The 'Pieds-noirs': A case study in the persistence of subcultural distinctiveness

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences


Stephen P. Koff


Pied-noirs, Algeria, Decolonization, Euro-mediterraneans, Resettlement, France

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


Between 1830 and 1962, the North African nation of Algeria came to be the star of the French colonial empire. During this period, Algeria was settled by various primarily Euro-mediterranean groups, who became known collectively as the Pieds-noirs. Their highly diverse traditions gradually blended with each other and with those of the mostly Jewish and Muslim indigenous population until it appeared, the post-World War II era, that a viable Pieds-noirs culture was about to emerge.

However, following a brutal eight-year uprising by Algeria's Muslim population, the colonists were forced out of their homeland in 1962. Most of the highly traumatized Pieds-noirs then resettled in France, which, to them, seemed alien and hostile. They gravitated toward southern urban areas and Paris and did their best to restore normalcy to their lives.

The emerging Pieds-noirs culture, having been uprooted from its colonial Algerian milieu, never attained viability as a culture in its own right. Nonetheless, at the time of their transplantation to continental France, the ex-settlers were linked by their common history, characteristics, and problems resulting from Algeria's decolonization and therefore constituted a very distinct subculture within the French culture.

This dissertation's working hypothesis is that the Pieds-noirs' subcultural distinctiveness still persists nearly three decades after their resettlement in France. The evidence supporting this claim consists of interview data and a review of Pieds-noirs and non-Pieds-noirs literature and audiovisual materials. Interpretive content analysis was the primary data-analysis technique, supplemented by quantitative data when available, and methodological triangulation was used to confirm emergent themes. The data are presented in terms of the Pieds-noirs' demographic, economic, social, cultural, and political characteristics.

This evidence confirms that although the former Algerian colonists are, on balance, moderately well integrated into modern French society, they do continue to constitute a very distinct subcultural element. With the passing of the first generation of Pieds-noirs (those actually born in Algeria), however, that distinctiveness appears to be fading, since members of the second generation (those whose parents were born in Algeria but who themselves were born in France) are gradually losing touch with their Pieds-noirs heritage.


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