In the familiar tale of mass migration to France from 1880 onwards, we know very little about the hundreds of thousands of women who formed a critical part of those migration waves. In Reproductive Citizens, Nimisha Barton argues that their relative occlusion in the historical record hints at a larger and more problematic oversight: the role of sex and gender in shaping the experiences of migrants to France before the Second World War.
Barton's compelling history of social citizenship demonstrates how, through the routine application of social policies, state and social actors worked separately towards a shared goal: repopulating France with immigrant families. Filled with voices gleaned from census reports, municipal statistics, naturalization dossiers, court cases, police files, and social worker registers, Reproductive Citizens shows how France welcomed foreign-born men and women, mobilizing naturalization, family law, social policy, and welfare assistance to ensure they would procreate, bearing French-assimilated children. Immigrants often agreed to this bargain because they, too, stood to gain from pensions, family allowances, unemployment benefits, and French nationality. By striking this bargain, they were also guaranteed safety and stability on a tumultuous continent.
Barton concludes that, in return for generous social provisions and refuge in dark times, immigrants joined the French nation through marriage and reproduction, breadwinning and child-rearing—in short, through families and family-making—which made them more French than even formal citizenship status could.
Nimisha Barton serves as the Director of Equity and Inclusion at an independent school in Los Angeles as well as a diversity and inclusion consultant for institutions of higher education. She has published her research in French Politics, Culture and Society and the Journal of Women's History. She has also received awards and fellowships from the George Lurcy Charitable Foundation, the Andrew Mellon Foundation, the Society for French Historical Studies, and the Western Society for French History. Follow her on Twitter @NimishaBarton.
Minayo Nasiali, UCLA, author of
Native to the Republic:
"In this clearly written and innovative study, Nimisha Barton illuminates how newcomers to metropolitan France deftly navigated welfare institutions. Highlighting the voices of ordinary women and men, Reproductive Citizens provides a fresh and welcome analysis of gender, welfare, and interwar pronatalism."
Clifford Rosenberg, City College and the Graduate Center, CUNY, author of Policing Paris:
"Reproductive Citizens is a wonderful book; its depth of research is particularly impressive. Barton breaks new ground on the relationship between gender and immigrant assimilation and highlights important implications for the controversy over the Third Republic's relationship to Vichy."