Making Space


Making Space

Neighbors, Officials, and North African Migrants in the Suburbs of Paris and Lyon

Melissa K. Byrnes

France Overseas: Studies in Empire and Decolonization Series

354 pages
5 photographs, 3 illustrations, 2 maps, 6 tables, index


January 2024


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January 2024


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January 2024


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January 2024


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About the Book

Since the 2005 urban protests in France, public debate has often centered on questions of how the country has managed its relationship with its North African citizens and residents. In Making Space Melissa K. Byrnes considers how four French suburbs near Paris and Lyon reacted to rapidly growing populations of North Africans, especially Algerians before, during, and after the Algerian War. In particular, Byrnes investigates what motivated local actors such as municipal officials, regional authorities, employers, and others to become involved in debates over migrants’ rights and welfare, and the wide variety of strategies community leaders developed in response to the migrants’ presence. An examination of the ways local policies and attitudes formed and re-formed communities offers a deeper understanding of the decisions that led to the current tensions in French society and questions about France’s ability—and will—to fulfill the promise of liberty, equality, and fraternity for all of its citizens. Byrnes uses local experiences to contradict a version of French migration history that reads the urban unrest of recent years as preordained.

Author Bio

Melissa K. Byrnes is a professor of modern European and world history at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas.


Making Space is a nuanced, deeply researched, and highly original account of how French modernization projects, migration policy, and local politics interacted in the era of decolonization. Melissa Byrnes carefully compares four distinct suburban municipalities to demonstrate the connections between urban renewal and the treatment of North African migrants, powerfully exposing the imperialist and racist blind spots of a supposedly colorblind French Republic, while at the same time demonstrating that local politics of social solidarity matter.”—Mary D. Lewis, Robert Walton Goelet Professor of French History at Harvard University

“In this well-crafted book Melissa Byrnes marshals an array of archival materials to examine four suburban communities near Paris and Lyon during long decolonization—in the final decades of French colonial rule and the decades following the collapse of the empire. In so doing she reveals white local officials’ complex and evolving efforts to make and deny space for citizens of North African descent. Moreover, Byrnes shows us that there are alternative French identities and eviscerates mythologies that France has a unified, universal, singular, white national identity.”—Amelia H. Lyons, author of The Civilizing Mission in the Metropole: Algerian Families and the French Welfare State during Decolonization

“Byrnes’s meticulously researched and thoughtfully written text addresses pertinent questions of migration through a focus on the local. How was migrant ‘integration’ experienced at a local level, and how did white French actors manage it? Byrnes demonstrates how migration is not just a question of nation-state policies and practices but rather a deeply local and microlevel phenomenon. By focusing on North African migrants to France she deftly contributes to unpacking how racism and Republicanism structures what it actually can mean to be French.”—Jean Beaman, author of Citizen Outsider: Children of North African Immigrants in France

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
List of Tables
List of Abbreviations and French Terms
Introduction: A View from the Field
Chapter 1. The Mission to Modernize
Chapter 2. Politics
Chapter 3. In Defense of Empire
Chapter 4. Anti-Imperialism
Chapter 5. Profit
Chapter 6. Solidarity

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