UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Rewriting Francité in the Cité nationale de l'histoire de l'immigration Hall, Sara


In October 2007 France's new national immigration museum, the Cité nationale de l'histoire de l'immigration, opened its doors to the public. A project nearly twenty years in the making, the Cité represents the cooperation of authorities, experts, and numerous civil society actors. It rewrites the French national narrative to take into account France's diverse demographic reality, legitimizing immigration as a key foundation of the French state. Since the early 1980s, immigration has been a prominent feature of the French political landscape, with immigrants' struggle for rights and recognition accompanied by the rise of right-wing xenophobia and racism. In particular, it is populations originating in former French colonial possessions that have been central to the debates. Using the Cité as a case study, this thesis examines the evolution of French identity to an updated, multicultural model that strives to reconcile traditional French universalism with cultural and ethnic pluralism, encompassing the principle of 'unity in diversity.' The museum's permanent exhibit, Répères, highlights the important contribution to the French nation made by immigrants, but has been criticized for failing to adequately interrogate the colonial past, which intersects with immigration on many levels. Housed in the former Museum of the Colonies in the Palais de la Porte Dorée, the controversy surrounding the 'colonial lacuna' forced a deeper engagement with colonialism than was originally intended, particularly, through the museum's activities outside of the permanent exhibit. The museum must be understood as an active and dynamic institution, and space of negotiation between the state and civil society actors.

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