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Social welfare, French Muslims and decolonization in France: the case of the Fonds d'action sociale

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Lyons's essay traces the origins of the Fonds d'action sociale (FAS), an agency that has been at the centre of French efforts to 'integrate' immigrants, mostly from the former colonial empire, for nearly forty years. Established in 1958 just after the founding of the Fifth Republic, the FAS was an umbrella agency that funded social welfare programmes that exclusively served Algerians in the final years of French rule, and later expanded its services to all immigrants and their descendants. From the outset, the FAS brought together personnel and techniques developed on both sides of the Mediterranean, and relied heavily on private charitable institutions that provided specialized services intended to help Algerians 'adapt' to their new environment. Central to this project was the hope that welfare services would simultaneously provide evidence that France was committed to 'integrating' Algerians, improving their material conditions and effectively monitoring them in order to root out those associating with the Algerian independence movement. Historicizing the role played by the FAS in French 'integration' politics is essential to understanding the process of decolonization and the legacy of colonialism in metropolitan France. This study of the FAS demonstrates, in concrete terms, how the republic and the empire were intimately intertwined. It rejects the notion that the imperial and republican projects were separate ventures, with the former representing a deviation from the otherwise universalist principles of the latter, and argues that this state institution was both republican and imperial, when it was created to solve the 'Algerian crisis' and when it was reframed to manage the 'immigration problem' after Algerian independence in 1962.
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Keywords: Algeria; Algerian war for independence; Fonds d'action sociale; France; Social Action Fund; bidonvilles; colonization; decolonization; immigration; migration; republicanism; welfare state universalism

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2009-02-01

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