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.
Globalization, the Confédération Paysanne, and Symbolic Power
Susan Carol Rogers
“Peasant Fever That Goes Beyond Corporatism,” “Peasants: Old-Style and Modern.”1 Such headlines led stories in the French press about the August 1999 attack on a MacDonald’s deep in the French hinterlands by a group affiliated with the farmers union Confédération Paysanne. The incident, noted in the American press as a colorful example of Gallic excess, drew weeks of substantial and sympathetic attention from the French press and general public, inspired vocal support from politicians across the political spectrum, and catapulted the group’s leader, José Bové, to the status of national hero. Part of the significance attributed in France to the event, as suggested by the headlines above, lay in claims that this action represented a radical new departure for farm organizations: unlike previous farmer protests—habitually no less symbolically- charged, well-orchestrated, or widely supported—this one, it was frequently said, spoke to issues of concern to society as a whole, not simply to the corporate interests of farmers.
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asserting French exceptionalism in a world that supposedly no longer shares France's concern with human dignity. Indeed, one of the interviewees, Philippe, invoked José Bové, a French sheep farmer and head of the Conféderation paysanne (a vocal farmers union