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Françoise Vergès

Françoise Vergès was born in Paris and grew up in La Réunion and Algeria. She went back to Paris after high school to study Arabic and Chinese, but finally chose journalism as a career path. A journalist for 8 years (1975-1983) for the monthly then weekly journal Des Femmes en movement, she was also the editor of the collection “des femmes en lutte dans tous les pays” (women fighting in every country) for the publishing house Des femmes. For this later job, she travelled to countries under military and totalitarian dictatorships to gather women’s stories.

In 1983 she moved to the United States. She received her bachelor degree in political science and Woman’s studies with summa cum laude from the University of California, in San Diego, and a PhD in Political sciences from Berkeley University in 1995. The subject of her thesis was Monsters and Revolutionaries, Colonial Family Romance.

After Sussex University, she started teaching at Goldsmiths College where she is now Consulting Professor. She is also a researcher for the World Studies College, and officer for the Memorial for the abolition of slavery in Nantes. Vergès was also recently appointed as Chair of of the new department of Postcolonial Studies ("Postcolonialisme, et après...") at the Collège d’études mondiales.

Vergès has collaborated on a number of projects outside of her academic duties: from 2003 to 2010, she elaborated the cultural and scientific program of the Maison des civilisations et de l’unité réunionnaise (House of Civilizations and of La Réunion’s Unity), a museum project created in La Réunion and from 2009 to 2012, she headed the French Committee for Remembrance and History of Slavery.

Vergès is the author of 10 books two of which translated into English. She has published extensively on postcolonial theory, creolization, psychoanalysis, slavery and the economy of predation and Frantz Fanon and Aimé Césaire. She has also directed two movies on the great Caribbean authors Aimé Césaire and Maryse Condé and organized a few exhibitions at the Louvre on slavery and women.



In English

-The Island of Wandering Souls : Processes of Creolization, Politics of Emancipation and the Problematic of Absence on Reunion Island, in Rod Edmond et Vanessa Smith, eds. Islands in History and Representation, Routledge, 2003

In French

-L’homme prédateur, ce que nous enseigne l'esclavage sur notre temps, Albin Michel Bibliothèque Idées, 2011
-Fractures postcoloniales, avec Nicolas Bancel, Pascal Blanchard et Achille Mbembe, La Découverte, 2010
-Nègre. Nègrier. Traite des nègres. Trois articles du Grand Dictionnaire universel de Pierre Larousse. Bleu autour, 2007
-La colonisation française, avec Nicolas Bancel et Pascal Blanchard, Les Essentiels Milan, 2007
-Nègre, je suis, Nègre je resterai. Entretiens avec Aimé Césaire, Albin Michel 2007
-La République coloniale. Essai sur une utopie, avec Pascal Blanchard et Nicolas Bancel, Édition de poche, Hachette Littérature, collection Pluriel, 2006
-La mémoire enchaînée. Questions sur l'esclavage, Albin Michel, 2006
-Amarres. Créolisations india-océanes, avec Jean-Claude Carpanin Marimoutou, Éditions Ka, 2003,
-Racines et itinéraires de l’unité réunionnaise, Graphica-Région Réunion, 2003
-Abolir l'esclavage. Une utopie coloniale, les ambiguïtés d'une politique humanitaire, Albin Michel, 2001
-De l’Esclave au citoyen, avec Philippe Haudrère, Gallimard Découvertes, 1998

- « Aimé Césaire face aux révoltes du monde » directed by Jérôme-Cécile Auffret, production Beau comme une image, (52mn), 2013 (author) – IN FRENCH
-« Maryse Condé. Une voix singulière », directed by Jérôme Sesquin, production Jaraprod, collection « Empreintes », France Télévision (52mn), 2011 (author) – IN FRENCH w/ ENGLISH SUBTITLES
- « Noirs », réalisateurs Arnaud Ngatcha et Jérôme Sesquin, réalisateur (France 5), 2006, (consultant)
-« Black Skin, White Mask », directed by Isaac Julien, production BBC 4, 1996, (consultant)



  • 1) Memories of Slavery and French Public Discourse

After a long marginalization in French history and culture, colonial slavery became a reference to the women, children and men who identified with those who had been enslaved in the French colonies. It was used to question the French national narrative and local pervasive inequalities, to explore the role and place of racial thinking in the making of French society and culture, and to analyze its contemporary legacies both in France and in its former colonies that had become French departments in March 1946.
The Taubira Law which recognized in May 2001 slave trade and slavery as a “crime against humanity” marked a turning point: in 2006, May 10th became the national day of commemoration of the memories of slave trade, slavery and their abolition and in 2012, the Memorial of the Abolition of Slavery opened in Nantes, the largest in the world dedicated to the struggle against slavery. Progress has been made in the fields of education, research and culture. Yet, it is fair to ask in which ways the field opened by the struggle for recognition has been led astray, emptied of its radical promise of bringing back the idea of social justice. And to wonder where and how memories are revived to escape their instrumentalization.

  • 2) The Museum without Objects or the Object of Intangible Culture.

The use of the notion of cultural heritage has raised political questions: what is identified as “cultural heritage”? What are the strategies (tourism, commerce, museums…) developed to support cultural heritage? How is vernacular cultural   heritage transformed into “national heritage”? In this contribution, Françoise Vergès questions the abstract universalism of ICOM definition of cultural heritage and look at new definitions and new strategies that have been elaborated. She presents the strategy of a “museum without objects” that she developed for La Réunion.

3) New Forms of Colonization: New Politics of Decolonization?
Amílcar Cabral, Aimé Césaire and W.E.B Du Bois all tackled the issues of Western colonialism, its destructive ethos and civilizing mission, its capacity to remodel the world and subjugate peoples, and the ways in which emancipation from its shackles could be thought and practiced. They denounced its entrenched racism. They proposed a “new humanism”, built on the knowledge that the principles of universal humanism could be redeemed from its muddled past once its racism was destroyed. In the era of current globalization with its heightened race among Nation/States for goods, minerals, lands, its increasing gap between rich and poor, its new forms of trafficking and enslaving human beings, its new forms of social engineering, can we look back on their theories to help find answers to today challenges? How can we apply Edward W. Said’s assertion that “We should keep before us the prerogatives of the present as signposts and paradigms for the study of the past,” (Culture and Imperialism, 1994) to analyze the challenges posed by the new forms of colonization? To begin with, is the notion of “colonization” still useful to analyze new forms of drawing borders, of fabricating disposable people, or of organizing asymmetric economic relations on a global scale?

  • 4) Post-Promethean Thinking?

The current gap between the remarkable accumulation of discoveries in technology and science in the fields of biology, neurology, reproduction, archaeology, climate, astronomy, evolution, between the ferocity of financial capitalism and the difficulties faced by societies to resolve basic problems (access to clean water, to health, to food) is growing. We are simultaneously told that the current globalization will bring a world of happiness for all and that the planet cannot support what is presented as the desired way of life for all humanity. It is easy to trust in science and technology. In recent decades they have opened up new fields, comprehended areas that seemed impossible to explain, resolved problems that had remained unresolved for centuries. Who would not be excited and confident that humanity has a clear destiny? Still, are technology and science not contaminated by Promethean thinking—promising that we, humans, will always be able to overcome the problems we create? The sound of a rumor is disturbing the scenario with the sound of discontent, of anger and frustration, and of a desire for a post-Promethean way of life.

  • 5) Colonial and Post-Colonial History Are Global/Connected  History

Despite works in global, connected or transnational history, colonial and post-colonial history have remained framed within national borders. Drawing from the French case, Françoise Vergès revisits some events to show how they were connected : in 1848, the abolition of colonial slavery, new colonial conquests, new European rivalries, and the conquest of Algeria ; in 1871, the Paris Commune and the El Mokrani Insurrection ; in 1878, the Kanak insurrection, the penal colony, and Madagascar. She will also look at current events: the consequences of nuclear tests in the French Pacific, the consequences of nickel’s extraction in New Caledonia and the contamination of fauna and flora in the Antilles, and public works that have disrupted the ecology of La Réunion.

  • 6) Strange fruit: Bananas, Slavery, Military Coup, Sex and Race

If a banana is thrown in a stadium anywhere in the world, everyone understands the target is a black player. If in a demonstration in France, a child screams “For whom is the banana? For the guenon!,” everyone understands that the French Minister of Justice, a Black woman, is targeted. When, why and how has the banana been transformed into a racialized fruit? Pulling the thread from these racist acts, Françoise Vergès revisits the cultural, political and economic history of the banana. With excerpts of video and songs, Françoise Vergès brings to light a cartography of the bananas through colonial slavery, multinationals and military coups, bananas and sexuality, bananas and consumption…


November 13-15, 2014: Berkeley University
November 20-21, 2014: New York