Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Nimisha Barton's "Reproductive Citizens"

Nimisha Barton serves as Director of Equity and Inclusion at an independent school in Los Angeles and as a diversity and inclusion consultant for institutions of higher education. She has published her research in French Politics, Culture and Society and the Journal of Women's History. She has also received awards and fellowships from the Georges Lurcy Charitable and Educational Trust, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Society for French Historical Studies, and the Western Society for French History.

Barton applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Reproductive Citizens: Gender, Immigration, and the State in Modern France, 1880–1945, and reported the following:
When you open my book to page 99, you land a couple of pages into Chapter 4, “Mothers, Welfare Organizations, and Reproducing for the Nation.” Here, I lay out the local welfare terrain in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s, arguing, “most municipal leaders in charge of local welfare bureaus saw a potential payoff in the population boost that large numbers of foreigners afforded a French nation laid low by demographic woes.” After surveying some of the bilateral treaties guaranteeing immigrants from certain states welfare assistance, I then turn to the most significant entitlement that large immigrant families who migrated to France in overwhelming numbers before 1945 received: family allocations.

Browsers using the Page 99 Test would get a fairly accurate picture of the main argument of the book. Reproductive Citizens argues that reproduction served as an all-important avenue to obtaining social citizenship rights based on marriage, child-bearing, and child-rearing in modern France. This was because, at the time, France suffered from a terrible crisis of depopulation worsened by the disastrous bloodletting of World War I, during which 10 percent of the French male population was killed. Moreover, I show how the expansive and supportive French welfare state served as one of the key pillars of reproductive citizenship that many immigrants enjoyed, whether they were formally French citizens or not.

The Page 99 Test works in other ways, though there are some drawbacks. On page 99, I blend an analysis of high-level international laws with local on-the-ground politics, and I demonstrate their overall impact on ordinary people. Indeed, the page closes with a description of how all these welfare laws and their application by bureaucrats affected the Gallners and Tcheskisses, an Austrian family of five and a Russian family of five, respectively, who lived in Paris between the two world wars. In this manner, it is very representative of the book’s approach: one that blends political, legal, urban, and social history in a vibrant story about a melting-pot immigrant neighborhood in Paris.

However, one of the main achievements of the book is that it is among the first to highlight the voices of the hundreds of thousands of immigrant women who migrated to France before 1945, and this is not apparent on page 99. In the past, most scholars of immigration in France have centered immigrant men in their analyses. By contrast, this book uses the stories of immigrant women to drive the narrative. In the process, it demonstrates that immigrant women stood at the crossroads of immigrant families and communities, on the one hand, and state and neighborhood resources, on the other. Through immigrant women, we can see the inner workings of welfare states and understand the potential of reproductive citizenship in modern nation-states.
Visit Nimisha Barton's website.

--Marshal Zeringue