Theses Doctoral

Maneuvering at the Margins: Women’s Emancipation, the Global Anticolonial Struggle, and the Revolutionary Periodical in Algeria

Mo, Sophia

This dissertation is a philological study of transnational revolutionary print culture in French and Arabic during Algeria’s War for Independence (1954-1962) and its first post-independence regime (1962-1965). Investigating the ways in which women have been written into historical narratives, it is also a feminist historiography. During this era of global decolonization, the Front de libération nationale (FLN)—Algeria’s vanguard revolutionary party—integrated itself into a global coalition of revolutionary movements that provided mutual material and ideological support and self-identified as part of the Third World. While female freedom fighters (mujāhidāt) attained widespread fame as global symbols of anticolonialism, their intellectual work as intermediaries in constructing national and transnational anticolonial culture remains understudied.

This dissertation analyzes the mujāhidāt’s discursive interventions in the project of liberating women, the nation, and the wider colonized world. In doing so, it challenges the masculinist and institutionalist biases prevalent in international relations, a field that has predominantly considered men as global political leaders and privileged government documents and official diplomatic correspondence as source material. Among the varied writings that I examine, two mouthpieces of the FLN take center stage: El Moudjahid (est. 1956) and Révolution africaine (est. 1963). My study of the mujāhidāt’s participation in the construction of national and transnational anticolonial culture consists not only of close readings of their writings in nationalist publications, but also a more holistic analysis of the worlds that these periodicals sought to project an image of via references to and excerpts of literature, film, theoretical texts, interviews, and testimonies.

While each mujāhida’s contribution to national and transnational community-building varied, the central argument of my dissertation is that despite working in a patriarchal political and publishing environment, the mujāhidāt were able to express themselves by maneuvering at the margins. That is, they deployed a diversity of rhetorical tactics that subtly contested the premises of the system in which they operated, thus exercising power from a seeming position of weakness.

While articles authored by the mujāhidāt are a major part of my corpus, I also read more holistically for gendered discourses of liberation in the print and visual culture of the 1950s and 60s. To contextualize the gendered expectations under which they had to write, Chapter One opens with an analysis of “Algeria’s personality” as it was articulated in nationalist texts, with the concept of “family honor” being an essential part of this personality. Chapter Two examines in literature and films that were commonly referenced by nationalist periodicals another key component of this personality: “authenticity,” and more specifically its expression as feminine revolution authenticity. Investigating how mujāhidāt writers navigated such expectations of authenticity, Chapter Three demonstrates how they promoted their own repertoire of female revolutionary icons in nationalist periodicals, especially the figure of the uneducated but radicalized mother as a bastion of cultural authenticity.

Finally, Chapter Four reflects on disjunctures in nation-building narratives during Algeria’s post-independence regime. Examining the FLN’s world-building project of cultural diplomacy and national edification primarily via its periodical Révolution africaine, it examines the mujāhidāt’s modalities of intervention in the cultural debates at the intersection between women’s emancipation and the global anticolonial struggle.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
French and Romance Philology
Thesis Advisors
Dobie, Madeleine L.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 26, 2023