- La France: histoire, société, culture par Edward Ousselin
This new offering for the French cultural studies classroom targets advanced undergraduate and graduate students and delivers on its title’s promise: a thorough, interdisciplinary introduction to French society and culture, anchored in a survey of French history (in particular, from the Third Republic to the present). After a brief presentation of the book’s goals, logic, and assumptions, Edward Ousselin’s first chapter addresses preliminary ‘généralités’, such as geography, symbols, and stereotypes (p. 7). Chapters 2 and 3 provide an overview of the Third Republic and then of the Second World War and the trente glorieuses, respectively, although Ousselin also weaves in historical references elsewhere as relevant. The remaining nine thematic chapters examine, in the following order: the institutions of the Fifth Republic, including la France d’outre-mer; the development, successes, and limitations of the European Union; the French educational system; the economy, including the state’s role, unions, and consumption; the francophone world, its diversity, and the colonial past; ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity, with emphasis on immigration and la laïcité; the history and status of women, feminism, and sexual minorities; family life, including demographic trends, social programs, views of childhood, and leisure; and finally, the evolution of media and culture (literary, filmic) in contemporary France. A brief postscript sketching possible ‘perspectives d’avenir’ (on such diverse topics as terrorism, recent [End Page 655] elections, the state of Catholicism, and France’s status in the world today), as well as a list of common abbreviations and a rich bibliography, round out the volume. Writing in engaging and accessible prose, Ousselin avoids literary tenses, uses bold for key terms, and brackets English translations in italics, for instance ‘Précisons au préalable [Let us note from the outset]’, throughout (p. 1). In addition to some black-and-white images, features adding visual and pedagogical interest include inset boxes offering an in-depth glance at a figure, term, or event, and a section entitled ‘Pour aller plus loin’, which tests comprehension and proposes discussion prompts and reflection questions based on student research at each chapter’s conclusion. More interestingly, and in recognition of how students today consume and engage with information digitally, numerous QR codes, scannable with a smartphone, direct readers to further online exploration, whether to a map or image, an organization’s website (for example, the INSEE or the Eiffel Tower), a web page dedicated to a topic (‘la Négritude’ or Némirovsky; the CAC 40 or Act-Up Paris), audio and video materials (on May 1968, or Muslims in France), or literary and filmic productions (from Apostrophes to Zola). While of broad interest, this textbook would particularly suit North American anglophone learners, as it regularly encourages intercultural comparison between France and the US and Canada. Along with William Edmiston and Annie Duménil’s La France contemporaine (Boston, MA: Heinle Cengage, 5th edn 2016) and Heather Willis Allen and Sébastien Dubreil’s Alliages culturels: la société française en transformation (Boston, MA: Heinle Cengage, 2014) — two textbooks similar in scope, aim, and content on the market — Ousselin’s up-to-date, comprehensive reader provides a welcome and appealing resource for teachers of contemporary French culture and society.