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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

This is not the latest submitted version.

This Submission thread is now published as Mig. Pol. 1, 003 (2022)

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:
Has been resubmitted

Reports on this Submission

Anonymous Report 3 on 2021-8-31 (Invited Report)

  • Cite as: Anonymous, Report on arXiv:scipost_202106_00012v1, delivered 2021-08-31, doi: 10.21468/SciPost.Report.3549


Overall, this is a conceptually and empirically rich paper and I really enjoyed reading it. I was especially excited by the depth of the analysis and the way the authors frame how authorities have reinforced racial boundaries rather than encouraging inclusion.

Historical sources are very rich and the authors are very effective in coping with both description and explanation.

And the paper is very well written, even if English style may be improved to avoid a French structure to sentences. 

That said, there is some work still to be done to bring so much material together in a cohesive manner. 

My comments and suggestions are just to help the authors to improve their argument and better prove their main results.

Concerning the abstract: your beautiful paper deserves a better abstract. Your current abstract is not attractive. I suggest rewriting it and clearly state your theoretical framework, your sources, archive, main results, the gap in the literature you are able to fill. At the moment, is too generic, just pointing the topic, and not your main discoveries and results, and why it is new for the literature on housing and assimilation.

Same concerning the main argument, related to the title of your paper: you point to the relation between domestic and urban space. It is a pity that you develop much more the production of domestic space in housing African migrants, while concerning the production of urban space you just relate to segregation. Maybe you can develop in a deeper way using your archive sources.

Concerning sterilized assimilation: you miss a precise definition. Due to the fact that you too frequently relate to the current debate, you tend to avoid defining what was “assimilation” like in the Sixties. Also you may better relate the adjective “sterilized” to its intellectual frame.

There is probably a point related to trust and distrust of French authorities that could be better developed. Probably you can mobilise classic work by Weber and Schluchter. Trust conceptualized in a Weberian manner, is strictly related to conventional forms of link between individuals, procedures, and institutions. Trust in migrants and their family-making practices is not structured by impersonality or regulation, but by the lacking of proof of recognition.
I am convinced of the relationship between housing authorities and the regulation of inter-racialized intimacies. It is certainly an important analytical point and one that leads to results. Would not be the case for you also to insist on this point in the introduction, instead of introducing current debates in French political contention?
Please add a table with sources and archive information.

Page 12 line, you may better develop why temporary housing and cite de transit had a repressive character.

Page 14: seems here you do not refer and quote the important results from Nonna Mayer on Islamophobia and anti-Muslims prejudice in France in the long run, concerning the enduring dynamics of strong prejudice against Muslims in French society.

Page 15, are you sure of using “type of inclusion” to talk about mechanisms reinforcing racial boundaries?

Page 10 and following. Could be useful to remember that in the sociology of institution and state agencies there is a principle of symmetry so that we study both what is done and what is not done (or avoided) and not only what is done. See King & Le Galès for Oxford University Press 2017, and in particular the chapters 18 and ch. 22 on assimilation and security, related to your argument).

Page 13: why do you talk about “crafting racial balance”? If you say that racial boundaries are based on segregation and concentration, could you better explain what is the role of balancing in the producing of sterilized assimilation? Maybe you can be more precise on the effect of this strategy?

With regard to the historical relation between police and migrant working class, it seems to me that it is important for your work to examine Policing the Banlieues, by Fabien Jobard, in Policing in France ISBN9780429026928

Overall, this is an important subject and could become an excellent article, but the current version would benefit some more clarity and much elaboration in dealing with the powerful linkage between the theoretical and the empirical parts of the research. 

Overall, I thought this is an important, deep, and generative article and I hope the above comments are helpful to the authors.

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

  • Cite as: Anonymous, Report on arXiv:scipost_202106_00012v1, delivered 2021-07-23, doi: 10.21468/SciPost.Report.3285


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)

  • Cite as: Anonymous, Report on arXiv:scipost_202106_00012v1, delivered 2021-07-16, doi: 10.21468/SciPost.Report.3286


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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