Saintly grandmothers: youth reception and reinterpretation of the national past in contemporary Algeria

Natalya Vince

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is well documented that contemporary debates about political legitimacy in Algeria are often structured through the juxtaposition of conflicting narratives of the past, and in particular, the War of Independence (1954–62) and its aftermath. Alternative versions of what happened to female combatants (mujahidat) after the war are a case in point: in the glorified official discourse, the revolution liberated women though the emancipation of the Algerian people; in feminist oppositional narratives, female combatants were betrayed by a patriarchal post-colonial regime composed of men of dubious wartime credentials. How these discourses are received and reinterpreted by young Algerians today has received little academic attention. This article presents new empirical research: a case study carried out in 2007 of 95 trainee teachers in History, Arabic Literature, Philosophy, French and English at the Ecole normale supe´rieure in Bouzare´ah, Algiers. It explores what image students have of the mujahidat and how this image is formed through the filters of school textbooks, family stories, films, books and current affairs. As recipients of narratives constructed at different times and with different aims, it is argued that students have fused the local, national and transnational frames of reference available to them, creating new readings of the past which sidestep easy categorisation into ‘official’ and ‘oppositional’ versions. The article thus highlights the importance of not only paying close attention to how the past is read through the present, but also to how the past is read through a series of more recent, post-independence pasts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)32-52
Number of pages21
JournalThe Journal of North African Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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