French officials approached imperial renewal in Africa and European unity as “generational projects” that enlisted youth as critical agents in the establishment of fundamentally new kinds of pluralist, democratic, and postnational polities. To overcome colonial domination in the empire and national division in Europe, French politicians, administrators and educators proposed a vast array of education reforms and youth programs in the hopes of stimulating European integration and imperial renewal from the ground up. These proposals shared a good deal in common, despite the radically different political and material situations of postwar French Africa and Western Europe; in both contexts, they focused on making curricular and pedagogical changes to primary and secondary schooling, revising history textbooks, building new institutions of higher education, and developing youth and student exchange programs to unite diverse populations. Within the world of postwar youth and education policy, French officials were in dialogue with two distinct sets of interlocutors—francophone Africans and west Europeans—about two competing political geographies and cultural imaginaries that have typically been treated independently of one another. I emphasize that these actors were actually all part of the same conversation about youth and sociopolitical transformation that was unfolding across metropolitan French, colonial African, and transnational European space. To fill out the contours of that conversation, I tack back and forth between the methodologies of political and intellectual history – I analyze similarities and tensions among specific policies and programs; I map the professional trajectories of key officials who helped shape both colonial and European youth and education initiatives; and I identify contemporary thinkers and commentators who provided a shared vocabulary and common cultural repertoire for French, African and European actors who sought to effect and control social and political change through youth and education policies in the postwar era. By bringing this constellation of people, institutional practices, and ideas into the same frame, I am able to trace how the meaning of race, religious pluralism, and the concept of Europe changed as the imperatives of late colonialism and European integration collided and converged in postwar France. Approaching United Europe and postwar empire as generational projects rather through the lenses of high politics, geostrategy and economic development recasts the nature and the stakes of their points of intersection. I argue that what was really at issue was whether or not black Africans, and black African Muslims in particular, could really be French - and if so, could then also be European? What would that mean for the identity of republican France and Europe more broadly? These were the fundamental questions with which postwar youth and education programs in metropolitan France, French Africa and Western Europe were grappling, questions that remain largely unresolved to this day. This thesis shows that the entangled initiatives to turn African subjects into French citizens and national citizenries in Europe into “Europeans” in the 1940s and 50s did not produce their desired effects. Implemented unevenly and on a small scale, they provided formative experiences for a small cohort of future French, francophone African, and west European leaders, but the majority of French people and other Europeans who came of age during this period did not develop a strong European political identity, just as most French and African youth did not forge a sense of common destiny. On the contrary, concerns about holding on to France’s African empire initially restrained French support for robust political union in Europe, and that transnational campaigns for European unity helped consolidate an exclusivist vision of Europe that limited the scope and effectiveness of French education reforms and youth initiatives in Africa. From today’s vantage, it might seem obvious or commonsensical that these two projects were intrinsically at odds, but in the dramatic, albeit brief, opening of the postwar conjuncture, the boundaries between the French Republic, French Africa, and the nascent European Union were not yet firmly fixed. This thesis seeks to explain how and why the incompatibility of a Franco-African polity and united Europe became so naturalized—at the very moment when there was an apparent global renunciation of racism and religious discrimination and an embrace of pluralism —that it now seems like common sense. To that end, I follow the political evolution of French policymakers who no longer wanted to be associated with racism, religious persecution, and other forms of colonial domination, but who could not quite get behind anything more than a nominal commitment to equality. I argue that the explanation for this lies not so much in their inability to cast off older ways of seeing the world, but rather in the emergence of new exclusionary logics that were produced at the crossroads of colonial reform and European reconstruction. I therefore conclude that postwar youth and education initiatives in France, Europe and Africa represent a new kind of aspirational politics of inclusion that nevertheless produce new bases of inequality and its social reproduction.

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