For decades, historians have argued that late colonial development in Algeria was a failure in that it did not prevent the creation of an independent Algerian nation-state in 1962. This was not the first time that the imagination of colonial development was rooted in an image of failure. The French planners and politicians who attempted to implement the Constantine Plan in the late 1950s identified a precise reason why their attempts to introduce a market society in Algeria had been unsuccessful: the inability of Muslim Algerians to adopt the values of productivity and calculation. An insistence on the failure of the Constantine Plan (1958) has obscured the fact that economic reforms sought to introduce a form of social engineering and reproduced long-standing tropes regarding Islam. Rather than propagating the myth of failure, Davis argues that debates on economic reform allowed the colonial state to propagate a distinction between homo Islamicus and homo economicus. These two tropes structured understandings of racial difference and shaped late colonial – and post-colonial – attempts at economic and social development in Algeria. The alleged failure of the Constantine Plan thus reveals the particular “racial regime of religion” that was constructed through colonial rule in Algeria and elucidates the resulting tensions between Algerian nationalism and pan-Arabism that emerged after independence.
Muriam Haleh Davis is an Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her recent book, Markets of Civilization: Islam and Racial Capitalism in Algeria, was published by Duke University Press in September 2022. She also co-edited North Africa and the Making of Europe: Governance, Institutions, and Culture, which was published by Bloomsbury Press in 2018. Her academic writing has been published in the Journal of Modern Intellectual History, Middle East Critique, the Journal of Contemporary History, Lateral, and 20 et 21: Revue d'histoire. She has also authored pieces for the Los Angeles Review of Books, Al Jazeera English, Public Books, and Truth Out. She is co-chair of the editorial board for MERIP (Middle East Research and Information Project) and works with the Maghreb Page for Jadaliyya.
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