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Branche Raphaelle

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Maîtresse de conférences à l’université Paris1

Contact :

Here is Raphaelle Branche’s website

Short biography
After a Ph.d defended in 2000, I taught at the University of Rennes 2 for three years. I am currently a lecturer at the University of Paris-1-Pantheon Sorbonne and a member of the Institut Universitaire de France. In 2008, I was on secondment at the Maison française d’Oxford (CNRS) and in 2007 and 2011 a visiting professor at the University of Toronto and New York University. I defended my “Habilitation à diriger des recherches” in Spring 2010 on “Of Men and Wars in the Colonial Situation”.

Presentation of work

My PhD explored the ways in which the French Army dealt with the legal context it had to face while repressing the Algerian upheaval from 1954 to 1962. Indeed as Algeria was part of France and the country was not supposed to be waging a war, the legal context was a burden on the military shoulders. At the same time, the international laws of war were not deemed relevant and therefore France did not have to comply with them. The initial refusal to consider the “Algerian events” as fundamentally political would have a bearing upon the manner in which the war was conducted, and how the French armed forces behaved on the ground. Although the normal peacetime framework would rapidly fail to provide adequate justification for repressive force, France never actually assumed the situation to be a war. Violence perpetrated by the military was therefore to be considered according to this very specific context and, part of it, at least had to do with the colonial situation. My research explored the relationship between the political apparatus, the military and the legal system and shed light on the way the military, in Algeria, succeeded in imposing their views on how to address the “Algerian problem” at least until 1960. I also conducted oral history and archival research as close as possible from the soldier’s level in order to get more knowledge on the know-how of violence, especially of torture. Indeed, it is based on the precise analysis of the gesture that I eventually drew my conclusions: torture had been systematically used against alleged Algerian suspects ; its use was not so much a matter of intelligence gathering than a way of imposing French power over a non willing civilian population. Its paradoxical status of forbidden and permitted violence was fundamental in its perpetration. It was carried out by the police and armed forces of a democratic country, arguing that it was fighting for civilization and the West. The men perpetrating these acts were pushed toward a legitimacy based on the practice of violence as well as penetrated with the idea of behaving properly, at least since they were ordered to do so. Contrary to the metropolitan people, Algerian people were very well aware of the reality of the violence and the extent to which a colonial France, threatened in its most cherished territory, would carry it if necessary. This dual reality was at the core of torture and part of the way it used to work as a political tool of colonial power.
I also addressed the issue of other violent acts whose legal status was less ambiguous. Namely, rape, extrajudicial executions and napalm bombing. I had to scrutinize the role played by the International Committee of the Red Cross and to deal with the issue of prisoners in a war where they were not considered POWs.
My last book is on the rural area of Palestro in Kabylia, not far from Algiers. The book deals with an ambush at the beginning of the war of liberation, in 1956, where a French platoon was killed. Almost all the soldiers died and some of them were mutilated. The book unfolds in two ways. The first one is to know better the warring parties on the local ground and to shed light on the political and military situation at the beginning of the war, when the Algerian nationalists took the lead. The other one is to deep digger in order to understand the resonance of the event on the French side, on the one hand, and the agency of the Algerian civilian population on the other. To do so, I had to go back to the 19th century : I found out that the region had first been a region of what can be called a “frontier settlement”. Then it was overwhelmed by the huge uprising of 1871 when the settlers were massacred. The suppression of the uprising led to a vast land spoliation in which people were driven from the valley and confined to the mountains or forced to move elsewhere. The local society was largely disrupted and French settlement would develop at least for another one or two generations. The ambush of 1956 found testimony among the FLN’s new audience in the mountains as well as of the afterlife of this violence, entrenched in people’s memory, long after the events. My hypothesis was that violence was used as a language by the Algerian civilians. Their agency had to be considered not only vis à vis the French power and its temporary unarmed soldiers, but vis à vis the FLN as well, which was promoting a new political order and trying to empower the rural people in order to strengthen its own power. But rural people had their own understanding of the situation based on local interests. Their action during the ambush could also be explained as such.
My present work has also to deal with local contexts related to general issues such as law, colonial war and violence. I am currently working on the French soldiers taken prisoner by the Algerian National Liberation Army. Beyond a technical study of the ALN’s deployment, organisation, methods, and efficiency, beyond its tactics and strategy, a political reading of the military aspects of the war has to be carried out. This reading seems particularly pertinent in the case of an army of guerrilla fighters, closely associated with the political organisation of the FLN, to such an extent that political commissars accompanied them, or that directives could be signed FLN/ALN, for example. Alongside the legal aspect of the question and the international use that has been made of the prisoners, I am also focusing on the prisoners to get some knowledge of the maquis itself. The study has to be very close to the ground since situations varied a lot. It will address the issue of a new political and military formation (FLN/ALN) and its relations to the past dramatic evolutions of the society. It will also have to consider the new opportunities that military actions trigger within the colonial fabric of Algeria.
Another aspect of my work deals with memory. Individual memory and trauma are at the core of many interviews I conducted and I am now focusing on the legacy of the war and its effects within the families of veterans. But memory as been also addressed as collective memory in papers I wrote on films and in a book on the impact of the Algerian war in French society and historiography since 1962.

Selective Bibliography :


- La Torture et l’armée pendant la guerre d’Algérie, 1954-1962, Paris, Gallimard, coll. « La suite des temps », 2001, 474 p. (Arab translation, M’doukal Ed., Alger, 2011)

- La guerre d’Algérie, n°8022 de La Documentation photographique, La Documentation française, Paris, août 2001, 64 p. (en collaboration avec Sylvie Thénault).

- La Guerre d’Algérie : une histoire apaisée ?, Paris, Le Seuil, coll. « L’Histoire en débats », 2005, 445 p.

- La France en guerre, 1954-1962. Expériences métropolitaines de la guerre d’indépendance algérienne, Paris, Autrement, 2008, 501 p. (codirigé et présenté avec Sylvie Thénault).

- L’embuscade de Palestro, Algérie 1956, Paris, Armand Colin, coll. « Le fait guerrier », 2010, 256 p. (Casbah ed., Alger, 2011)

- Viols en temps de guerre, Paris, Payot, 2011, 268 p. (ed. and introduce by Daniel Palmieri, Isabelle Delpla, John Horne, Pieter Lagrou and Fabrice Virgili). ( Rape in Wartime, Palgrave/Macmillan, 2012 )


Palestro, Algérie: histoires d’une embuscade, de Raphaëlle Branche et Rémi Lainé, 85’, prod. les Poissons Volants/ARTE France, 2011.



- « Can there be prisoners of war in a ‘maintenance of order’ operation? » in Sibylle Scheipers (ed.), Prisoners in War, Oxford, Oxford Press University, 2010, p.173-186.

- “Silences on State violence during the Algerian War of Independence (France and Algeria, 1962-2007)” (with Jim House) in Jay Winter, Efrat ben-Zeev and Ruth Ginio (eds.), Shadows of War. A Social History of Silence in the Twentieth Century, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2010, 223 p., 115-137.

- « Clémentines et bifteck ou le retour d’un appelé d’Algérie vu par ses frères et sœurs », in Bruno Cabanes et Guillaume Piketti (dir.), Le Retour à l’intime, Paris, Taillandier, 2009, p.67-84.

- « Une impression d’absence. L’Algérie et la guerre d’Algérie au cinéma et à la télévision française depuis 1962 » in Eric Savarèse (dir.), L’Algérie dépassionnée. Au-delà des tumultes de mémoire, Paris, Syllepse, 2008, p. 107-116.

- “Sexual Violence in the Algerian War” in Dagmar Herzog (ed.), Brutality and Desire: War and Sexuality in Europe’s Twentieth Century, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, p. 247-260.

- “The French State Faced with the Algerian Nationalists (1954-1962): A War against Terrorism?” in Samy Cohen (ed.), Democracies at war against terrorism, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, 280 p.

- « FLN et OAS : deux terrorismes en guerre d’Algérie », Revue Européenne d’Histoire / European Review of History, vol. 14, n°3, septembre 2007, p.325-342.

- « The State, the Historians and the Algerian War in French Memory, 1991-2004 », in H. Jones, K. Ostberg and N. Randeraad (eds.), History on Trial: The Public Use of Contemporary History in Europe since 1989, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2007, p.159-173.

- « La Seconde commission de sauvegarde des droits et libertés individuels » in AFHJ, La justice en Algérie 1830-1962, La Documentation Française, 2005, 366 p., p.237-246.

- « Comment rétablir de la norme en temps d’exception. L’IGCI/CICDA pendant la guerre d’Algérie » in Laurent Feller (dir.), Contrôler les agents du pouvoir, Limoges, PULIM, 2004, p.299-310.

- « La Masculinité à l’épreuve de la guerre sans nom », CLIO, Histoire, Femmes, Sociétés, n°20, 2004, p.111-122.

- « The Violations of the Law during the French-Algerian War » in Adam Jones (ed.), Genocide, War Crimes, and the West. History and Complicity, Londres et New-York, Zed Books, 2004, p.134-145. (également paru en allemand).

- « La Torture pendant la guerre », in Mohammed Harbi et Benjamin Stora (dir.), La guerre d’Algérie, 1954-2004. La fin de l’amnésie, Paris, Laffont, 2004, p.381-402.

- « La Sexualité des appelés en Algérie », in Jean-Charles Jauffret (dir.), Des Hommes et des femmes en guerre d’Algérie, Paris, Autrement, 2003, p.402-415.

- « Faire l’histoire de la violence d’Etat » in Sébastien Laurent (dir.), Archives « secrètes », secrets d’archives. Historiens et archivistes face aux archives sensibles, Paris, CNRS éditions, 2003, 288 p.

- « Des viols pendant la guerre d’Algérie », Vingtième Siècle. Revue d’histoire, n°75, juillet-septembre 2002, p.123-132.

- « Être soldat en Algérie face à un ennemi de l’autre sexe », actes d’une journée d’études organisée en septembre 2001, Annales de Bretagne et des pays de l’Ouest, tome 109, 2002, n°2, p.143-150.

- « Justice et torture à Alger en 1957 : apports et limites d’un document » (avec Sylvie Thénault) in Dominique Borne, Jean-Louis Nembrini et Jean-Pierre Rioux (dir.), Apprendre et enseigner la guerre d’Algérie et le Maghreb contemporain, Actes de l’université d’été de l’Education Nationale, CRDP de Versailles, 2002, p.71-88.

- « Torture and the border of humanity » (avec Françoise Sironi), International Social Science Journal, n°174, décembre 2002, p.539-548.

- « La Torture dans Muriel… d’Alain Resnais, une réflexion cinématographique sur l’indicible et l’inmontrable », L’Autre, revue transculturelle. Cliniques, cultures, sociétés, ed. La Pensée sauvage, 2002, vol. 3, n°1, p.67-76.

- « L’impossible procès de la torture pendant la guerre d’Algérie » (avec Sylvie Thénault) in Marc-Olivier Baruch et Vincent Duclert (dir.), Justice, politique et République de l’affaire Dreyfus à la guerre d’Algérie, Bruxelles, Complexe/IHTP, 2002, p.243-260.

- « Género y tortura : Cuando una mujer pregunta a los hombres sobre la violencia », Historia, antropología y fuentes orales, n°26, 2001, p.37-46.

- « La Lutte contre le terrorisme urbain» in Jean-Charles Jauffret et Maurice Vaïsse (dir.), Militaires et guérilla dans la guerre d’Algérie, Bruxelles, Complexe, 2001, 561 p., p.469-487.

- « Les entretiens avec d’anciens soldats : une source pour l’histoire de la torture pendant la guerre d’Algérie » in La guerre d’Algérie au miroir des décolonisations françaises. Actes du colloque en l’honneur de Charles-Robert Ageron, Paris, SFHOM, 2000, 683 p., p.593-606.

- « Entre droit humanitaire et intérêts politiques : les missions algériennes du CICR », La Revue historique, n°609, 1999-2, p. 101-125.

- « La Commission de sauvegarde des droits et libertés individuels pendant la guerre d’Algérie. Chronique d’un échec annoncé? », Vingtième Siècle. Revue d’histoire, n°62, avril-juin 1999, p. 14-29.

- « 1963-1977 : quinze ans et dix-sept films : douloureuses mémoires», Cinémaction, n°85, octobre 1997, p. 57-68.

- « Mémoire et cinéma. A propos de Muriel d’Alain Resnais », Vingtième Siècle. Revue d’histoire, n°46, avril-juin 1995, p. 191-194.

- « The French Army and the Geneva Conventions during the Algerian War of Independence and after » in Nina Tannenwald et Matthew Evangelista (dir.), Beyond Geneva, Oxford University Press, 2012 (forthcoming).

- « Harkis in French Algeria» in Robert Johnson (dir.), ‘Staying True to Their Salt’: The Recruitment, Management and Performance of Auxiliary Personnel in Western Armed Forces and Intelligence Services, from the Colonial era to the Present, Oxford University Press, 2011 (forthcoming).

- « La violence coloniale : enjeux d’une description et choix d’écriture », Tracés, n°19, 2010/2, p.29-42.

- « The Martyr’s Torch: Memory and Power in Algeria», Journal of North African Studies, vol.16, 3, septembre 2011, p. 431-444.

- « Tortionnaire », in Marcella Marzani (dir.), Dictionnaire de la Violence, Paris, PUF, 2011, p.1304-1308.

- « Sete di terra, sete di vendetta. La repressione francese del 1871 nelle campagne algerine », Zapruder. Rivista di storia della conflittualità sociale, IX, 26, 2011, p. 8-25.

- « L’Embuscade de Palestro/Djerrah, in Bouchène, Peyroulou, Thénault, Tengour (dir.), Histoire de l’Algérie à la période coloniale, Paris/Alger, La Découverte/Barzakh, 2012, p.514-519.

- « Le Récit historique et les intentions des acteurs. Réponse à François Buton », Le Mouvement Social, janvier-mars 2012, p. 87-93.

Disponibles en ligne :
-  « La Dernière génération du feu ? Jalons pour une étude des anciens combattants français de la guerre d’Algérie », Histoire@politique, automne 2007
- “Torture of terrorists ? Use of torture in a ‘war against terrorism’ : justifications, methods and effects : the case of France in Algeria, 1954-1962 », International Review of the Red Cross, volume 867, n°3, novembre 2007.
- « De nouveaux colons ? L’installation des militaires français démobilisés en Algérie, 1956-1962 », communication au colloque « Au-delà des pressions officielles et des lobbies de mémoire. Pour une histoire critique et citoyenne. Le cas de l’histoire franco-algérienne », ENS de Lyon, juin 2006.