How to Be French: Nationality in the Making Since 1789

In This Review

How to Be French: Nationality in the Making Since 1789
By Patrick Weil. Translated by Catherine Porter
Duke University Press, 2008
456 pp. $24.95
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Weil, a senior research fellow at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, in Paris, has produced a remarkably comprehensive study of the controversial issue of nationality in France. He takes issue with the common but overly simplified notion that French immigration laws -- based on the principle of jus soli (citizenship based on place of birth) -- reflect the country's open concept of the nation in contrast to other, more closed or even racist societies. By putting the issue in a historical context and examining the evolution of French laws and practices, he demonstrates that French nationality is more legally and politically complicated than most observers realize. Drawing on years of archival research and service on high-level French commissions on integration and secularism, Weil shows how immigration and emigration patterns, as well as the degree to which a state's borders are secure and permanent, have affected approaches to nationality in France and elsewhere. How to Be French will by no means end the debate between those who seek to link nationality to ethnicity and parentage and those who emphasize birthplace, residence, and choice. But it does inform that debate as no previous work has.