Judith Surkis, "Sex, Law, and Sovereignty in French Algeria, 1830-1930" (Cornell UP, 2019)


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Judith Surkis's Sex, Law, and Sovereignty in French Algeria, 1830-1930 (Cornell UP, 2019) traces the intersection of colonialism, law, land expropriation, sex, gender, and family during the century after the French conquest of Algeria in 1830. Seeking to assimilate Algerian land while differentiating Algerian Muslims from European settlers, colonial authorities developed a system that confined Muslim law to family matters while subjecting Algerian property to French Civil law. Securing and extending French sovereignty over Algeria, this system deprived Algerian Muslims of full citizenship rights while reinforcing French colonial authority.

Sex, Law, and Sovereignty is a rigorous and provocative critical "history of the present" that illuminates the persistence of the "Muslim question" in contemporary France. In chapters focused on polygamy, repudiation, and child marriage, the book traces the ways that the French fantasies of the family, including the sexualization of Muslim women and a preoccupation with the sexual "excesses" of Muslim men, found expression in legislation that segregated the legal control of property from the regulation of bodies, beliefs, and personhood. A fascinating genealogy that understands colonial law and the problem of difference within a broader cultural field, the book is an impressive, compelling analysis with striking resonances for a Franco-Algerian present still shaped by the legacies of the colonial past.

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. If you have a recent title to suggest for the podcast, please send her an email (panchasi@sfu.ca).

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