Fighting prejudice and challenging clichés and assumptions about North African immigrants in France
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Leicester
Unit of AssessmentModern Languages and Linguistics
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
The study describes how the Unit's research underpinned a national
exhibition that made an active
contribution to the debate about immigration and integration — issues that
dominate social, media
and political discourses in France. The exhibition helped to confront the
clichés, assumptions and
tensions characterising the national debate on the place of North African
immigrants in French
society. The Unit's Dr Rabah Aissaoui was closely involved in defining the
structure and content of
a national exhibition entitled Generations: A Century of Maghrebi
Cultural History in France, staged
in Lyon, Paris and Caen between 2009 and 2011. The exhibition was the
first of its kind to be
staged in the country and brought the richness and variety of the cultural
contribution made by
North African immigrants to national attention. It was cited as a prime
example of good practice in
the fight against racism and prejudice in the Annual Report Fight against
Racism, Antisemitism and
Xenophobia presented to the French Prime Minister by the National
Consultative Commission of
Human Rights in 2010.
Aissaoui has published widely on North African Immigration in France in
the colonial and
postcolonial periods, and on Algerian history since he was appointed as a
lecturer to the University
of Leicester in 2004. His particular research interests focus on Algerian
immigration and racism in France and discourses on identity and exile, on
construction of nationalism and also on expressions of ethnic, national
and cultural belonging
amongst Maghrebi (North African) migrants in France.
He has also researched and published on two particular political
movements, the Etoile-Nord
Africaine/Parti du Peuple Algérien in the interwar period and the
Mouvement des Travailleurs
Arabes (MTA) in 1970s France. His work focuses on various forms of
political discourses and
modes of mobilisation among North African political activists during the
colonial and post-colonial
periods in France (2). His research examines the processes by which
North Africans have
constructed a sense of national and cultural identity and belonging
through their marginal status as
migrants in France (4,5,6).
In 2009, he published a monograph (1), described by one reviewer
as "an important contribution to
our understanding of the socio-political history of Maghrebi migrants in
France, of Algerian
nationalism, and of colonial and postcolonial histories of migration more
Part of his research is based on interviews of ex-MTA militants carried
out in collaboration with the
Paris-based association Génériques and he contributed two articles to a
special issue of the
journal Migrance (2005, troisième trimestre) on `Immigration et
Luttes Sociales' edited by
Génériques. His work was, therefore, well known to the Director and
academic team in Association
Génériques when in 2005 they invited him to join the Steering Committee in
charge of developing
the national exhibition entitled "Generations: A Century of
Maghrebi Cultural History in France" (3).
Aissaoui was the only UK-based academic Committee member when it was set
up in 2005.
He later recommended his colleague Dr Ann Miller (Leicester 1997-2010) to
Committee as a contributor to the exhibition catalogue because of her
expertise on bande-dessinée.
Miller works on French-language comic art and has published widely on this
including on bande-dessinée artists of North African origin. She
is co-editor of the peer-reviewed
journal European Comic Art (7).
References to the research
1. Aissaoui, R. `Immigration and National Identity: North African
Political Movements in Colonial
and Postcolonial France, London and New York: Tauris Academic
Studies, 320 pp., 2009.
2. Aissaoui, R. `Algerian nationalists in the French political arena and
beyond: the Etoile nord-africaine
and the Parti du peuple algérien in France in the interwar period', Journal
of North African
Studies; Volume 16, Issue 1, March 2010, pp. 1-12.
3. Aissaoui, R. `Les manifestations culturelles dans les meetings
politiques de l'ENA-PPA dans
l'entre-deux guerres', Générations: un siècle d'histoire culturelle
des Maghrébins en France,
national exhibition catalogue, Cité nationale de l'histoire de
l'immigration, Paris : Gallimard,
4. Aissaoui, R. `Le discours de l'Etoile nord-africaine et du parti du
peuple algérien dans l'entre-deux-guerres
en France', in Nancy L. Green and Marie Poinsot (eds.), Histoire de
question coloniale en France, Paris : La Documentation française,
5. Aissaoui, R. `Le discours du Mouvement des travailleurs arabes (MTA)
dans les années 1970 en
France : Mobilisation et mémoire du combat anticolonial, Hommes et
Migrations, N. 1263,
September-October 2006, pp. 105-122.
6. Aissaoui, R. `The political mobilisation of North African migrants in
1970s France: the case of the
Movement des Travailleurs Arabes, Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs,
Aug 2006, Vol. 26, No.2,
7. Miller, A.: Reading bande dessinée: Critical Approaches to
French-language Comic Strip, Bristol
and Chicago: Intellect, 272 pp., 2007.
Evidence of Quality:
Review of Monograph: "Rabah Aissaoui's monograph is well written, clear
and impressively inter-disciplinary,
applying history, sociology and discourse analysis to good effect. There
is an excellent
balance between close empirical study and conceptual discussion." Jim
Institute of Colonial and Postcolonial Studies, University of Leeds.
Research grants (Dr Aissaoui as Principal investigator):
• AHRC Research Leave Award — Research project title: `The Politics of
Identity and Migration'
• British Academy Small Research Grant Awards: January 2007, £2,832;
March 2010, £6,970.
• External funding secured for Algeria Conference (multi-funded; 2012):
Details of the impact
Impact was achieved through Aissaoui's partnership with Association
Génériques and his close
involvement with the high profile exhibition organised by the Association
entitled Generations: A
Century of Maghrebi Cultural History in France, an exhibition that
showcased the richness of the
cultural production of North Africans in France in the twentieth century (A).
work for the exhibition also contributed to impact. Association Génériques
is a national
organisation which aims to preserve and promote the history and memory of
France. It identifies and preserves archives on immigration in Europe
through cultural and
As a result of his research on the political, cultural and social
development of the North African
diaspora and on the construction of racism in the colonial and
post-colonial periods in France, Dr
Aissaoui was appointed as a key academic member of the Scientific
Committee of Génériques (E)
which was responsible for defining the thematic content and structure of
the exhibition. His work on
the concepts of national and ethnic identity and on the development on
political activism among
Algerian migrants in France in the colonial period and on North Africans
in France in the
postcolonial period informed a series of meetings held by the Scientific
Committee in Paris
between 2006 and 2008 to develop the exhibition project.
The Generations exhibition retraced a century of the cultural
history of North Africans in France
through music, film, literature, visual arts, theatre and politics. It
chronicled the significant moments
of resettlement from the Maghreb, through cultural practices, intellectual
life and artistic creativity,
and included largely unpublished audio and audio-visual archival
materials. The exhibition has
been visited by more than 50,000 people at three venues (B, C):
- Archives Municipales de Lyon, France, between 11th June and
29th August 2009 (D).
- Cité nationale de l'Histoire de l'Immigration (CNHI), Palais de la
Porte Dorée, Paris, between
17 November 2009 and 18th April 2010
- Collégiale St Sépulcre, Avenue de la Libération, Caen, from 11th
March 2011 to 29th April
- The exhibition will also be open to the public at Cloître des Jacobins
in Toulouse from October
2013 to January 2014.
As well as providing crucial strategic input into the structure and
content of the exhibition, Aissaoui
made a number of other material contributions including:
- A chapter for the exhibition catalogue entitled "Political
mobilisation and cultural events among
the Maghrebi community in France between the wars". The chapter
development of Algerian nationalism in the interwar period in France and
shed light on the role
of culture in Algerian political activism and anti-colonialism before
the Second World war (F).
- A selection of short biographies of Algerian political activists in
the colonial period for the
- The exhibition included a day conference in Lyon in June 2009 which
and misrepresentations of the Maghrebi community. Aissaoui presented a
"Maghrebi cultural circles in Metropolitan France 1934-1939" and Miller
presented a paper on
"The Maghrebi and Comics" (H).
- As part of the same conference, Aissaoui gave a radio interview to
Agora FM in which he
discussed the relationship between culture, politics and antiracism in
This exhibition was cited as a prime example of good practice in the
fight against racism and
prejudice in the Annual Report Fight against Racism, Antisemitism and
Xenophobia presented to
the French Prime Minister by the National Consultative Commission of Human
Rights in 2010 (p.
277(J)). It was described by the French press as "an answer to current
problems of stigmatisation
and identity crisis... focusing on the promotion of a collective culture"
and "an exhibition that should
break old clichés".
The exhibition touched tens of thousands of members of the public, many
of whom left testimonies
in a visitors' book, which chronicled the impact of the exhibition on
their perspective and emotions.
They included the following messages:
- "Bravo! We are proud to be French, finally! A (minimal) reparation but
nonetheless! Thank you for all that smart and sensitive work."
- "We will have to all agree, we must live together."
- "This is a very beautiful and rich exhibition. It enriches the history
- "A significant exhibition, even more important given world events, but
also policies in France."
- "A beautiful and valuable collection of memories which will hopefully
enlighten our life
- "A magnificent exhibition, a milestone in our national history."
- Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, currently Minister of Women's Rights and
spokesperson for the
French Government led by Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, declared
after her visit to the
exhibition: "Thank you for this moving exploration of the past. I hope
that it will teach some of
us about the failures of our present."
An effective communications strategy by Génériques with the CNHI,
including an online press
pack, raised the profile of the exhibition nationally, resulting in three
reports on Radio France; four
short documentaries (Télérama, TV5 Monde, France 3, Médiapart); five
programmes on Beur FM.
National and regional newspapers and magazines reported on the exhibition
Libération, L'Humanité, Le Point, Témoignage
Chrétien, Ouest France, etc (I)). To accompany the
exhibition, a number of activities were developed, including film
showings, art and music shows
and guided school visits. A music CD box set (3 CDs) entitled The
Masters of Maghrebi Music in
Exile was produced with EMI music and online resources were
designed, including pedagogical
dossiers for teachers and students that were widely used and a virtual
pedagogical tour of the
The exhibition attracted the support of many influential individuals in
representatives of France's Ministry of Culture, France Television and
intellectuals and business people. These included Bertrand Delanoë (Mayor
of Paris); Bertrand
Collomb (Mayor of Lyon); Philippe Douste-Blazy (Foreign Secretary
2005-2007); Laurent Fabius
(MP, Prime Minister 1984-1986); Jean-Claude Gaudin (Mayor of Marseille and
the Senate); Alain Juppé (Prime Minister 1995); Jack Lang (Culture
Pierre Mauroy (Prime Minister 1981-1984); Mehdi Charef (novelist and
Poncelet (President of the Senate, 1998-2008); Louis Schweitzer (Chairman
of Renault until 2005)
and Leïla Sebbar (novelist).
Sources to corroborate the impact
A. Exhibition website: http://www.generiques.org/actu.php?id=59
B. Information on visitor numbers and examples of exhibition-related
activities from Head of
communication/partnerships at Génériques.
C. Information on sponsorship.
D. Report of the exhibition's opening in Paris:
E. Invitation by General Delegate of Association Génériques, Paris, to
become a member of
the Scientific Committee of the exhibition and minutes of Scientific
F. List of contributors to the exhibition catalogue http://www.generiques.org/ang/catalogue.php
G. Example of biographies written for the exhibition
H. Programme of conference events in which Aissaoui's and Miller's
contributions are listed:
details of the radio interview:
For information on the Literary festival: Le
Maghreb des livres, see: http://www.lexpress.fr/culture/livre/la-16e-edition-du-maghreb-des-livres_845980.html.
Internal report on the exhibition: `Générations: un siècle d'histoire
culturelle des Maghrébins en France': une exposition de Génériques
available on request.
I. Examples of press coverage:
Télévision Lyon Métropole:
Radio report on French national radio:
Télérama (15 December 2009): http://www.telerama.fr/idees/au-lieu-de-debattre-de-l-identite-nationale-si-on-allait-voir-l-exposition-generations,50599.php?xtor=AL-73
Le Point magazine, 5 January 2010 http://www.lepoint.fr/archives/article.php/410639
La Croix : 13 November 2009 http://www.la-croix.com/Actualite/S-informer/France/L-immigration-maghrebine-en-France-_NG_-2009-11-13-600867
J. La Lutte Contre le Racisme, l'Antisémitisme et la Xénophobie, Année
2010, Rapport de la
Commission Nationale des Droits de l'Homme Présenté à Monsieur le Premier