, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp 75-90

Urban space in the French imperial past and the postcolonial present

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The essay begins with a discussion of some of the parallel forms of imagining urban space found in colonial French and postcolonial Franco-Vietnamese cultural expression. In both cases cities are perceived as dynamic sites of creative exchange and mutual enrichment between the former imperial center and periphery. We also find similar sentiments of regret and longing for an authentic “indigenous” space uncorrupted by Western intervention. The second part looks comparatively at how contemporary Franco-Algerian and Franco-Vietnamese cultural actors depict urban space in the postcolonial present. Here we see that aside from important socioeconomic differences and the more distant and largely absent memory of the French war in Indochina, military conflicts rooted in the colonial past continue to exert a powerful influence on the imagining of urban space. In the case of Franco-Algerians it is the legacy of the Algerian war that pits Algerian-youth against French authorities in urban periphery. For Franco-Vietnamese the memory of the Vietnam War continues to divide the Vietnamese community internally into pro and anti-Hanoi camps within the center of the French capital.