Political Equality and Nationalist Opposition in the French Colonial Empire

37 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 25 Aug 2010

Date Written: 2010


Why did nationalist movements seeking independence erupt in the 20th century French Empire? Why did demands to reform and reshape colonial rule give way to nationalist demands to end it? What prompted those living under imperial rule to begin making nationalist demands? Though the answers to these questions may seem obvious in hindsight, in fact nationalist mobilization against colonial rule varied considerably. Despite an international environment increasingly hostile to imperial rule and favorable to the principle of self-determination, nationalist opposition in the colonial world was neither omnipresent nor automatic. Nationalist claims were not the only claims colonized populations articulated; indeed in many places and time periods, they were not the dominant way to oppose colonialism. This paper investigates how and why nationalist mobilization replaced calls to reform colonial rule. It argues that nationalist mobilization only erupted when and where the French refused to make colonial subjects political equals. It was not ethnic, racial, or religious differences that prompted nationalism in the empire, but exclusion: the failure of the French to extend rights to colonized subjects triggered a turn to nationalism.

Keywords: ethnic conflict, nationalist conflict, empire, France, collective action, mobilization, nationalism

Suggested Citation

Lawrence, Adria, Political Equality and Nationalist Opposition in the French Colonial Empire (2010). APSA 2010 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1642224

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