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Libraries & Culture 40.2 (2005) 156-175

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Phoenix Ascendant:

French Higher Education and Its Significance for Research and Learning for Library, Book, Print, and Media Culture History

The Long March of French Universities. By Christine Musselin. New York: Routledge Falmer, 2003. 224 pp. $85.00. ISBN 0-4159-3497-4.

Cultural interests possess and express transcendent power, whether it be effete or popular preoccupations. The rise of mass consumerism and mass entertainment among industrial and postindustrial nations has exerted an unbridled and unmistakable influence on higher education as well as library and information services, wherever these institutions exist. In a society and culture as highly articulated and as hoary as France, such conditions are complex and certainly nuanced. Unlike most national education systems, France possesses a highly centralized system emanating from Paris. Most governmental structures are situated on a national basis via centralizing authority and prerogative. All ministries focus their raison d'être within the nexus that is Paris.

Since the founding of the first universities in Western Europe during the Middle Ages, universities have evolved, reflecting principal relationships with both secular and ecclesiastical concerns over learning and the prerogatives exercised by universities and similar institutions.1 Often, the genesis and evolution of such institutions have reflected a fascinating history of institutional adaptation. Christine Musselin examines the changes that French universities have undergone since 1968, when the French government had to institute necessary reforms after student activism forced changes to be considered and installed.2 Although medieval in origins, French universities underwent a less glorious period until the French Revolution. After several phases of abolishment, reconstitution, and renewed lease in 1896, universities were essentially ciphers, [End Page 156] controlled by individual faculties, especially law, medicine, and philosophy.3 After May 1968 universities could manage budgets and assume autonomy, something that Parisian central authority did not permit. Not until the late 1980s did universities begin to truly utilize their 1968 and subsequent prerogatives to establish degree programs and create innovative pedagogy as well as govern themselves further.

Musselin describes these institutional and administrative conditions and maneuverings vis-à-vis governmental interests and reactions. Dynamic tensions are explored and set within a context of policy and sociological observation. Musselin provides ample justification and assurances as to how these transformations, now celebrated by all universities, originated. Treating only university structures as opposed to the grandes écoles but reflecting the two-dimensional world inhabited by both forms of higher education, Musselin brings the most illuminating analysis of French university transformation in terms of history and its bearing on change.4 Informed by fifteen years of empirical work, this study offers insight into university resistance and adaptation, resulting in flexibility of institutional response.

French universities enjoyed a renaissance, unlike prior to 1968, when faculties and the professoriat dominated any reformative or administrative considerations emanating beyond their purview. Today, as Musselin so well demonstrates, French universities are much freer to originate policies concerning degree programs, administrative authority, budgetary interests, and relationships within provincial and national necessities. The creation of more employment-related specialty degree programs and research projects aligned with economic and industrial interests is a sign of such changes. Although still highly disciplinarily oriented, attempts are being made to bridge various disciplines within dynamically enriched degree programs focused on multidisciplinary and even interdisciplinary activity.5 Today, as Musselin suggests, French universities can now enjoy their strengths and embark upon a future full of promise as autonomy becomes de rigueur.

LIS Education and Disciplinary Power

Library and information science has, for the most part, developed alongside various higher education structures as its definition has evolved. As French higher education has undergone essential readjustments, so too is this reflected in LIS and library, book, print, and media culture history and studies.6 Currently, programs providing personnel for libraries are in place in a number of universities, where students can take short degree programs in book culture, emphasizing book arts, marketing, and programs leading to lower echelon...


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