Globalization, the Confédération Paysanne, and Symbolic Power

in French Politics, Culture & Society
Author: Sarah Waters
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The Confédération paysanne can be described as a marginal farmers' union that represents the vested interests of a tiny minority and that seems to swim against a tide of socio-economic change. At a time when France is increasingly integrated into a global economy, it calls for greater protectionism, a massive increase in state subsidies, and a closure of borders to trade. Yet, far from being dismissed as marginal or anachronistic, the Confédération, at the height of its influence, was hailed as a symbol of the “general interest” and gained the enthusiastic support of a majority of French citizens. In this essay, the author suggests that the success of the Confédération had little to do with conventional political or institutional patterns but was derived instead from its “symbolic power” and its capacity to transform its own cause into a metaphor for opposition to globalization. At a time of profound crisis, the Confédération was able to capture one of the nation's most enduring myths, laying claim to a whole symbolic universe linked to peasant farming. Whilst such symbolism is hardly new in the French context, the Confédération's particular skill was to counterpose this against a dominant image of neo-liberal globalization. It posited peasant farming as an antidote to all the evils of a globalizing world, one in which identity is reaffirmed, tradition is preserved and social bonds are restored.

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