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Intellectuals, Culture and Public Policy in France

Intellectuals, Culture and Public Policy in France: Approaches from the Left

Volume: 19
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 244
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  • Book Info
    Intellectuals, Culture and Public Policy in France
    Book Description:

    French intellectuals have always defined themselves in political terms. They figure in common representation as oppositional figures set against State and government. But speaking truth to power is not the only way that intellectuals in France have brought their influence to bear upon political fields. Ahearne’s book explores a neglected dimension of French intellectuals’ practice. What happens when, instead of denouncing from without the worlds of government and public policy, French intellectuals become voluntarily, at least for a while, entangled within those worlds? After a historical and theoretical overview, the heart of the book is constituted by a series of case studies exploring policy domains in which strategies for shaping the broad ‘culture’ of France have been debated and developed. These comprise issues of laicity and secularization, reform of the educational curriculum, programmes of cultural ‘democratization’ and ‘democracy’, and public television programming. It explores the policy engagement of intellectuals such as Pierre Bourdieu, Michel de Certeau, André Malraux, Cathérine Clément, Régis Debray, Francis Jeanson, Henri Wallon, Blandine Kriegel, and Edgar Morin. ‘An interesting and stimulating read … I shall be recommending elements of this book as higher-level reading for students taking undergraduate modules on 'Republican values' and the French education system and 'French Popular culture'. I am sure that many other colleagues elsewhere in British and US universities will want to do likewise.’ Hugh Dauncey, Newcastle University.

    eISBN: 978-1-84631-608-1
    Subjects: History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction: Focus and Limits (pp. 1-6)

    Historical representations of intellectuals in France have been dominated by a particular model of this figure that has come to function in some respects like a myth. Its defining elements are well known. The figure emerges as such at the end of the nineteenth century, pitting its autonomous reasoning against the compromised reasoning of State and politicians, speaking truth and justice to power. The seductive force of the model is clear, and it has also manifested itself forcefully at important moments in French political history – it would be foolish to lose sight of this in the name of academic revisionism....

    • CHAPTER ONE Intellectuals and Public Policy in France: An Overview (pp. 9-31)

      A study of the relations between left-wing public intellectuals and policy processes in France might, at first sight, seem a curious proposition. Rémy Rieffel has observed that

      state intervention in cultural matters has always provoked a certain mistrust on the part of French intellectuals, who are inclined to be individualist and anti-authoritarian. The figure of the intellectual as ‘critic of power’ has remained dominant throughout the Fifth Republic [i. e., since 1958], although one can observe the beginnings of a change in this posture with the accession of the Left to power in 1981.¹

      Keith Reader, likewise, has noted the...

    • CHAPTER TWO Intellectuals within Policy Processes: Conceptual Approaches (pp. 32-50)

      Policy experts are prone to castigate the ‘generalities’ contained in the reflection of public intellectuals on public policy. Intellectuals themselves often seem frustrated by the reception of their work by politicians: their ideas are misunderstood, distorted, misleadingly packaged, binned, etc. They suffer perhaps from what Robert Damien calls a ‘Syracuse complex’: like Plato in Syracuse, they want to derive directly from ideal principles a blueprint for an ideal republic (Damien suggests that the inductive empiricism of a Machiavelli or a Bacon provides a more modest starting point).¹ I think that both of the principles of dissatisfaction outlined above need to...

    • CHAPTER THREE Laicity: Architects and Interpreters (pp. 53-85)

      ‘Laicity’ is commonly seen as a ‘cornerstone’ of the French republican pact.¹ The letter sent in the name of Jacques Chirac to Bernard Stasi in July 2003 asking him to set up a commission to review the practical implementation of the principle asserted that:

      France is a lay republic. This rule, solemnly asserted in our Constitution, is the fruit of a long historical tradition. It was imposed to guarantee the neutrality of public authorities and to respect different beliefs. It became firmly rooted in our institutions with the law of 9 December 1905 separating Churches and the State.²

      The continuing...

    • CHAPTER FOUR The Expression and Critique of Cultural Policy: André Malraux and Pierre Bourdieu (pp. 86-121)

      We have seen in the previous chapter on laicity how intellectuals can play a founding role in the institution of certain symbolically charged domains of public policy. Terms like ‘agenda setting’ and ‘alternative specification’ do not quite capture the nature of this role, insofar as it comprises rendering that domain thinkable in the first place, framing it and then imposing it as a category of thought and action. Even if this process overall is collective, gradual and stuttering, individual public intellectuals (like Condorcet, Quinet and Buisson) can play decisive parts within it. The principal focus of this chapter will be...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Curriculum Reform and Intellectuals: The Common and the General (pp. 122-160)

      Debates around the Ministry of Culture have staged and often dramatized in explicit manner issues around culture and the setting of public policy. Intellectuals have been drawn into this process. However, as suggested above, we should not restrict our exploration of culture-shaping policies to the jurisdiction of this ministry. Educational policies have arguably exerted a far more powerful effect upon the culture of the nation as a whole. And it is precisely when these policies come up (as they inevitably must do) against questions concerning the overall shape and purposes of culture for educational transmission that generalist intellectuals have recurrently...

    • CHAPTER SIX Cultural Democracy: Representation, Institutions and Experimentation (pp. 161-193)

      Cultural democratization as a project – whether played out within policies labelled as ‘educational’ or ‘cultural’ – meshed readily with the founding template for the left-wing ‘intellectual’ in France. First, in its democratic thrust, it aspired to augment the capacity (kratos) of the people (demos) by equipping them with the best that had been thought, written and staged. Second, it required at the same time a basis of intellectual and cultural authority: how otherwise could a corpus of the most appropriate cultural resources and thematic foci be stabilized and transmitted? However, that template contained within it more unruly elements. The intellectual, paragon...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Television: Anxiety and Care (pp. 194-215)

      The figure of the intellectual, as well as the projects of cultural democratization and cultural democracy, emerged in contexts of relative cultural scarcity and clear cultural hierarchy. Works of intellect and imagination were not abundantly available, and access to them and to the insights they generated was problematic. Intellectuals looked (as cultural democratizers) to widen such access, or (as cultural democrats) to champion forms of intellect and imagination that without their support would continue to be dismissed, censored or commercially adulterated. The conflict between these approaches was not always absolute. However, the presuppositions on which they were both initially based...

  7. Conclusion (pp. 216-222)

    The dominant image of the French public intellectual over the last century or so may have been the critic of power set against the State, but we have seen that this in fact overlay other modes in which the role could be assumed. This did not necessarily involve a renunciation of that critically expressive disposition that constituted the species. Even when they became involved in state policy processes, traditionally a foil for the definition of an intellectual’s autonomy, we saw how intellectual figures as divergent as Malraux or Bourdieu carved out spaces where such a disposition could insistently play itself...

  8. Bibliography (pp. 223-236)
  9. Index (pp. 237-244)