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Research Seminars



Sarah Ghabrial
Columbia University in the City of New York Colonial Law, the Muslim "Family," and Women’s Litigation in Algeria, 1870-1930


20 April 2017

4:30 p.m.
4.36 Run Run Shaw Tower, Centennial Campus



Beginning in the 1870s, the French colonial state in Algeria undertook a dramatic experiment in the administration of Islamic law and the management of religious difference. Colonial reformers attempted to construct a civil legal system that would promote the hegemony of French republican principles without disrupting the integrity of shari`a (Islamic law) and, concurrently, the legal segregation of the indigenous Muslim population. While the colonial courtroom was a key site for the surveillance and production of Muslim legal subjects, these same subjects were not passive recipients of "reform" but rather navigated the colonial legal apparatus in ways that imprinted their influence upon colonial law and its archives. Algerian women litigants, in particular, developed strategies around the fissures and ambiguities of the pluralist-segregationist legal system, and took advantage of the various forums, discourses, and experts to which they now had access. Their appeals to higher courts became a crucial source of colonial law, and in this this way, I argue, they catalyzed reforms "from below." These confirmations and subversions then informed colonial legal knowledge and practice about women, gender, and Islam.


Using Algerian judicial records, and gender and social historical approaches, this paper uncovers this forgotten chapter in Islamic, French, and transnational legal history, and reveals the crucial though unappreciated role that Algerian women played in the processes of colonial law. In bringing these dynamics to light, this research helps to clarify on-going, trenchant debates on pluralism, citizenship, and gender orders in both Europe and the Muslim World.


All are welcome. No registration is required.