Bringing the Empire Back Home

France in the Global Age

Bringing the Empire Back Home

Radical Perspectives

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Book Pages: 248 Illustrations: 29 b&w photos Published: June 2004

Author: Herman Lebovics

European Studies, Globalization and Neoliberalism, History > European History

Thirty years ago, an international antiglobalization movement was born in the grazing lands of France’s Larzac plateau. In the 1970s, Larzac farmers were joined by others from around the world in their efforts to prevent the expansion of a local military base: by ecologists, religious pacifists, and urban leftists, and by social activists including American Indians and South American peasant leaders. In 1999 some of the same farmers who had fought the expansion of the base in the 1970s—including José Bové—dismantled the new local McDonald’s. That gesture was part of a protest against U.S. tariffs on specified French exports including Roquefort cheese, the region’s primary market product. The two struggles—the one against expanding a French army camp intended to train troops for postcolonial wars, the other against American economic might—were landmarks in the global campaign to preserve local cultures. They were also key episodes in the decades-long attempt by the French to define their cultural heritage within a much changed nation, a new Europe, and, especially, an American-dominated world.

In Bringing the Empire Back Home, the inventive cultural historian Herman Lebovics provides a riveting account of how intense disputes about what it means to be French have played out over the past half-century, redefining Paris, the regions, and the former colonies in relation to one another and the world at large. In a narrative populated with peasants, people from the former colonies, museum curators, former colonial administrators, left Christians, archaeologists, anthropologists, soccer players and their teenage fans, and, yes, leading government officials, Lebovics reveals contemporary French society and cultures as perhaps the West’s most important testing grounds of pluralism and assimilation. A lively cultural history, Bringing the Empire Back Home highlights not only the political significance of France’s efforts to synthesize the regional, national, European, ethnic postcolonial, and global but also the chaotic beauty of the endeavor.


Bringing the Empire Back Home is compelling, illuminating, an invigorating contribution to the ongoing endeavor to make sense of a cultural identity in transition. Scholars interested in culture, politics or history should most definitely read this book.” — Melanie Farrimond , Dalhousie French Studies

“[A] tour de force. Through its lively narrative, [Bringing the Empire Back Home] succeeds in painting a complex portrait of contemporary French identity and of the tools that socially and politically construct it. The book is particularly strong in showing how the current struggle to contest globalization arose from the interplay between French cultural policy and decolonization, and from the fact that the French centralized model manifests itself in all walks of life—from controlling academic curricula to deciding on the content of museums’ collections.” — Sophie Meunier , Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“For those eager to understand the social tensions recently so evident in contemporary France, this book makes an excellent starting point.” — Martin Thomas , History

“Herman Lebovics offers a sophisticated set of six essays that together amount to a critique of the impact of empire on metropolitan countries, specifically France.” — Jeremy Black , Journal of World History

“Herman Lebovics provides the most sophisticated guide we have to the past generation’s identity politics in France.” — Clifford Rosenberg , Journal of Modern History

“It is hard to imagine a more appropriate moment for Bringing the Empire Back Home. The shocking view of thousands of enraged young men issues de l’immigration setting their suburban neighborhoods on fire in October 2005 have made Lebovics’ an unusually timely book.” — Andrés Reggiani , French Politics, Culture & Society

“Lebovics’ work is timely and informative as well as creative in the connections made between the French empire, its decline and current issues in French politics and society. It is definitely a must-read for anyone involved in French studies research and teaching as well as for those whose discipline is cultural studies and more specifically postcolonial studies. It is an excellent guide to understanding the current political and cultural climate in France.” — Lorie Sauble-Otto , Rocky Mountain Review

"[F]ascinating. . . . [A] valuable intervention in a contemporary set of political debates." — Donald Reid , International History Review

"Lebovics’s light touch masks the extensive research that supports his arguments. His enjoyable and profound treatise on contemporary France should be read by anyone interested in the dilemmas of the postcolonial world." — John R. Bowen , American Anthropologist

"The pieces are both essay and commentary, written with scholarly gravity and infused with a punchy rhetorical style. . . . What makes the chapter pieces more than simply an essay collection is the extended meditation on 'globalization' and 'the global' that runs throughout." — Matt K. Masuda , Journal of Colonialism & Colonial History

“As usual, Herman Lebovics gives us an innovative and stimulating new perspective, now, on France in the age of globalization.” — Patrick Weil, author of Qu’est-ce qu’un Français? Histoire de la nationalité française depuis la Révolution

“How—and even whether—to preserve their once-homogeneous culture in today’s open world is one of France’s supreme challenges today. With five sharply-etched case studies of cultural conflict—from the world soccer cup to museums to the defense of the Larzac plateau—Herman Lebovics casts penetrating light on French struggles to establish who they are and who they want to be.” — Robert O. Paxton, author of Europe in the 20th Century

“Scholars have been talking for some time about the colonial ‘legacies’ of the postcolonial present. French scholars have only recently and tentatively entered that conversation. Bringing the Empire Back Home makes an analytic and political leap as it takes us to new terrain of insight and locations of connection. Herman Lebovics’s version of what counts as French history is compelling, powerful, sensible, and deep. In setting out the direct lines between decolonization in the l960s and the antiglobalization movements that followed, he traces what joined New Caledonian separatists and Larzac farmers, protests against the ‘postcolonial military-industrial complex’ and the rise of the radical right, the new regionalisms in France in the l970s and the folk hero Bové who smashed McDonald’s windows. He identifies how imperial and capitalist expansion have been challenged in forms of popular demonstration, ingenuity, and spectacle that have repeatedly called into question what the ‘Republic’ is, who has a right to decide its boundaries, and who has what rights in it today. This is a must read that redefines the tenor and terrain of postcolonial scholarship.” — Ann Laura Stoler, author of Race and the Education of Desire: Foucault’s History of Sexuality and the Colonial Order of Things


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Herman Lebovics is Professor of History at Stony Brook University. He is the author of Mona Lisa’s Escort: Andre Malraux and the Reinvention of French Culture; True France: The Wars Over Cultural Identity, 1900–1945; and The Alliance of Iron and Wheat: Origins of the New Conservatism of the Third Republic, 1860–1914.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Illustrations ix

About the Series xi

Preface xiii

Introduction 1

1. Gardarem lo Larzac! 13

2. “What You Did in Africa, Can You Come Back to France and Do It?” 58

3. Combating Guerilla Ethnology 83

4. The Effect Le Pen: Pluralism or Republicanism? 115

5. The Dance of the Museums 143

Conclusion 179

Notes 191

Acknowledgments 219

Index 223
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3260-2
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