Title: Colonial Liminality, Status Anxiety, and Maltese-origin pieds-noirs
Name: Andrea Smith
Year: 1996
Type: Dissertation Fellowship
Summary:

The HFG grant allowed me to complete a dissertation on the social memory and identity of former French settlers (pieds-noirs) of Maltese origin. Over half of French Algeria's colonists were originally from other Mediterranean countries and became French citizens in the colony. The anthropology of colonialism has shown that social groups of ambiguous identity were often the source of considerable status anxiety in colonial situations. I wanted to learn if such anxieties were especially charged for the non-French colonists, and I thought that the Maltese would be most adversely affected. This is because of all the European immigrants to Algeria, the Maltese were the population their contemporaries found most difficult to categorize, awkwardly situated between colonized and colonists. They were the poorest of the Europeans to migrate across the Mediterranean, and a colonized people who spoke a language nearly mutually intelligible with North African Arabic. I thought that memories of this colonial experience would be preserved among Maltese-origin pieds-noirs now living in southern France.

Many of my suppositions were affirmed through fieldwork. Through archival research, I found that settler assimilation in Algeria was partial. Colonist difference, rooted in class and ethnic distinctions, lasted well until the end of the colony, as did anti-Maltese discrimination. Fellow settlers accused the Maltese of manifesting un-European, "Oriental" business and cultural traits, and these attitudes hardened into fixed anti-Maltese stereotypes and prejudices as early as the 1840s. Some of these attitudes linger in non-Maltese pied-noir circles to this day.

Since their arrival in France, many pieds-noirs of Maltese origin have begun to form social clubs around this distinct identity, despite the fact that they have been French citizens all of their lives. I argue that this social club phenomenon is related to the hierarchical nature of French Algerian colonial society and the forms of social memory it generated. I was surprised by the dramatic silencing I found of the violent French Algerian War, as well as by the extent of pied-noir nostalgia for Algeria. In Smith (2003) I explore the connections between this nostalgia and the Maltese-origin pieds-noirs' current fascination with Malta.

In Smith (2004) I argue that Maltese colonial liminality is reflected in narratives of colonial life, as evidenced by the ample incorporation of dominant memory into their stories of assimilation and Frenchness. The elderly speakers claimed that assimilation occurred quickly and thoroughly, employing the dominant "melting pot" metaphor in their speech when making such statements. At the same time, sometimes in the same narrative, they used terminology that suggested that the colonist universe was stratified and comprised of distinct ethnicities.

Bibliography: Smith, Andrea. The Colonial in Post-colonial Europe: Social Memory and Identity of Maltese-origin Pieds-noirs, Ph.D. dissertation, 1998, Department of Anthropology, University of Arizona.
Andrea, Smith. Place, Replaced: Colonial Nostalgia and Pied-noir Pilgrimages to Malta,
Cultural Anthropology, 2003, 18(3):329-364.
Smith, Andrea. Heteroglossia, Common Sense, and Social Memory, American Ethnologist, 2004, in press.