CE41 - Inégalités, discriminations, migrations

To count in a colonial situation. French Africa (1830-1962) – COCOLE

Submission summary

Counting in a colonial situation.
Crossing disciplinary approaches and scales of analysis, the project studies the production of statistics in the African territories of the French empire, from the beginning of the 19th century to the independence of the 1960s. It provides information on colonial governance and its transformations, as well as on the power relations and inequalities that it conveys; it sheds light on the interplay of public and private actors, colonisers and colonised, who, in metropolitan France and in the territories, use these indicators, participate in their production or refuse to contribute to them. More broadly, and even if it focuses on economic statistics (activity, production, prices, labour), the survey sheds light on both the empire of figures in the colony and the impact of the colonial experience on the production of statistics. By reconstructing the institutional, social and intellectual history of their production, by looking at the raw materials, behind the scenes of the surveys and the construction of statistical categories, we intend to show the extent to which the figure is structuring, how it creates links and how, by classifying, it hierarchises and excludes. The aim is thus to clarify how counting, keeping accounts if one is a producer or making statistics if one is an administrator, is a manifestation of power.
The investigation will provide further information on the specificities of government in a colonial situation, by underlining the forms of autonomy of the actors present in the field, the tensions that oppose them, and by specifying whether - and how - statistics were able to constitute a 'technology of distance'. Our work will also question the inevitable approximations, hidden under the rigour of numbers, which maintain the illusion of a knowledge-power among administrators and in colonial economic circles, participating in the "colonial gaze", the distorted and deformed prism that the administrations have of the colonised territories, and more widely of their own power. In the end, the investigation will allow us to better understand what counting means, to interpret statistical and accounting conventions in a colonial situation, and to show how and in what way the empire of numbers sheds light on the process of colonisation.

Project coordinator

Madame Béatrice TOUCHELAY (UMR 8529 - Institut de Recherches Historiques du Septentrion)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


Université de Genève Université de Genève / Unité d'histoire contemporaine
CESSMA CESSMA UMR 245 Université de Paris/INALCO/IRD
TELEMMe Temps, espaces, langages europe méridionale méditerranée
Université de Cocody Université de Cocody, département d'histoire
CESDIP CESDIP UMR 8183 Univ. Versailles St-Quentin/ Ministère de la Justice/ CY Cergy Paris Univ.
IDHE.s Paris Nanterre Institutions et Dynamiques Historiques de l'Economie et de la Société
IRHiS UMR 8529 - Institut de Recherches Historiques du Septentrion
IDHE.s Panthéon Sorbonne Paris 1 Institutions et Dynamiques Historiques de l'Economie et de la Société
Freie Universität Berlin Freie Universität Berlin Centre Marc Bloch Berlin USR 3130/Pacte (Grenoble) UMR 5194
IMAF IMAF UMR 8171 Aix-en-Provence
DRM DRM UMR 7088 Univ. Paris Dauphine

Help of the ANR 386,263 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: October 2021 - 48 Months

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