Some intellectuals deserve scholarly attention as emblems or models. They represent something larger than themselves—a trend, an ideology, a school, an institution. Others, in contrast, stand out in their singularity of thought or method. They warrant equal consideration, but not necessarily for the broader developments they exemplify. Acclaimed as he is, Alain Corbin belongs in this second category. A scholar whose oeuvre springs from an intensely personal curiosity, Corbin is arguably the most idiosyncratic historian in France today. Over four decades, he has charted a course that is entirely his own. While awarding him the 2000 Grand prix Gobert, the Académie française aptly extolled a work that “boldly extends the limits of historical method.”
A Means to the End?
Political parties use policy radicalism as a means of attaining electoral success. Differentiation from other parties and ideological renewal after a period of incumbency or prolonged opposition are valid reasons for policy innovation, but excessive radicalization has a number of detrimental effects, including mismanaging voter expectations. This article analyzes a number of examples of policy radicalization under the French Fifth Republic. It starts from concepts taken from policy mood and spatial competition models, and examines how French political parties of both Left and Right have overreached in their ideological stances, and thereby exacerbated political disenchantment among the French public. The article concludes by looking at the notion that mainstream politicians may not be acting in their own best interests when they radicalize the political agenda by misreading electoral competitive cues.
Le Pen and Besancenot Voters in the 2007 French Presidential Election
Focusing on electoral support for the extreme Left and the extreme Right on the eve of the 2007 French presidential election, this article refutes the "convergence of the extremes" theory. It draws on data from the 2007 CEVIPOF French Electoral Panel to compare the profiles of voters for Jean-Marie Le Pen and Olivier Besancenot. Combining sociological, psycho-political, and economic models for explaining voter choice, it shows how different Le Pen and Besancenot voters are in their partisan and ideological attachments, as well as their social affinities and their positions on candidates and issues. Divergent social and political logics explain the electoral support for these two candidates: their voters do not occupy the same political space, they do not have the same social background, and they do not hold the same values.
Though it is generally agreed that André Siegfried (1875-1959) was one of the most enduring and influential French commentators on the United States between the 1920s and the 1950s, scholars do not agree on the extent to which he should be considered anti-American. This article concludes that while Siegfried found the American social model to be profoundly unsettling, and that his views of the country's population were consistently informed by racist assumptions, he also evinced some admiration for its economic dynamism and regarded it as a necessary if problematic partner. Moreover, for much of his career many American commentators regarded Siegfried as a perceptive and fair-minded observer of their country, though by the 1950s his racist views drew increasing criticism. Siegfried's career thus illustrates the complexities of French intellectual anti-Americanism.
The French State between Corporatism and Globalization
Since the mid-1980s, the growth of multiplex cinemas has transformed the social, industrial, and spatial logics of film exhibition across western Europe. Pioneered in the United States, where they were developed in the mid-1970s as “destination anchors” in suburban retail centers, multiplexes first appeared in Europe in Belgium (as early as 1975), Sweden (1980), and the United Kingdom (1985). In France, multiplex development started comparatively late; a first wave of comprehensive theater modernization and rationalization, launched in the 1960s, had already created a distinctive national model of multiscreen complexes (such that one observer was moved to argue that, by the late 1980s, “without false modesty, France’s film theaters are the most attractive in Europe and among the best in the world”).
Eugen Weber's Peasants into Frenchmen has had an enduring impact on historians of European nationalism. This article situates Weber's influence on the field of nationalism and focuses on regions that played a crucial role in his analysis: peripheries. Peripheries are central to historians studying the construction of the French nation and the forging of contemporary European identity. Scholars have moved beyond Weber by developing a dynamic model of the relationship between center and periphery, and they have paid close attention to the relationship between regional and national identities. While the field of nationalism has evolved substantially since Weber's time, the questions he posed over thirty years ago still lie at the center of scholarly concerns.
French Perceptions of the Anglo-American World in the Long Twentieth Century
This article attempts to reconstruct a genealogy of one of the most ubiquitous terms in contemporary French politics: the Anglo-Saxon. It traces the emergence of the term in the second half of the nineteenth century and examines its numerous meanings through the twentieth century. Rather than assume that references to the Anglo-Saxon have been little more than straightforward forms of anti-Americanism or Anglophobia, it suggests that the term has been mobilized in specific debates, both as a reflection of French decline and as an alternative “model“ to which France should aspire. A study of the notion of the Anglo-Saxon thus offers insight into how the French have imagined two of their most prominent global competitors and how they have come to terms with the consequences of social and economic modernization.
Virtuous Racism and the War of the Sexes in Postcolonial France
Twentieth-century France invented for itself an "exception" that successfully preserved the French culture industry. Postcolonial France is experiencing another "French exception" that renders a "virtuous racism" commonplace and legitimates the discrimination that expresses this racism by identifying the undesirable "new French" as scapegoat figures. Four gender-specific stereotypes strengthen the belief that there is a form of sexism exclusive to the segregated neighborhoods of the suburbs that are inhabited primarily by French people of immigrant and colonial descent. Associated with the central figure of the garçon arabe are the beurette, the veiled Muslim French woman, and the secular Muslim. The article argues that the model of abstract, universalist France has become one of a fundamentalist republicanism that plays diverse expressions of otherness and singular identities off of one another in order to preserve a soft regime of oppression.
une géographie à inventer
This article argues that the way French society comprehends its territory is not only an aspect of a more general identity crisis, but also an acting component of an overall political model. France can be characterized as a "state-fatigued" society. Centralism has had an important spatial consequence: an alliance of the nation-state and provincial "notables" against the city. The major cities, especially Paris, produce for the rest of the country but continue to be denied effective local and regional political power. In this context, the peculiar tradition of aménagement du territoire can be analyzed as a discourse based on the myth of a demiurge, the state, which would be the only legitimate actor able to restore France's grandeur by reconquering the deprived parts of its territory. Correlative public polices target moral compensation for a supposed injustice: a partial reimbursement of the debt France once contracted by incorporating the provinces into the national territory. After reviewing disappointing recent changes in the geographical architecture of political power, the article makes some proposals. They are based on the dual framework that an empowerment of relevant spatial units will be necessary and that only a profound and massive debate involving ordinary citizens can overcome the current institutional gridlock.
In a 1989 article published by Annales under the title “Le monde comme représentation,”1 Roger Chartier articulated a conceptual framework for bridging the gap that had traditionally separated the history of mentalities from social and political history. While the former field—pioneered by Georges Duby, Robert Mandrou, and Philippe Ariès in the 1960s—had legitimized the study of collective beliefs, anxieties, and desires as historical phenomena, the latter remained largely devoted to more concrete, easily quantifiable factors such as structures, institutions, and material culture. Drawing on the anthropological and psychoanalytical premises that had informed the work of Michel Foucault, Louis Marin, and Michel de Certeau, among others, Chartier emphasized the performative dimension of individual and collective representations in order to argue that they should be understood not only as evidence registering the exercise of social and political power, but as underlying catalysts of change in their own right. Like habitus, Pierre Bourdieu’s complex model of social causality and evolution, Chartier framed representation as a symbiotic “structuring structure” that deserved to sit at the heart of historical inquiry.