The French Melting Pot: Immigration, Citizenship, and National Identity

In This Review

The French Melting Pot: Immigration, Citizenship, and National Identity

By Gerard Noiriel
University of Minnesota Press, 1996
325 pp. $57.95
Purchase

Noiriel is the leading French social scientist dealing with immigration in France. His criticism is particularly acute on the "canonical" French writings (such as those of Fernand Braudel), that leave little room for immigrants in their discussions of French identity. He examines the communities of immigrants that have formed and merged with the previously established French, and shows that practically every new wave of migrants -- from Italy at the end of the 19th century, Poland between the wars, North Africa since the 1960s -- has met with the same prejudices and pessimistic evaluations of its "assimilability." His remarks on immigrants' economic contributions are equally provocative, and he often contrasts the richness of American writings on the melting pot with the poverty of French literature on the subject of immigration, despite the importance of immigration in the formation of the French nation. There have been many other studies of these issues since 1988, when the book was published in France, but Noiriel's was one of the first and remains the work with which anyone interested in the subject should begin. The eight-year delay between the French and American editions is incomprehensible.