The Revolution and Social Change

Algeria Table of Contents

After generations of gradual change under the French, the War of Independence struck Algerian society with cataclysmic force, and victory introduced other major social changes. The influence of the war permeated the society in both country and city and at the personal, familial, and local levels.

In response to the conflict, individuals developed new perceptions of themselves, their abilities, and their roles through wartime activities. Women, accustomed to a sheltered and segregated life, found themselves suddenly thrust into revolutionary militancy. For many, the war offered the first opportunity for independent activity in the world beyond the home. Many young people struck out independently of their families and their elders, and new leaders emerged, chosen more for personal traits than for social position.

The often brutal fighting, stretching across much of the country for nearly eight years, disrupted or emptied many rural villages. The deliberate French policy of resettlement of rural populations gathered more than 2 million villagers in Frenchbuilt fortified settlements under a regroupement program. The total number of Algerians displaced by the war cannot be accurately known, but Algerian authorities place the figure at more than 3 million permanently or temporarily moved. In 1965 about 2 million people remained in the centers. By 1972 their numbers had decreased markedly and some of the centers closed; several centers, however, became permanent settlements.

As a result of these displacements, a sizable portion of the population lost its ties with the land on which ancestors had lived for generations and consequently with the social groups the land had supported. Families found themselves separated from fellow clan members and extended family members. The housing supplied by the French was suitable for the nuclear family rather than the traditional extended household, and persons who had formerly lived by subsistence farming became accustomed to functioning in a cash economy.

The disappearance of small communities of kin eliminated the social control by reputation and gossip that had formerly existed. Instead, residents of the French relocation centers began to develop feelings of solidarity with strangers who had shared a common fate. The destruction of the old communities particularly affected the lives of women, sometimes in contradictory ways. Despite being released from the restraints imposed by family scrutiny, women from rural villages, where wearing the veil was rare, adopted the veil voluntarily as a means of public concealment.

Traditional relations between generations also were overturned, and class differences were submerged. The young could adapt to the new ways, but the old were ill-equipped for change and so relinquished much of their former prestige and authority. In addition, rural people became more interested in comfort and consumption, which began to replace the frugality that had characterized traditional village life.

Custom Search

Source: U.S. Library of Congress