Promoting ‘harmonious cohabitation’ in the metropole: the welfare charity 'Assistance to Workers from Overseas' (1950-1975)

Ed Naylor

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


This chapter explores the metropolitan dimension of France’s post-war ‘modernising mission’ and its afterlife in the years after decolonisation through the example of private welfare charity, Aid to Workers from Overseas (ATOM). Founded in 1950, ATOM specialised in working with colonial migrants from Algeria, particularly families, and received significant public subsidies. Operating in slums and housing estates across the Marseille region, its activities ranged from domestic skills and language classes to supervised rehousing schemes – all premised on the twin goals of assisting ‘adaptation’ to metropolitan life and promoting ‘harmonious cohabitation’ between migrants and wider French society. The charity had close ties to the authorities and during the Algerian War of Independence (1954-62) became drawn into the government’s official ‘hearts and minds’ strategy designed to counter nationalist influence among the diaspora. Yet decolonisation did not prove a significant ‘watershed’ for ATOM which continued, and even expanded, its work with a majority-Algerian clientele until well into the 1970s. The chapter asks how the charity negotiated such contrasting political contexts while still framing its work in terms of continuity. Two main arguments are advanced. First, despite positioning itself as a loyal servant of the state, ATOM’s relationship to empire was complex and contingent. Second, the gap between the elaborate discourse and the often banal practices of the welfare sector is not always sufficiently recognized. In ATOM’s case, that disjuncture became increasingly apparent during the decade after Algerian independence as the profile of the charity’s clientele began to change and tensions arose with Marseille’s clientelist municipality.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFrance's Modernising Mission
Subtitle of host publicationCitizenship, Welfare and the Ends of Empire
EditorsEd Naylor
Place of PublicationBasingstoke
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan Ltd.
Number of pages31
ISBN (Electronic)978-1137551337
ISBN (Print)978-1137551320
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jan 2018

Publication series

NameSt Antony's
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan


  • decolonisation
  • France
  • empire
  • welfare


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