Cover image for Uncivil war : intellectuals and identity politics during the decolonization of Algeria
Uncivil war : intellectuals and identity politics during the decolonization of Algeria
Le Sueur, James D.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Philadelphia : University of Pennsylvania Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
x, 342 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HM728 .L4 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Uncivil War is a provocative study of the intellectuals who confronted the loss of France's most prized overseas possession, colonial Algeria. Tracing the intellectual history of one of the most violent wars of European decolonization, James D. Le Sueur illustrates how such key figures as Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Germaine Tillion, Jacques Soustelle, Raymond Aron, Claude Levi-Strauss, Albert Memmi, Frantz Fanon, Mouloud Feraoun, Jean Amrouche, and Pierre Bourdieu agonized over the "Algerian question."

As Le Sueur argues, these and other individuals forged new notions of the nation and nationalism, giving rise to a politics of identity that continues to influence debate around the world. Indeed, the French-Algerian War occupies a seminal place in colonial and contemporary history.

How did these varied intellectuals--many of whom had been influential in either shaping or critiquing the ideology of colonial enterprise--reconstruct French national identity during decolonization? How was Algerian national identity also reconceptualized, in both intellectual and political circles, French and Algerian, on both right and left? How was the colonial notion of French universalism debated and, by many, invalidated? What has the politically charged concept of "the Other" to do with Algeria's decolonization? Le Sueur turns to a wide array of public archives, previously unstudied private collections, interviews, and published works to examine the dynamism of these inquiries. He investigates Franco-Muslim relations from reconciliation to rupture, a transition resulting from the rise of anticolonialism, political radicalism, military extremism, and Algerian nationalism, as well as the looming threat of civil war in France. As Le Sueur reveals, it was incumbent upon the intellectuals of the day to respond to these crises in the public arena. Whether to celebrate decolonization or decry it as a turning point in French and North African history, intellectuals engaged fully in identity debates and, in so doing, attended to a variety of political, social, moral, and even their own professional concerns.

An interdisciplinary work of the first order, Uncivil War combines anthropology, history, critical theory, and postcolonial studies in an intimate look at a pivotal and highly contested moment in modern history.

Author Notes

James D. Le Sueur teaches history at the University of Nebraska.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Le Sueur (Nebraska) covers the period 1954-62 in Algeria when the French military and Algerian nationalists fought one of the bloodiest wars of independence of the 20th century. The primary focus is on the relationship of intellectual communities in France and Algeria to the war and on the identity politics generated by decolonization. Much of the material used is presented for the first time, according to the author, who seeks to unravel the strict state control of material relating to the war, which, he argues, was a crucible for intellectuals and has remained a critical dimension of the ongoing debates in France and Algeria, hence the validity of the study. Critics have called the presentation forceful, well argued, and "superbly researched," deriving from archival sources and personal interviews, and it is hailed as an interdisciplinary study of the first order. The chapter on Camus alone is worth the price of the book. In addition to Camus, such notables as Jacques Soustelle, Raymond Aron, Frantz Fannon, and a number of other notables were among those who agonized over the Algerian question. General and upper-division undergraduate collections and above. C. E. Farah University of Minnesota