Tours of Duty, Cross-Identification and Introjection: The Colonial Administrative Mind in Wartime Indochina




Abstract  Some scholars have explained colonial policies as the outgrowth of the need to provide profits and prestige for the motherland. Others have linked policymaking to the use of colonial space as experimental laboratories of modernity; while others assert that the overseas was a terrain for finding solutions to some of the political, social and aesthetic problems which were affecting France at the time. In contrast, this paper traces how colonial policies can be explained at the level of individual colonial administrators. It does so not only by reference to the social backgrounds of officials, but also their inner “psychic processes.” This study addresses the colonial tendency to imagine cross-identification between France and the colony. It presents three case studies of colonial officials in Indochina to investigate how administrators' perceptions of France became projected onto the colonies, and how one of them incorporated within himself some of the attributes of the colonized, an example of introjection. It is argued that these processes had an impact on policymaking. My theoretical goal with this piece was to apply a psychoanalytic approach to the study of the empire.