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Analyzing and Problematizing the Literature on Senegalese Immigrant Communities in France

Ibra Sene

The presence in the French mainland territory of Senegalese immigrants is one of the most visible legacies of the connection between France and its former colony. Although it is only in the last 10 or 15 years that the steadily growing numbers of immigrants and their increasing presence in the public scene have become heatedly debated in the media and among scholars, this immigration has a history that can be traced back to the end of World War I. As far as I can determine, the first studies on the topic go back to the mid 1970s, mainly consisting of grey literature publications, especially working documents of the SEDES and ORSTOM, and a few articles published in Cahiers ORSTOM – Série Sciences Humaines.

Michel Samuel, who is among the first scholars to address the topic, used much of these resources in his work. Since the early 1980s, many scholars from various disciplines began illustrating the history and politics of immigration in France. Obviously Senegalese and West African immigrant communities have never been at the center of most of these studies. Nevertheless, the latter have given us insight into interesting sociopolitical dynamics that are critical in understanding the evolution of the ins and outs of Senegalese immigration in France.

More recently, an increasing number of scholars, though not entirely, have dealt with the topic in their work in variety of perspectives. They have illustrated the presence of Senegalese in Marseille since the early 20th century, in Bordeaux, beginning in the early 1980s, have particularly documented the transnational activities of the Senegalese Murid in France, as well as their gradual move to Italy, Germany, Spain, and Portugal. Besides the need to put together this sparse literature in order to draw a more complete picture of the evolution of Senegalese immigration in France, there are various critical issues that have yet to be addressed by scholars, such as the continuity and change of spatial mobility, the changing roles played by women over the years, and the impact of the second generation, to name but a few examples.

This essay is an evaluation of the literature on Senegalese immigrant communities in France. I seek to understand when this work began and how it has developed over the years; the kinds of information and the kind of approaches that have been developed in addressing the topic; and the areas of research about immigration and Senegalese immigrant communities that have been neglected in the scholarship.

Exploring this topic is of crucial importance for my research project on the history of Senegalese international migration, because France has been for decades the main destination for Senegalese emigrants. This study touches on the variety of itineraries to France through African countries like Gabon and Cote d’Ivoire, and how these itineraries relate to the sociology of the immigrants and immigrant communities. Finally, this research is fundamental in understanding the evolution of Senegalese immigration to other Western European countries and North America.

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