The John Bullen Prize
Sarah Ghabrial, “Le ‘fiqh francisé’?: Muslim Personal Status Law Reform and Women’s Litigation in Colonial Algeria, 1870-1930”, Department of History and Classics, McGill University.
In this beautifully written dissertation, Sarah Ghabrial brings together judicial, missionary, medical, and government documents from multiple archives in Algeria, France and Italy to provide a multilayered history of law, gender, politics and society in colonial Algeria. Ghabrial explores judicial cases related to family litigation to convincingly argue that personal status law in Algeria was the product of a relationship between French administrators, Islamic legal experts and litigants in a rapidly changing society. Not only does she shed new light on the relationship of law to culture, politics, and society, she also uses her insights to bring women to the centre of the story, showing how female litigants seeking justice in the courts influenced the shape of colonial law over the long term. She demonstrates considerable linguistic and analytical skills in exploring how the Muslim family became visible to the state via legal reforms that allowed colonial administrators to intrude into the most private spaces of Algerian domestic life and intensify their control of colonial subjects. She convincingly argues that legal interventions served to segregate and disenfranchise Muslim populations, and she restores, through her innovative analysis of specific court cases, the voices of women seeking assistance from the courts. This thesis is a first-rate achievement that will be of wide interest in the histories of colonialism, law, gender, family and society.