Historical Narrative and the Intentions of the Actors. A Reply to François Buton

By Raphaëlle Branche

The reply offers to go back over three issues: sources, intentionality of the actors and tension between plausibility and truth. Writing colonial Algeria's history is to confront oneself with the inequality of the traces conserved depending on different places and periods. The population in the region of Palestro is still mainly rural and sources are either oral (based on a small number of indigenous notables) or administrative. The crisis context enables us to understand that, from a French viewpoint, collective imagination had the tendency to focus on memories and images which associated this place to the violence of the indigenous population. The issue of individual intention here seems not only out of reach through sources but also of little pertinence in the chosen analytical context which focuses on groups and collective identities. Although the colonial context is structuring for the actors as a whole, the autonomy of the villagers is to be found in their manner of positioning themselves on the construction of a collective identity over which the FLN claims to exert an exclusive control. No simple causal link is offered to explain the mutilations: the event remains fortuitous and identifying the transmission of a violent past with some individuals does not allow saying whether all have acted according to that past.

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