Citizenship and Identity in France

43B :  Aspects of French Culture
Fall 2019
S. Maslan


Readings will range from enlightenment philosophers to contemporary fiction.  We will watch films from the 1930s through the present.

Course Description:

What does it mean to be a citizen?  One quick answer is to say that a citizen is a person who is is recognized as belonging to a State, as having rights and protections, as being a member of a political and social order.  But even this quick definition raises more questions than it answers.  In our age of globalisation, of refugee crises, of Brexit, of HB1 visas, and of border walls, how we decide if someone “belongs”?  Questions about citizenship and immigration are not only questions about rights, they are also, inevitably, questions about national identity.  Who “we” are is shaped by our beliefs about and actions toward those whose status is precarious, liminal, or, seemingly, non-existant.

In this course we will study French ideas about citizenship and belonging, about participation and protection, from the early modern period through the present.  France sees itself as the birthplace of human rights and as a refuge for those fleeing persecution. But these beliefs have been tested throughout French history by internal tensions and external crises.  We will study the ways in which France today tries to reconcile its often opposing cultural and political imperatives.

We will study fiction, philosophy, and politcs from the eighteenth century through the twenty-first.   We will study ideas about cosmopolitanism and universalism.  We will study some crucial historical moments: the Dreyfus affair, the refugee influx of the 1930s, and the Algerian war.  We will study the most recent examples in which France faces challenges as it seeks to integrate new identities, new practices, new modes of belonging within French citizenship.  We will pay attention to the politics of recent elections, the prolonged state of emergency, the “burkini,” and more.  We will think about the ways in which France experiences the tensions and transformations of our times differently from the ways the United States does.

Additional Information:

Course taught in English; knowledge of French not required.  This course  satisfies the College of Letters and Science breadth requirement in Historical Studies or Social and Behavioral Studies.

Section times and locations in the Schedule of Classes