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‘Sterilized assimilation’: the production of domestic and urban space in housing north African migrants in post-colonial France

by Rébecca Suzanne Franco

Submission summary

As Contributors: Rébecca Franco
Preprint link: scipost_202106_00012v1
Date submitted: 2021-06-09 10:11
Submitted by: Franco, Rébecca
Submitted to: Migration Politics
Academic field: Political Science
  • Migration Politics


Authorities use policies on segregation and social mixture to manage and control racialized populations within urban space. This perpetuates, creates, and contests racial boundaries. Building upon feminist scholarship on gender, intimacy, and colonialism, this paper is looks at the production of the domestic space together with the production of urban space in order to shed light on the construction of racial boundaries. I explore how the housing policies that targeted the North African mi-grant population in the 1960s and 1970s were based on and perpetuated racialized difference of these migrants all the while promising assimilation. By tracing fragmented logics on (inter)racialization within the archive, I pay specific attention to the ways in which the housing policies managed and dealt with ‘interracialized’ households and intimacies. I argue that the authorities developed policies that aimed at ‘sterilized assimilation’. This encouraged social mixture of certain North African families in urban space, while negating and preventing interracialization within the domestic space – that is: interracialized households and intimacies. This history helps explain how the contemporary encouragement of social mixture in urban space coexists with marginalization and segregation

Current status:
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Submission & Refereeing History

Reports on this Submission

Anonymous Report 1 on 2021-7-23 (Invited Report)


I was generally impressed with this manuscript. The author discusses the colonial continuum as represented in housing policies targeting North Africa migrants after decolonization, thereby focusing on the domestic sphere as a site for assimilation. Through archival research, the author tracks how migrant families were designated assimilable or not. I appreciate the incorporation of “interracialization” as a way to make sense of the racialization in the domestic sphere. I would suggest augmenting this intervention by discussing exactly how it contributes to extant scholarship, particularly re racialization in France. The author also details how the state manage and controls race and gender boundaries, and how assimilation is constructed along racial and gendered lines. Regarding the role of gender in discourses on assimilation, I would suggest consulting Nimisha Barton’s book, Reproductive Citizens. I would also suggest making the arguments in this paper more strongly, for example by stating how housing policies are an example of racial project (Omi and Winant 1994) in a seemingly non-racial society. I also wanted more specificity regarding the archival analysis procedure. I like that the author emphasizes the archives both as objects of knowledge and the importance of reading along the archival grain, but that also made me curious about exactly the analytical procedures the author used.

In terms of writing style, etc., I would suggest structuring the article around a particular argument and making clearer the intervention into extant literature. To this end, I think the least convincing element of this article is the term “sterilized assimilation.” It actually does not feature in the manuscript as much as the title and abstract might suggest, and as written, it does not add much substantively to the manuscript. As a concept, “sterilized assimilation” is not really explained or developed (and I would more generally argue that assimilation is in general more about exclusion rather than inclusion, so as written, it’s unclear what how this understanding of assimilation is different). Towards the end of the article, the author references the contradiction of social mixite with marginalization and segregation, but really this is not a contradiction, especially in the context of France. I would suggest making the point a bit more strongly – that race becomes activated or salient in the same between the two.

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Anonymous Report 2 on 2021-7-16 (Invited Report)


The article continues the exploration of a central ambivalence in French housing policies: while claiming to promote integration and social mix, they actually reinforce segregation. Even more importantly, far from being color-blind, they rest on and create racial boundaries. The goal of the author is to add an element to the significant set of works that have brought into light this phenomenon and its evolution from colonial rule in Algeria to contemporary urban policies promoting “mixité sociale”. Focusing on housing policies in the 1960s and 1970s, the author argues that not only do they shape urban space, but they have an impact on the domestic sphere. More generally, referring to the colonial project which, at the same time, built housing and crafted domesticity, s/he calls for a perspective that take into account the private and the public to fully understand the issues and outcomes of these policies.

This perspective is undoubtedly valuable and extremely stimulating.
The author develops an argument based on a solid bibliography, studies on housing and urban policies as well as on colonial history.

The article is very well written, clear, fluid, rigorous.

My reservation comes from the development of the argumentation that, in my view, brings together heterogenous points: the representation of migrants as single men, their exclusion from the French community and their relegation in “foyers de travailleurs migrants” form one and compelling argument; then the author addresses the issue of gender and explains how women have been the main targets of assimilation policies; the most novel point is the administration of interracialized couples and how it prevents “interracialized intimacies”; section 5 about cités de transit and the combination of segregation and distribution (through “seuil de tolerance”) provides less original results.
In sum, although the author claims to make a significant contribution, and even coins a new notion (“sterilized assimilation”), s/he could be clearer about what is really original and what is built on existing research.

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