The debate over the place in French society of people from North and sub-Saharan Africa is also a debate about history. One side–including people on both the right and the left–evokes a tradition of republican egalitarianism dating to the Revolution of 1789 and dismisses calls to recognize cultural or social difference among citizens as ‘communitarianism’. The opposite side argues that French republicanism has always been exclusionary and discriminatory, bound historically to colonization and enslavement. This article points to what this present-day clash obscures: uncertainty and conflict over what the concepts of citizenship, nation, state, republic, and empire actually mean. It stresses citizenship as a claim-making construct. Colonized people and their descendants from 1789 to the collapse of French empire claimed the rights of the French citizen, thereby opening up a long debate over the relationship between citizenship and difference in a polity that proclaimed liberty, equality, and fraternity, a debate that still echoes in post-colonial France.
Frederick Cooper, Citizenship and difference in France: colonial histories and postcolonial controversies, Citizenship Studies, 2022.