I had a pleasant surprise today when I went to my first Introduction to Contemporary Cultural History class today at La Sorbonne: this semester, the class will be focused on l’américanisation. The nerd in me was a little disappointing to miss out on the theory the class did last semester (now that I’m going to do this American Studies gig, I want more theoretical background), but hell yes. Americanization.

The graduate student who was teaching my Travail Dirigé (the French socialized education’s take on a discussion group) came to class, but was on “active” strike. This means she would come to class to set things up for the semester, but refused to give her actual lesson. She explained why she was on strike–she and her colleagues dislike Xavier Darkos (Sarkozy’s education minister)’s reforms.

Then a German exchange student who I had been talking to before class wanted her to explain the “other side of the issue”–what could be good about the potential reforms. My German friend asked if their these reforms would “modernize” the education system.

This is when things really got interesting.

My Professor explain that “modernize” was a buzzword designed to make opponents of the reforms look like reactionaries. Then she equated the notion of “modernization” to that of “américanisation.” Both were loaded, vague terms. She was fighting against this modernizaiton, this americanisation, that would mean more quantititative evaluation of Professors and Researchers.

Now France definitely has huge problems with its educational system, and I am all for reform of this system (this Professor also said she was for some reform), but it is interesting to me that the part of what Sarkozy is doing with his educational reforms fits into a large trope of contemporary American pop-culture: anti-intellecutalism. Sarkozy, who prides himself on copying the best of what America does, wants more oversight of French Professors. My sense is that he’s playing into the perception that Academics sit around all day lazily musing about Marx without accomplishing anything productive.

More generally, it is interesting for me to see how many French people want to adopt parts of American culture I find least appealing. Pierre-Antoinee, a friend of mine from the foyer, talks about France doesn’t compensate their elites enough and needs to cut its social safety net.

What is most interesting about this perspective is the that Americanization is the thing to do because America is so universally defined as successful. People want to consume the American way of consumerism because the quantitative successes of the Consumer Republic.

Anyway, I’m excited to see what the trendy, intellectual “américanistes” who are pictured smoking on the back of the textbook I just bought have to say about all this.

2 thoughts on “Paris VI: L’américanisation

  1. this is really interesting, and distressing to think that the more embarrassing parts of american (academic) culture might be being adopted. makes me think of something that’s going on at vassar right now–there’s a new economic dean and the creative writing department is being way, way downsized (classes cut and adjunct professors fired) so as to direct money toward what is seen as more important. more “modernization”, maybe?

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  2. I have doubts over the extent to which France could ever truly become ‘Americanized’. I feel like a country with such a quintessentially European history and culture could only ever really nod their heads in the way of the American model. Although what the professor said about using the term ‘modernization’ as a political tool for securing support (or rather, undermining opposition) is a really interesting point. I feel like it’s pretty valid too.Personally, I’d PREFER to be in an education system where the professors sit around ‘musing about Marx’, rather than having to adhere to daily reports, quotas and regulations…! But that’s just me.I hope you’re doing alright in France man. From reading over your posts it sounds like you’re doing a really good job of learning from what you see and putting it in a wider context. It’s interesting stuff.Let me know if you want to do any traveling in the UK and need a ride. I’m still good for that offer.

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