Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello’s Le Nouvel Esprit du capitalisme is 843 pages long. Its considerable heft, however, has not prevented it from being widely read and commented upon. Herein lies a mystery. Why has such a dense and difficult book struck such a chord?
“French studies” were much easier to do thirty years ago when French Politics, Culture & Society was founded. France then seemed, and largely was, synonymous with Paris, which appeared knowable. It also seemed possible to scan French intellectual and cultural life across disciplines, in part because the Parisian French media loudly announced where the action was. French politics also looked distinctive internationally and French leaders projected themselves around the planet. It was understandable that FPCS would have holistic goals and attempt to cover as much of what was happening as possible while eagerly embracing inter-disciplinarity. Since then there have been massive changes, however. France's intellectual, cultural, social, and political biographies have been decentralized, Europeanized, globalized, and internationalized. French academic disciplines, like those in other countries, have been subdivided, often in difficult-to-follow ways. France itself, in the 1980s a formerly colonial great power that still spoke stridently in world affairs, is now a medium-sized member of the EU under very great economic and social strains. It is vastly harder to do holistic “French studies” now. All the more reason to try!
Remembering the PCF and CGT
Philippe Herzog and Jean-Louis Moynot were members of the top leaderships of the Parti Communiste Français (PCF) and the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT), respectively. Each participated in and lived through the dramatic years from the 1960s through the 1980s when both organizations first supported Union de la Gauche and then turned away from it, eventually precipitating both into decline in ways that would transform eventually the French political and trade union left. The strategic shifts underlying these deep and significant changes were traumatic for those who lived through them. Herzog and Moynot have recently published memoirs detailing their experiences of this period and their political lives thereafter. Both books, in different ways, give us new and important understandings of what happened during a critical moment of change in French politics.
EU Founders and Social Policy
The founders of European integration had to make momentous choices that have since deeply marked the EU. They decided to focus their efforts on market-building, hypothesizing that economic interdependency would lead in time to “spillover“ beyond the new Europe's original mandates, a decision that left many key dimensions of national sovereignty outside the mandate of integration. One of these dimensions was social policy, roughly defined as the welfare state and labor relations. This division between what the EU could and could not do has lasted, with limited exceptions, to the present. Market integration over time, however, indirectly shifted the ground under national social models, sometimes imposing adjustments that have worked against the legitimacy of Europeanization. More recently the EU, concerned about the need for social policy reform to confront globalization, has attempted to coordinate national social model change by “soft power“ methods. These methods, by and large, have not been effective. This essay will discuss the consequences of the founders' choices historically.
Mémoires of Jacques Chirac, en collaboration avec Jean-Luc Barré - Tome 1, Chaque pas doit être un but (Paris: Éditions Nil, 2009) - Tome 2, Le Temps présidentiel (Paris: Éditions Nil, 2011)
The "events" around Dominique de Villepin's abortive promotion of the CPE in spring 2006 were seen by many as a great popular victory in the defense of France's social model and another, albeit modest, version of May 1968. Others, particularly Anglophone neoliberals, saw them as proof that the French were incapable of reform. Both conclusions were wrong. The events and defeat of the CPE may have been enjoyable for many involved, but they resolved none of France's underlying and debilitating economic problems. On the other hand, the neoliberal view that the French are averse to real social policy reform is incorrect. Instead, the unresolved dilemmas surrounding the CPE episode are in large part the product of a particular strategy of reform, the "social management of unemployment," that has nourished and intensified dangerous—unavowed—social dualism in France. The present problem, illustrated indirectly by the events, is that political actors and social partners are unable to cooperate sufficiently to confront this dualism.
Are the Founding Ideas Obsolete?
Isabelle Petit and George Ross
On 9 May 1950, in an elegant salon of the Quai d’Orsay in Paris, France’s Foreign Minister Robert Schuman proposed that France and Germany, plus any other democratic nation in Western Europe that wanted to join, establish a “community” to regulate and govern the coal and steel industries across national borders. France and Germany had been at, or preparing for, war for most of the nineteenth and twentieth century, at huge costs to millions of citizens. Moreover, in 1950 iron and steel remained central to national economic success and war-making power. The Schuman Plan therefore clearly spoke to deeper issues.
Aaron Freundschuh, Jonah D. Levy, Patricia Lorcin, Alexis Spire, Steven Zdatny, Caroline Ford, Minayo Nasiali, George Ross, William Poulin-Deltour and Kathryn Kleppinger
Nicholas Hewitt, Montmartre: A Cultural History (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2017).
David Spector, La Gauche, la droite, et le marché: Histoire d’une idée controversée (XIXe–XXIe siècle) (Paris: Odile Jacob, 2017)
Graham M. Jones, Magic’s Reason: An Anthropology of Analogy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017).
Minayo Nasiali, Native to the Republic: Empire, Social Citizenship, and Everyday Life in Marseille since 1945 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2016).
Joseph Bohling, The Sober Revolution: Appellation Wine and the Transformation of France (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2018).
Venus Bivar, Organic Resistance: The Struggle over Industrial Farming in Postwar France (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018).
Todd Shepard, Sex, France, and Arab Men, 1962–1979 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017).
Donald Reid, Opening the Gates: The Lip Affair, 1968–1981 (London: Verso, 2018).
Bruno Perreau, Queer Theory: The French Response (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2016).
Oana Sabo, The Migrant Canon in Twenty-First-Century France (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2018).