“The Only Solution There Is”: Indigenization and Association Policy in French Indochina, 1892–1913

Thursday, January 5, 2012: 3:40 PM
Sheffield Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Paul Sager, New York University
Like the contemporaneous “Ethical Policies” in the Netherlands Indies explored in Matthew Schauer’s paper, “Association Policy” in French Indochina sought to remake political relations between colonial state and colonized society by increasing “native” participation in governance. Although association ideology is one of the most commonly discussed topics in French colonial history, one of its principal elements has been overlooked. My paper shows that the “indigenization” of the civil service (via the progressive replacement of lower-level French personnel by educated natives) was central to association theory from early in its development. I offer an account of the origins and early growth of administrative indigenization in Indochina to show how it was conceived as a solution to the unwanted presence of two social strata labeled the “white administrative proletariat” and the “native intellectual proletariat” despite their middling positions in the colonial order. A broad consensus among policymakers held that these two embarrassing social ills were dangerously undermining the state’s hope for creating a sense of legitimacy among the colonized and attracting their cooperation. It was widely argued that replacing the former by the latter was “the only solution” to this class conundrum. I trace the idea of indigenization from two angles, following the elaboration of association theory by its principal advocates Jules Harmand, Joseph Chailley-Bert, and Albert de Pouvourville, and tracking the Indochina administration’s earliest plans for indigenization and their implementation or abandonment. I show that tensions between conservative and liberal interpretations of association theory, in addition to native resistance to French rule and French civil servants’ resistance to indigenization, resulted in an institutional ambivalence about indigenization that slowed down its implementation. I demonstrate, however, that the project was nonetheless underway in a period well before scholars have previously identified it.
<< Previous Presentation | Next Presentation