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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 2 .


Discourses of Antiracism in France: Research in Ethnic Relations Series
C Lloyd

(Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998)
277pp. Bibl. Hb.: 39.95; ISBN 1-84014-345-2.



Lloyd argues that France has an antiracist tradition which is longer established than in most other countries; the Ligue des Droits de l'Homme was established in 1898, the Ligue Contre l'Anitsemitism et le Racisme in 1928. France has often prided itself on the inclusive Enlightenment sentiments expressed in the Revolution. Lloyd points out that Jews were emancipated in France in 1791 and slavery ended in 1794. More recently Presidents have expressed the belief that France is inherently antiracist since all residents share a broader French identity, beneath which racial or ethnic identity is subsumed. Following victory in the 1998 World Cup football finals President Chirac boasted that the success of the multi-ethnic team was proof of the country's strong multicultural society.

In contrast, of course, is substantial evidence of racism, fascism and antisemitism in French society, many instances of which are discussed by Lloyd. From the Dreyfus affair at the end of the 19th century through to the relative success of the Front National, contemporary French history provides more than enough evidence to indicate that problems of racism remain.

Lloyd's book offers a fascinating critical examination of the nature of antiracism in a society which, it appears, is frequently prone to assure itself of its liberal credentials at the expense of denying problems of racism, antisemitism and xenophobia which clearly do exist. The centrality of antiracism to certain discourses relating to the French Revolution and the Enlightenment are explored and Lloyd suggests that attempts to characterise antiracism as fundamental to the republican ideal began to flounder in the 1960s. Those engaged in antiracist campaigning in the immediate post Second World War period found themselves pulled between a position that claimed French tradition embodied humanitarian and emancipatory ideals while simultaneously recognising the continuing legacy of racism. Racism directed at migrants living in France resurfaced during the Algerian War and served to quash post-war optimism that fascism and intolerance were defeated.

This book provides an absorbing and thorough discussion of the development of antiracism in France, which charts how opposition to discrimination has evolved in the post-1945 period, examines those whose experiences racism have been represented in antiracist movements, considers how notions of 'solidarity' have informed antiracism, and argues that antiracism amounts to a hegemonic project in France. It is discussion of this latter point that provides the central argument of Lloyd's book. She suggests that antiracism has been taken for granted in conceptual terms, and considered simply as opposition to racism. Antiracism is rarely taken as a positive movement in its own terms and has tended to remain negatively defined in terms of what it opposes. Against a growing emphasis on the plurality of racisms and notions of racialisation as diffuse social processes containing internally contradictory and incoherent elements, simplistic definitions of antiracism become increasingly untenable. Lloyd's (1998: 4) insistence that 'far from being simply an organised opposition to racism, antiracism expressed an alternative social project, a different conception of society' develops a more challenging and profound political agenda. At the heart of this hegemonic approach to antiracism, Lloyd argues, must be social justice and equality and the development of broadly based alliances at local, national and European levels. Towards the end of her book Lloyd (1998: 247) observes that 'antiracism is a largely un-investigated subject'. Her empirical account of the development of antiracist movements in France and critical examination of the conceptual vacuum that has often been at their heart provides a very good basis from which this omission can begin to be rectified.


Michael Rowe
University of Leicester




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