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.
France's Double-Talk on Globalization
France has become a worldwide champion of antiglobalization. France is home to José Bové—sheepfarmer turned McDonalds’ wrecker and, in the process, world famous antiglobalization activist. France is also home to ATTAC, a vocal organization originally designed to promote the so-called “Tobin tax” on financial transactions, but which has since become a powerful antiglobalization lobby present in over 30 countries. France is a country where intellectuals have long denounced the cultural and economic shortcomings of US-led globalization, and where newspapers and other media outlets have endlessly documented how France was threatened by foreign entertainment, customs and values. In short, criticizing globalization “sells” in France. French politicians have understood and embraced this trend. On the Left as on the Right, for the past few years, political figures have loaded their speeches with rhetoric critical of a phenomenon that gets a lot less attention in other European countries and in the United States.
Making Sense of the Anti-Same-Sex-Marriage Movement in France
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