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ID cards: “speaking likenesses”

Colonial anthropological racial types preceded, influenced, and dovetailed with the classification and anthropometric identification system developed in the 1890 work of Alphonse Bertillon, La Photographie judiciaire. Bertillon, the French police clerk credited in 1872 with the invention of the standard frontal and profile shot to identify recidivistes, called identity photographs portraits paries or “speaking likenesses”.20 Bertillon’s techniques, similar to the documentation of Carl Dammann (1819-1874) and the photo albums of Roland Bonaparte, influenced the practice of visually documenting criminals as well as the colonized population of France’s overseas possessions. The identity card photograph coincided and was in complicity with the advent of French colonialism that would introduce to the Maghreb the French police service, the prison system, and an anthropometric section (service anthropometrique). Anthropometry deployed photographs, captions, and written descriptions to establish extensive physiognomic portraits of criminals that traversed the human body section by section. As the work of Michel Foucault attests, the birth of the prison and of police photography in the 1840s are central to issues of modern disciplinary power that call for isolation, supervision, surveillance, and the imposition and recording of individualized names.21 Thus, Scenes et Types photography emerges not only from colonial tourism but also from the parallel historical contexts of criminological photography and the establishment of the identity card, both pictorial processes closely associated with the overriding aims of French colonial and military administrations. The pictured colonial subject is framed within the paradigm of certainty embodied in a portrait, but “homogenized” according to the requirements of French colonial power in Algeria.22

In nineteenth-century Algeria, French laws governing identification cards as well as the family passbook formed part of French bureaucratic controls established over the population. This apparatus of French state control over an individual was preceded historically by registration controls for the French family, embodied in the family passbook (in French, livret d’identite et d’etat civil, and in Maghribi Arabic, kunnash al-tarif wa ’l-halah al-madaniyah). Algeria was subjected to a nineteenth-century European “culture of identification” in which the personal name is the essential component of the modern state system of identification: in France, laws governing personal names (for example, the law of 1 April 1803, repealed only in 1993), restricted the French to names duly registered at birth.23 Laws creating family documentation papers for a couple and their offspring are said to have been enacted after fires set during the 1871 Paris Commune, an uprising that burned registers of civil status in the Paris region. Demonstrators targeted for destruction official buildings, such as the Palais de Justice and the Hotel de Ville, housing birth, marriage, and death certificates. For a time, Parisians could fabricate false documents and create new identities. By 1875, however, residents of greater Paris in the Seine prefecture carried family passbooks.24

How does the state, whether colonial French or post-independent Algerian, contain massive population increases in new urban settings created by colonization? What are the ways that identification procedures, and therefore techniques of controlling the individual body, were used to track crowds, rioters and dissidents? How did the jurisdictional claims of the Arab-Berber-Islamic naming clash with French paper-recording technologies?25 France extended the notion of standardized names to their Arab subjects in North Africa, beginning with Algeria, the first North African country invaded in 1830 and colonized. The law of 23 March 1882 on the civil status of Muslim natives in Algeria imposed the combined French systems of identity cards and patronymic surnames on all Algerian heads of households. In cases of Arab refusal to choose a fixed surname, article five states that French civil servants may create one of their own devising.26 In contrast to French naming practices, pre-colonial North African names consist minimally of a first name followed by the father’s name and the grandfather’s name, but often include a string of names representing the holder’s moral, physical, or social qualities, place of birth or ancestry, and tribal affiliation or membership in religious orders. An Arab-Berber name functions as a biography, unique to the individual and, thus, disappears with his death. Anthropologist Hassan Rachik calls this naming tradition a “beautiful labyrinth”, a history of names inherited from his Moroccan forbears that changed every generation, pointing to the ways in which identity is never fixed by name but rather is to be sought through points of intersection with place, family migration, and even national consciousness:

If I write imagining that [my grandfather] were speaking: “You know, identity cannot be totally inherited nor rejected totally. It is for you to construct your own identity multiplying endlessly your circles of belonging. In the matter of identity there is little to transmit from generation to generation, but much to invent individually and collectively. Identity is not a simple line linking an individual to a group whatever the foundation of the group - linguistic, religious or political. Identity is the actual connection that a biography has with other biographies and other groups. ... Look! I did not submit to my father’s name. Can you not see what a labyrinth you become entangled in wanting to reunite in one text what I have lived successively and partially? Even for a single individual, names and identities change, fall into disuse.27

In the Maghreb, the French perceived onomastic chaos and discontinuity in the Arab-Berber preference for human history embodied in a biographical approach to naming. Furthermore, French officials queried how names could be individually assigned, genealogically arranged, alphabetized correctly, and made orthographically uniform. The proliferation of Ahmeds and Mohameds recurring from grandfather to father to son raised the possibility of a bewildering and uninformative genealogy comprising, for example, Mohamed ben Ahmed, son of Ahmed ben Mohamed, grandson of Mohamed ben Ahmed.28 In addition to the French standardization of names as part of the identification process, all documentation of Muslim subjects in Algeria (including Arabic-language place names) was to be written not in Arabic but in French, Algeria’s sole official language. To produce Arabic-language personal and place names accessible to users of the Latin alphabet, two French army interpreters attached to France’s Ministry of War in Algeria were charged with fashioning a transcription protocol. With minor changes, William MacGuckin de Slane’s and Charles Gabeau’s 1866 transcription of Maghribi names remains in use in North Africa and France to this day.29 Collective stereotyping in postcards lived alongside the creation of individual North African identity that was arbitrarily fixed, visualized, and transcribed for official confirmation purposes into a French-created and redacted document of identity. That the French colonial police force was in charge of issuing identity cards in Algeria apparently contributed to their unpopularity and the initial lack of compliance, as did the two required accompanying photographs in profile and full face, as if the bearer were a wanted criminal. Identification - a civil and legal practice in France to establish citizenship - was placed under police control in

Algeria, emphasizing its role as a criminological practice foisted on tractable colonies to circumscribe identity without granting full citizenship. Furthermore, Algerian identity documents were rightly understood by the native populace as a prelude to mass conscription.

 
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