Immigration, Islam, and the Politics of Belonging in France: A Comparative Framework

Immigration, Islam, and the Politics of Belonging in France: A Comparative Framework

Immigration, Islam, and the Politics of Belonging in France: A Comparative Framework

Immigration, Islam, and the Politics of Belonging in France: A Comparative Framework


Over the past three decades, neither France's treatment of Muslims nor changes in French, British, and German immigration laws have confirmed multiculturalist hopes or postnationalist expectations. Yet analyses positing unified national models also fall short in explaining contemporary issues of national and cultural identity. Immigration, Islam, and the Politics of Belonging in France: A Comparative Framework presents a more productive, multifaceted view of citizenship and nationality.

Political scientist Elaine R. Thomas casts new light on recent conflicts over citizenship and national identity in France, as well as such contentious policies as laws restricting Muslim headscarves. Drawing on key methods and insights of ordinary language philosophers from Austin to Wittgenstein, Thomas looks at parliamentary debates, print journalism, radio and television transcripts, official government reports, legislation, and other primary sources related to the rights and status of immigrants and their descendants. Her analysis of French discourse shows how political strategies and varied ideas of membership have intertwined in France since the late 1970s. Thomas tracks the crystallization of a restrictive but apparently consensual interpretation of French republicanism, arguing that its ideals are increasingly strained, even as they remain politically powerful. Thomas also examines issues of Islam, immigration, and culture in other settings, including Britain and Germany.

Immigration, Islam, and the Politics of Belonging in France gives scholarly researchers, political observers, and human rights advocates tools for better characterizing and comparing the theoretical stakes of immigration and integration and advances our understanding of an increasingly significant aspect of ethnic and religious politics in France, Europe, and beyond.


This study originally emerged from an interest in what is now generally referred to as “globalization.” I wanted to complement study of its financial and economic dimensions with a new sort of critical investigation of its conceptual and political impact. How international migration, and political responses to it, contributed to reshaping ideas of citizenship and political belonging initially presented itself as a compelling window onto such broader global developments, and this book is addressed in part to all concerned with the changes wrought by them. As the project evolved over time, I confess to having become increasingly drawn to, and politically concerned with, my immediate object of study: immigrant integration policy and politics in contemporary Europe, and particularly in France where I began by spending almost two years living, studying, and conducting research as an SSRC-MacArthur Fellow in the mid-1990s.

In the wake of September 11 and its aftermath, the research and writing I had first done on this topic at the University of California, Berkeley, unexpectedly took on a new kind of pertinence and significance as issues of whether European countries’ Muslim populations would be integrated on “western” terms became increasingly salient. My hope is that the original conceptual framework and approach introduced in this book, first developed for the analytic purpose of clarifying comparisons of ideas of political membership across space and over time, may now also prove constructive as a partial counterweight to the understandable but often unfortunately inflammatory tendency for discussion of such issues to take on a far more polemical cast. The tools of ordinary language analysis employed in this book are by nature tools of cultural self-reflection. They thus reveal the part that our own unresolved conceptual confusions play in shaping crises arising from encounters with those experienced as “troubling others.”

Most of Parts II and III trace the interaction between policy debate and . . .

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