About the Book
Between 1865 and 1872 widespread death and disease unfolded amid the most severe ecological disaster in modern North African history: a plague of locusts destroyed crops during a disastrous drought that left many Algerians landless and starving. The famine induced migration that concentrated vulnerable people in unsanitary camps where typhus and cholera ran rampant. Before the rains returned and harvests normalized, some eight hundred thousand Algerians had died.
In Ecologies of Imperialism in Algeria Brock Cutler explores how repeated ecosocial divisions across an expansive ecosystem produced modern imperialism in nineteenth-century Algeria. Massive ecological crises—cultural as well as natural—cleaved communities from their homes, individuals from those communities, and society from its typical ecological relations. At the same time, the relentless, albeit slow-moving crises of ongoing settler colonialism and extractive imperial capitalism cleaved Algeria to France in a new way. Ecosocial divisions became apparent in performances of imperial power: officials along the Algerian-Tunisian border compulsively repeated narratives of “transgression” that over decades made the division real; a case of poisoned bread tied settlers in Algiers to Paris; Morocco-Algeria border violence exposed the exceptional nature of imperial sovereignty; a case of vagabondage in Oran evoked colonial gender binaries. In each case, factors in the broader ecosystem were implicated in performances of social division, separating political entities from each other, human from nature, rational from irrational, and women from men. Although these performances take place in the nineteenth-century Maghrib, the process they describe goes beyond those spatial and temporal limits—across the field of modern imperialism to the present day.
“Theoretically sophisticated and written with startling clarity, Brock Cutler’s Ecologies of Imperialism in Algeria examines the history of French Empire and the performance of modernity in North Africa as stories of the flux and interplay of diverse human actors and nonhuman elements within transnational ecosystems and Maghrebian microclimates. An important book and a great read!”—Spencer Segalla, author of Empire and Catastrophe: Decolonization and Environmental Disaster in North Africa and Mediterranean France since 1954
“Ecologies of Imperialism in Algeria provides insight into a critical period of the French colonial occupation of Algeria. It offers a nuanced and comprehensive examination of Algeria’s 1860s environmental crisis years, and it engages themes of labor and colonial identity in interesting and novel ways.”—Andrea E. Duffy, author of Nomad’s Land: Pastoralism and French Environmental Policy in the Nineteenth-Century Mediterranean World