‘Working Through' Slavery: The Limits of Shared Memories in Contemporary France

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Abstract

This article questions what it means to create a shared and national memory of slavery in contemporary France following a long period of state amnesia. Beginning with the first Taubira law (10 May 2001), which named slavery and the slave trade as crimes against humanity, it considers the position assumed by the state as it tentatively confronts France's history of slavery at both national and regional levels. LaCapra's theory of 'working through' the traumatic past serves as a model for evaluating whether or not the state is engaging in genuine memory work. If the location of a consensual and republican framework for remembering slavery has resulted in the state's privileging of the abolitionist view, to what extent has that tendency been reflected at local levels in France's former slave ports of Nantes and Bordeaux? A comparison of the recent state-led memorial initiatives at these two key sites enables a deeper reflection on the absence of national sites of memory, while questioning the desirability of creating a 'shared' and national memory bounded by republican discourse and politics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17–39
Number of pages24
JournalIrish Journal of French Studies
Volume13
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Keywords

  • slavery
  • French politics
  • Politics and Government
  • memory studies
  • commemoration
  • bordeaux
  • nantes
  • Republicanism
  • Taubira law

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