Thèse d'Emmanuelle CRANE

Social and Racial Stratification in New Caledonia (1853-1914) as expressed in extant photographic records

The social and racial stratification of New Caledonia (1853-1914) as seen per extent photography

The purpose of my thesis is to examine how photography recorded colonial expansion and helped forge a Kanak image and identity. Portrayed in the nineteenth century as a victory of European expansionism and civilisation over a primitive and backward Kanak society, the colonial era has now been challenged by postcolonial discourses denouncing these Eurocentric beliefs. I challenge the revolutionary ladder found in nineteenth century New Caledonia, where a stratification of ethnic communities was present. Throughout my thesis I discuss the evolution of the techniques of photography from 19th century to our modern usage of the medium which has become utterly routinised and is deeply inserted into social practices.

The extensive collection of New Caledonia photographs dating back to as early as 1840 confirms beyond doubt photography’s role in forming our national experience, documenting what was to be the emergence of New Caledonian identity. It is often that we ask photography to confirm our existence, old photographs becoming irresistible. They become mirrors of what we are, what we have been, reflecting our reality, our significance and ultimately our history. The photographs of the Kanak were stereoptic photographs and showed them with stiff expressions as in fear of their photographers. Photographs became fashionable through paper prints called cartes-de-visites which were mounted on cardboard and featured natives in various costumes and occupations. Individual photographs as well as the group collectively : colonial photography was a tool used in the efforts to control the indigenous population.

In my thesis I analyse the evolution of the Kanak identity and the process of acculturation brought by the French through the settlements by various communities, the Church and the growing economy of the 19th century.

The images are fundamental to the project, being a major source for research and critical evaluation. It is only over the last few decades that the importance of photography as a cultural manifestation has been addressed. My thesis tries to answer how photographic evidence surveyed reflect, deny or obscure the position of Kanaks within their own country and the process of acculturation and identity building in New Caledonia.

  • Thèse d'anthropologie sous la direction d’Alban Bensa, EHESS / RMIT Université

  • Date de soutenance : 20 janvier 2010


Paris 13

Bâtiment Recherche Sud
5 cours des Humanités
93322 Aubervilliers cedex

UFR SMBH 74 rue Marcel Cachin, 93017 Bobigny cedex



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