François G. Richard is Associate Professor of Anthropology and in the College, who joined the UofC in 2007. He is a historical anthropologist and historical archaeologist, with primary interests in questions of French imperialism, colonial power, materiality, political landscapes, and peasant societies, in West Africa and Latin America. His original research focused on the political experiences of rural communities in the Siin province of Senegal, as the region was reshaped by processes of state-making, the Atlantic economy, and colonial capitalism. This early work has been the object of a number of articles and book chapters, two edited volumes (Ethnic Ambiguity in the African Past, Materializing Colonial Encounters), and a forthcoming book (Spring 2018) titled Reluctant Landscapes: Historical Anthropologies of Political Experience in Siin, Senegal. His current interests continue to lie in the relationships between peasantries and colonialism, but in a broader geography of French imperialism and political identity. His new project examines the material histories of French farmers in Mexico, focusing on the communities of Jicaltepec and San Rafael in the state of Veracruz, and their legacies in the present. My broader objective is to study 1) the historical construction of French identities at the periphery of empire (e.g. how ‘being French’ was felt and imagined outside of metropolitan France), 2) the politics of Frenchness in contemporary Mexico, and 3) the role that objects, architectures, and landscapes have played in the making of different histories of Frenchness – and what lessons they bring to conversations about identity and nation in today’s France.
Politics of the Past & Material Expressions of Frenchness in the Municipio of San Rafael, Veracruz, Mexico
The proposed fieldwork is part of a multi-year, interdisciplinary investigation of the material dimensions of the French colonial presence in the municipio of San Rafael, Veracruz, Mexico, and its legacies in the present. Through the combined lens of archaeology, history, ethnography, and heritage studies, it questions assumptions surrounding the history of French migrants in the region and their integration into the political-cultural space of Mexico. Of particular concern is the way in which ‘Frenchness’ has been ‘exceptionalized’ in the past, and deployed in the present to justify forms of discrimination and political domination by the descendants of French families, especially toward people of indigenous descent. My hypothesis is that these narratives camouflage a complex history, which can critically inform political debates in the present. I also contend that the material world – the domain of architecture, space, and objects – holds acute pertinence about how Frenchness has been constructed and misused in San Rafael.
One key objective is that this fieldwork, and the broader project, will spark critical reflections about regional history. Another is that they will articulate with current conversations about multiculturalism in France, by offering empirical evidence of the plasticity of French identity, as a time when reactionary forces want to reclaim ‘Frenchness’ as an immutable essence endangered by cultural diversity.