Aga Khan Program Lecture: Samia Henni, “Designing for the ‘milieu féminin’: France’s Attempts to Keep Algerian Women Away from Islamic Customs”

Semi-urban dwellings published in a brochure by the Housing Service of the General Delegation of the French Government in Algeria

Semi-urban dwellings published in a brochure by the Housing Service of the General Delegation of the French Government in Algeria © Archives d’histoire contemporaine, Centre d’histoire de Sciences Po, Collection Paul Delouvrier and Jean Vaujour: 1 DV 34.

During the Algerian Revolution (1954–1962), the French colonial regime designed and implemented a number of civil and military measures to keep Algeria under French colonial rule, which had begun in 1830. The French authorities considered Algerian women as the cornerstone of Algerian customs and Muslim family values, and therefore, as possible agents for influencing Algerian men and subverting the Algerian Revolution. The French regime called Algerian women the femmes musulmanes (Muslim women), or the milieu féminin (female milieu), and designed for them specific housing units in order to intervene on their behaviors and beliefs. Moreover, French women were instrumentally used to “discipline” Algerian women and enforce “French” models of living and thinking. This talk intends to disclose some aspects of these civil-military practices and expose the ways through which the French colonial authorities attempted to inscribe these operations within France’s mask of the mission civilisatrice (civilizing mission) and keep Algerian women away from Islamic customs.

Samia Henni was born in Algiers, Algeria. She is an architect and an architectural historian and theorist who works at the intersection of architecture, planning, colonial practices, and military operations from the early 19th century up to the present days. Her book Architecture of Counterrevolution: The French Army in Northern Algeria (Zurich: gta Verlag, 2017) examines French colonial territorial transformations and spatial counterinsurgency measures in Algeria under colonial rule during the Algerian Revolution (1954-1962). The book discusses the complicity of architecture and planning in strategies of offense, defense, control, and surveillance. Henni is the curator of the exhibition Discreet Violence: Architecture and the French War in Algeria at the gta Institute, ETH Zurich (Apr-Jun 2017); Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam (Sep 2017-Jan 2018); Archive Kabinett in Berlin (Dec 2017-Jan 2018); and Graduate School of Architecture, University of Johannesburg (Apr-Jun 2018). She received her Ph.D. (with distinction, ETH Medal) in History and Theory of Architecture from the ETH Zurich. Currently, she teaches History and Theory of Architecture at Princeton University’s School of Architecture.

Supported by the Aga Khan Program at the GSD.

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