The politics of atrocity: The scandal in the French Congo (1905)

Edward Berenson

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


    On February 15, 1905, the mass-circulation Petit Parisien reported that one Georges Toquet, a colonial administrator, had been charged with "assassination and violence against several natives" from the French Congo. The following day all the major Parisian papers and several provincial ones led with a much larger story of what the Petit Parisien was already calling France's "Scandales Coloniaux". Two colonial administrators "laid their hands on a young black man, whom they bound tightly with rope". They then inserted "a stick of dynamite⋯ in the African's anus and blew him up". The structure and style of these stories closely resembled the typical fait divers, or miscellaneous (crime) story, of the Belle Epoque. Only, unlike most mainland faits divers, the Congo story had potentially serious political consequences. "It was the prelude", as the Petit Parisien declared, "to an enormous scandal in the colonial world". Sociologists define scandal as an event that implicates important people and often members of the government. It involves transgressions, or perceived transgressions, against widely accepted moral standards and as such could call the reputations of key individuals into question. Scandals could change the relations of power in a society, or reaffirm existing values and mores. Although the Congo scandal would ultimately serve to reinforce prevailing ideas about the merits of colonialism in France, government officials could not, at the outset, be confident that such would be the case.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)109-138
    Number of pages30
    JournalHistoria y Politica
    Issue number39
    StatePublished - 2018


    • Atrocities
    • Colonialism
    • Congo
    • France
    • Scandal

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • History
    • Sociology and Political Science


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