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The Politics of the Veil (The Public Square) Paperback – August 22, 2010

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Product Details

  • Series: The Public Square
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (August 22, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691147981
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691147987
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.4 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #131,577 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Scott does a good job of conveying the hysteria that surrounded the foulard debate in France...Scott's broad and exhaustive research makes for a bracing account of the debate."--Laila Lalami, The Nation

"Veil-bashing is suddenly socially acceptable among not merely tabloid-reading Little Englanders, but also metropolitan sophisticates...Why should a bit of cloth so threaten the French republic? That is the central question posed by [this] subtle new study...Many French commentators cast the debate about the veil as an issue about Muslims, Islam and integration. Scott, a distinguished historian at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, shows that it revealed rather more about the French themselves."--Carla Power, New Statesman

"This book is a powerful denunciation of the French government and people whom Scott labels as racist, discriminatory, and intolerant of Muslim immigrants primarily from North Africa. In instituting a ban on the wearing of Muslim headscarves in public schools, the author claims that France has gone too far in its policies of strict secularism and adherence to the values of republicanism in which citizenship is conceived of as an individual matter devoid of ethnic and religious content. . . . [A] fascinating piece of scholarship."--S. Majstorovic, Choice

"It is difficult to do justice to the rigour and subtlety of this important book, written by a distinguished historian with previous works on gender and democratic politics. It should be read not only by those interested in the French situation but also by anyone who is concerned by the hysteria surrounding Muslims in Europe. It clarifies the ideas behind current debates on multiculturalism, assimilation and integration, and points the way towards a solution."--Mary Hossain, Journal of Islamic Studies

"The Politics of the Veil is a propitious contribution to the exploration and analysis of the complex meanings and purported meanings of these phenomena that have come to symbolise for Turkey and France the struggle to defend the foundations of their Republic against forces that allegedly undermine all that is glorious and good about these 'singular' or 'exceptional' states."-- Elif Aydýn, The Muslim News

"[I]t is important to remember the lessons of the headscarf ban, to understand the politics that lay behind it and its racist implications. This book is a useful reminder of both."--Sadie Robinson, International Socialism

"Scott's book is a wonderful discussion about how well and how badly societies respond to religious challenges. I strongly recommend it."--Iva Ellen Deutchman, Politics and Religion

"This book will undoubtedly rank as one of the best Anglo-American critical commentaries on the affaire du foulard and the 2004 law banning religious signs in schools...[Scott] succeeds in providing a magisterial demonstration of the power of discourse--of the ways in which abstract ideas, when mediated through a vibrant political culture, can influence collective thinking and practice."--Cécile Laborde, La Vie Des Idées

"Joan Scott authoritatively rejects many of the arguments that are often used in favor of totally excluding Islam from the public sphere. In doing so she has provided much food for thought and has written a book that is equally valuable to scholars and to students in a graduate or upper level undergraduate course."--Hootan Shambayati, Law and Politics Book Review

"The Politics of the Veil is written in clear and accessible prose, and its provocative yet succinct chapters are thought provoking and user friendly at the same time. . . . [T]he book can be easily divided up and read over two or three class periods or it can be comfortably assigned as a whole. Because its subject matter is so pertinent to so many disciplines, the book can be used in history, sociology, anthropology, political science, gender studies, European Studies, religion, or any courses in the humanities or social sciences examining contemporary French politics and society."--Kristen Ghodsee, Women's Studies International Forum

"The Politics of the Veil . . . challenges the traditions of detached scholarship, yet Scott's careful use of specific evidence adheres to scholarly methods and demonstrates how historians can contribute critical insights to the public debates of our own time."--Lloyd Kramer, Journal of Modern History

"This is a very important and . . . welcome book. . . . [T]his sharp and insightful study is undoubtedly a must for any student on not only French society, but of questions regarding secular ideology, gender, and 'deterritorialized' Islam in general."--Per-Erik Nilsson, Evironment and Planning

"Scott succeeds in revealing how the inability of French government's failure to address the issue of the veil meaningfully underlines its current inability to create a country where the co-existence of differences, rather than celebration of what is common or the same, is the basis of community."--Irmak Ertuna, Darkmatter

"Scott unfolds excellent and detailed analyses of the construction of the citizen in the French nation state, of French racism and Algeria, and of the prominent news events in the French veiling controversy."--Virginia Corvid, Feminist Collections

From the Inside Flap

"Brilliant, crisp, and cogently argued. Joan W. Scott's novel and trenchant discursive analysis exposes the prejudices of the reductionist French versions of secularism and feminism regarding Islam and French Muslims from North African and Arab origins. The study is illuminating far beyond the French case, as former colonial and/or working subjects struggle for integration and recognition of their difference."--Abdellah Hammoudi, Princeton University

"Carefully argued, insightful and humane, Joan Scott's The Politics of the Veil is far and away the best account of France's identity crisis that was signaled by the famous headscarf affair. The final chapter, on the symbolic meanings of the headscarf/veil, is the most original and brilliant piece of writing that I have read on this topic. This is an indispensable book, transcending the particularity of French obsessions and forcing the reader to think about wider political problems that concern us all."--Talal Asad, author of On Suicide Bombing

"Scott traces the history and politics of veil controversies in France and draws apart intertwined strands, starting with the legacy of racism from the colonial past. She persuasively argues for the negotiation of cultural and religious differences rather than their negation. This book will be required reading for all those concerned with the integration of Muslims into Western Christian societies."--Beth Baron, author of Egypt as a Woman: Nationalism, Gender, and Politics

"This is an important and timely book that will challenge the dominant terms used to debate the French government's ban on the veil in public schools. Through a careful analysis of historical and contemporary French discourse on Muslims and Arabs, Scott helps us see how the controversy over the veil is indexical of a deep paradox that haunts the ideology of French Republicanism of which the principle of lacit is a crucial part."--Saba Mahmood, author of Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 27 people found the following review helpful By K. N. VINE VOICE on January 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Joan W. Scott's book on the headscarf controversies (*affaires des foulards*) in France over the past two decades is one of the best works of social theory that I have read in recent years. In clear, accessible prose, Scott lays out an incisive analysis of the motivations for and consequences of the headscarf ban in French public schools. Furthermore, although the controversies constitute a relatively recent phenomenon, Scott (a historian by training) does an admirable job of contextualizing the debate by presenting the colonial, religious, and philosophical sources of French national identity. The result is a nuanced and compelling study of contemporary French society and the supposed "threat" posed to it by Muslim immigrants.

The great virtue of this book is its analysis of the paradoxes of religion and secularism that have been revealed by the French government's prohibition of the headscarf (strategically referred to as the more oppressive-sounding "veil" by supporters) in school. In Scott's careful attention to media coverage of the controversies and the political and philosophical discourses of pro-ban figures, she reveals a surprising degree of chauvinism in the political ideals of French universalism; of intolerance in France's lauded defense of "abstract individualism" as the basis for citizenship; and of patriarchal authority in certain French feminists' insistence that any wearing of the "veil" is inherently oppressive and degrading of females.
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By Leo on January 21, 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Found this so engaging and interesting. It definitely sheds light and gives an insight to socio-political situation in France.
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20 of 32 people found the following review helpful By John W. Runyan III on March 16, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Joan Wallach Scott's thesis is that banning the veil in French schools has only exacerbated the differences and tensions between the French Muslim and French non-Muslim populations. I think she makes a legitimate argument for this contention.

However in the process of making her case, she manages to systematically bash the French in general for being racist, sexist, colonialist, elitist and probably some other -"ists" I can't remember. No one is spared, neither government officials, nor teachers, nor politicians, nor intellectuals, nor feminists, nor the guys she overheard in the post office.

Having lived in an Islamist state doesn't impress her either. Check out this passage from page 163:
"Chahdortt Djavann, whose claim to expertise was her own experience in Iran, offered sensationist tales of women't lack of freedom in Muslim countries (maybe because they are true?)...Djavann stated not only that women were oppressed in "Islamic societies" (her quotes), but also (in terms of colonial attitudes I described in chapter 2) that the separation of the sexes necessarily gave rise to rape and prostitution."

Okay not only does she dismiss a woman with real experience living in a theocracy, but also accuses an Iranian woman of having colonial attitudes. Maybe if this woman had read about living in Iran in a journal instead of actually having lived there she would have gotten more respect, but oh wait, what am i saying, she blows off all the French intellectuals too.

Scott never even directly acknowledges (that I could tell) that assimilation is a problem or even desirable. She ends up the book by saying something to the effect that the French need to find a better way to negotiate "being-in-common", whatever that means.

I would ask her, specifically what she would have the French do?
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