Title: Imperial rule and the politics of nationalism
Name: Adria Lawrence
Assistant Professor
Department of Political Science
Yale University
124 Prospect Street
Brewster Hall, Room 309
(203) 432-3831
Year: 2006
Type: Dissertation Fellowship
Summary: This research project investigated the determinants of nationalist mobilization in the 20th century French Empire, addressing two questions. First, I ask why nationalist movements erupted across the empire, when and where they did. The resonance of nationalism in the context of imperial rule is often taken for granted, yet nationalist mobilization in the colonial world was not omnipresent, nor was it particularly easy to organize given the existence of a powerful authoritarian state. Studies that depict nationalism as an obvious response to imperial rule over-predict the occurrence of nationalist opposition, and cannot account for widespread variation in how colonized populations responded to imperial rule. Second, why did some of those nationalist movements employ violence, while others used primarily peaceful means to oppose colonial rule? The dismemberment of the French empire was one of the bloodiest imperial collapses in the 20th century, yet violence in the empire varied across time and space: protracted wars of national liberation erupted at particular moments in Algeria and Vietnam; terrorism and insurgency replaced peaceful movements in Morocco, Tunisia, Syria, Cameroon and Madagascar; but in places like Laos, Senegal, Mali, and the Comoros, nationalist movements remained primarily peaceful, building political parties and challenging colonial rule in metropolitan and international assemblies.

I draw on fieldwork in North Africa and historical sources from the French colonial archives to address these questions. In Part One of the manuscript, I argue that nationalist mobilization in the French Empire was driven by two factors. First, the failure of the French to extend political equality to colonial subjects led elite to abandon efforts to reform imperial rule into a more palatable form. Instead, elites who had previously advocated the extension of French rights and privileges to colonial subjects began demanding separation from the empire. Second, although nationalist opposition existed, mobilization was difficult to organize under colonial rule. I demonstrate that mobilization occurred at times when the imperial power’s authority over a particular territory was severely disrupted by wartime occupation, or full or partial colonial withdrawal.

Part Two investigates the determinants of nationalist violence. Instead of seeing violence as the result of the imperial power’s unwillingness to decolonize, I argue that competition within the nationalist movement fueled violence. I show that intra-movement conflict and competition was a ubiquitous feature of nationalist movements, and can explain why some groups chose to employ violence. To evaluate these arguments, this project combines a sub-national, micro-comparative analysis of colonial Morocco with a medium-N approach that analyzes nationalist mobilization across the French empire.