What does Covid-19 reveal about France today? What are its effects on culture, politics, and society? One of the contentions of this special issue is that measuring its impacts takes on full significance when approached in the context of other crises that have affected the nation in recent years. These include growing inequality and social and political division, and the rise of populism. This special issue examines how these existing predicaments shed light on the impact of Covid-19. It also seeks to explore ways through which we may give meaning to this tragic moment in French history through art and the public humanities.
France in the Age of Covid-19
Éric Touya de Marenne
A White Republic? Whites and Whiteness in France
Mathilde Cohen and Sarah Mazouz
France is an overwhelmingly majority-White nation. Yet the French majority is reluctant to identify as White, and French social science has tended to eschew Whiteness as an object of inquiry. Inspired by critical race theory and critical Whiteness studies, this interdisciplinary special issue offers a new look at White identities in France. It does so not to recenter Whiteness by giving it prominence, but to expose and critique White dominance. This introduction examines the global and local dimensions of Whiteness, before identifying three salient dimensions of its French version: the ideology of the race-blind universalist republic; the past and present practice of French colonialism, slavery, and rule across overseas territories; and the racialization of people of Muslim or North African backgrounds as non-White.
This introduction to the special issue highlights dominant approaches to the study of women's and gender history in colonial and postcolonial Maghrib. Moreover, it delineates the analytical agenda that frames our inquiry, and reviews the essays in this collection.
Globalizing the History of French Decolonization
Jessica Lynne Pearson
While the recent “transnational” and “global” turns in history have inspired new approaches to studying the French Revolution and the French Resistance, they have made a surprisingly minor impact on the study of French decolonization. Adopting a global or transnational lens, this special issue argues, can open up new possibilities for broadening our understanding of the collapse of France's global empire in the mid-twentieth century as well as the reverberations of decolonization into the twenty-first.
Representations of Women in the French Imaginary
Historicizing the Gallic Singularity
Jean Elisabeth Pedersen
This article, the introduction to the special issue “Representations of Women in the French Imaginary: Historicizing the Gallic Singularity,” frames the work of contributors Tracy Adams, Christine Adams, Jean Elisabeth Pedersen, Whitney Walton, and Kathleen Antonioli by analyzing two especially important contemporary debates about French sexual politics, one popular and one academic: (1) the international controversy over Catherine Deneuve's decision to sign a French manifesto against the American #MeToo movement in Le Monde; and (2) the mixed French and American response to the work of Mona Ozouf in Les mots des femmes: Essai sur la singularité française. The five articles in the special issue itself bring new breadth and depth to the study of these and related debates by exploring a range of different French representations of women in a series of key texts, topics, and historical episodes from the rise of the Middle Ages to the aftermath of World War I.
Through the history of the short-lived 1947 radio show La Tribune de l'Invalide, this article examines how the social and political context of the Liberation offered disability activists a unique opportunity to demand pensions, medical care, and social services hitherto denied to them by the French state. Drawing on transcripts of the broadcasts and correspondence between listeners and the show's host Maurice Didier, the article demonstrates how disability activists played a pivotal, if little acknowledged, role in the construction of the postwar welfare state by highlighting French society's historic neglect of disabled civilians.
Arguing that the resistance in France during the Second World War was always transnational in important ways, this piece identifies some of the recent scholarship that has expanded both the temporal and geographic parameters of the French Resistance. It introduces some of the key themes of this collection of articles and underscores the important contributions made by the participating authors. As these articles reveal, we can find sites of transnational resistance by looking at the relationship between the Allies and the resistance, the role that non-French denizens played in the resistance, the politics of cultural resistance, and the circulation of downed Anglo-American aircrews in Europe.
Writing History and the Social Sciences with Ivan Jablonka
This introduction outlines Ivan Jablonka’s theory and practice of writing the social sciences as foregrounded in three of his most noted, recent books, A History of the Grandparents I Never Had, History is a Contemorary Literature, and Laëtitia. As he outlines in his own contribution here, Jablonka advances rigorous, methodical research that nevertheless details the subjective investment of the researcher while at the same time utilizing creative “literary” techniques to engage a wide spectrum of readers well beyond the habitual circles of academic specialists. The essays contributed by Julie Fette, Sarah Fishman, Melanie Hawthorne, Don Reid, and Nathan Bracher explore various facets of Jablonka’s approach, including, respectively: writing history with family stories, resisting the erosion of factual reasoning in the Trump years, pursuing biographies of supposedly non-descript lives, appreciating the importance of Communist cultural networks in postwar France, and revisiting the role of the subject in the social sciences.
To Bear Witness After the Era of the Witness
The Projects of Christophe Boltanski and Ivan Jablonka
This essay examines how two French individuals in the third generation of Holocaust victims/survivors, Christophe Boltanski and Ivan Jablonka, research and present their grandparents and how they challenge contemporary memory culture. Their works differ in their ambitions and the strategies used to achieve them, but both Boltanski and Jablonka take the most disrespected of historical genres, the history of the author’s family, and reveal its potential in an arena where the duty to remember what was done to Jews as a group can obscure the complex individuals who were victims. These forgotten selves and what they reveal about the societies in which they lived are the subject of Boltanski’s and Jablonka’s work. Particular attention is devoted to the Communist parties in Poland and France and the relations of their grandparents to them.
Comics, Memory, and Cultural Representations of 17 October 1961
The brutal police repression of the demonstration of 17 October 1961 stands as a stark reminder of the violence of French colonialism. A continuing official reluctance to acknowledge these traumatic events has led individuals and groups to seek alternative routes for recognition. This article explores one of these alternative routes: the comic book, and specifically Octobre Noir, a collaboration between writer Didier Daeninckx and graphic artist Mako. By analyzing the reframing of 17 October 1961 within the comic form, this article argues that Octobre noir offers a site for interrogating the relationship between history and memory. This is achieved by exchanging a cultural narrative of police brutality and Algerian victimization for a narrative of legitimate protest and Algerian political agency. Octobre noir exemplifies the value of the comic book as a vector of memory able to represent the past in ways that enrich historical analysis and inter disciplinary debate.