Physical and Symbolic Violence and the Colonization of Algeria

Thursday, January 2, 2014: 1:00 PM
Washington Room 5 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Benjamin Claude Bower, University of Texas at Austin
The goal of this paper is to look for political logic in several different acts of seemingly gratuitous violence visited upon Algerians in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. My reading centers on how violence disrupts the symbolic order, and I show how it was used strategically against Algerians to produce the categories and configuration of the colonial era. Arguably the most important of these categories was the name “Indigène” (Native) used by the French state for people we now know as Algerians. To understand how this new category emerged from practices of physical and symbolic violence, I examine the other names by which Algerians were known to French authors prior to the colonial period. After the French began their conquest of Algeria in 1830, these names quickly disappeared, and Algerians were constrained to the name, “Indigène, which ultimately became a legal term denoting their subject status. I argue that violence also considerably narrowed the semantic range of the word itself, yielding a prejudicial connotation denoting archaism and obsolescence. By historicizing this word, I reveal the convergence of symbolic relations and relations of physical force.
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