“At Home in Empire: Dwelling, Domesticity, and Welfare in France and Senegal, 1914-1974”
Gregory Valdespino, PhD Candidate in History, University of Chicago
Discussant: Gregory Mann, Professor of History, Columbia University
When, where, and why has certain West African groups’ capacity to feel at home fueled political and social debates in France and Senegal during the 20th century? This introduction begins answering this question by arguing that a new political framework came to structure the expectations many West African communities had towards the French colonial state and its postcolonial successors during this period. I call this framework the politics of dwelling. This introduction uses the politics of dwelling to explain how certain West African actors responded to the changes to their intimate lives caused by migratory, political, and economic transformations between the outbreak of World War I and the limitations put on labor migration by the French state in 1974 by trying to get the state to support for their domestic well-being. I examine how official efforts to manage military barracks in World War I Dakar or Senegambian migrants’ protests for better living conditions in postwar Paris all linked state legitimacy, or its absence, to its ability to support certain West African groups’ ability to live lives they deemed comfortable. With this approach, I push the study of imperialism and domesticity away from an exclusive focus on state impositions or subaltern resistance. Rather, I examine how disparate West African and French actors ended up using residential spaces to reconceptualize the substantive meanings of governance in the 20th century.
Gregory Valdespino is a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Chicago, currently on a Mellon Foundation/Social Sciences Dissertation-Year Fellowship. His research focuses on the relationship between domesticity, migration, and welfare in Senegal, France, and across the French Empire. His dissertation, entitled “At Home in Empire: Dwelling, Domesticity, and Welfare in France and Senegal, 1914-1974” examines political projects related to housing and sheltering certain West African communities in France and Senegal during the 20th century to argue that providing domestic material support became key to defining state legitimacy, or its absence, during this period. His work has been supported by the Committee on African Studies at the University of Chicago and the Georges Lurcy Charitable and Educational Trust.