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Review of Bringing the Empire Back Home: France in the Global Age by Herman Lebovics

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Review of Bringing the Empire Back Home: France in the Global Age by Herman Lebovics
  came a holiday resort, a site of consumption, leisure, and contemplation,and not of productive work.In one of the book’s most interesting chapters, “Posing for Poster-ity,” Garner analyzes the visual representations of Arcachon and nativeªshermen and, especially, ªsherwomen through posters, postcards,guidebooks, and illustrations, which helped to create an identity for theregion. Arcachon was famous for its oysters and oyster farming, which isstill an important business. Photographers depicted this occupation morethan any other. The  benaize,  a form of head covering worn by femaleoyster diggers, came to symbolize regional tradition, even though oyster farming had developed only after the 1840s. Countless postcards showwomen, bent over, skirt or trousers hitched to their knees, bare-legged,suggesting an erotic pose. Garner indicates the ways in which these samewomen subverted the photographer’s gaze. Ultimately, however, byWorld War I, the viewer of such images is left in no doubt that thebeach belonged to the visitors, as Arcachon’s srcinal inhabitants andtheir boats were displaced one by one.What makes  A Shifting Shore   unique is the way in which Garner notonly captures the image of the people of Arcachon as presented by out-siders, but their experiences as well, even though she recognizes thatthese experiences are often mediated by the texts and photographs of others. In this sense, Garner’s book constitutes social and cultural historyat its ªnest. She has delved deeply into the local archives and sheds lighton the kinds of conºicts and anxieties that accompanied everyday life,including nineteenth-century fears of drowning and the national fascina-tion with shipwrecks. In this masterful story of change, this talented his-torian was compelled to learn about the principles of engineering, map-drawing, oyster-farming, architecture, navigation, and medicine. In sodoing, she has succeeded admirably in showing how Arcachon wastransformed over the  longue durée,  even though many of the nineteenth-century tensions between locals and outsiders still clearly live on.Caroline FordUniversity of California, Los Angeles Bringing the Empire Back Home: France in the Global Age.  By HermanLebovics (Durham, Duke University Press, 2004) 240 pp. $29.95The reasons why France has made headlines in recent years in theUnited States may seem incomprehensible to many Americans. Howcould a sheep-farmer who destroyed a McDonalds become a nationalhero? Why, if not out of ungratefulness, would the French governmentlead an international cabal to undermine American foreign policy? Howcould a democratic state forbid its citizens from wearing religious dis-plays, if this is what their faith demands? All of these apparently dis- jointed French peculiarities stem from the central question of Lebovics’ REVIEWS  |  113  lively new book: What does it mean to be French today and what con-stitutes France’s shared national heritage?The book proceeds to answer these questions by examining se-quentially ªve ways in which the nature of French national identity hasbeen challenged in recent decades. The interesting ªrst chapter,“Gardarem lo Larzac!”, examines the birth of the antiglobalizationmovement in France  avant la lettre   by focusing on the struggle of ecolo-gists, paciªsts, and urban leftists in the early 1970s to promote regional-ism in a highly centralized country and to link their regional strugglewith the anti-imperialist decolonization movements of the 1960s. Thesecond chapter delves more deeply into that link by exploring howFrance implemented an activist cultural policy in response to the erosionof its colonial empire. Through a fascinating focus on a Corsican civilservant named Emile Biasini, Lebovics recounts how successive govern-ments used cultural instruments in order to pursue the country’s  missioncivilisatrice   within the borders of continental France.In the third chapter, the author develops the idea of   patrimoine   —aword difªcult to translate with precision—conveying the sense of ashared national legacy, by focusing on internal conºicts and reformswithin the ªeld of ethnology. Chapter 4 examines the effect of multicul-turalism on the traditional concepts of an indivisible republic and uni-versal rights, and it questions whether France’s culture and polity havebeen updated to become pluralistic. The last chapter focuses on the re-cent “dance of the museums” to approach the question of what is dis-tinct about France—what the French like to refer to as their nationalexceptionalism. Bringing the Empire Back Home   is, in a way, a tour de force. Throughits lively narrative, it succeeds in painting a complex portrait of contem-porary French identity and of the tools that socially and politically con-struct it. The book is particularly strong in showing how the currentstruggle to contest globalization arose from the interplay betweenFrench cultural policy and decolonization, and from the fact that theFrench centralized model manifests itself in all walks of life—from con-trolling academic curricula to deciding on the content of museums’ col-lections. Yet Lebovics’ methodology, based on a juxtaposed narrative of ªvedifferent challenges to French identity, leaves something to be desired.First, the focus of certain chapters on individuals and others on institu-tions seems to lack any underlying logic. Why not, for instance, pick animportant actor in each of these ªve areas to illustrate the evolution of French identity? This consistency might facilitate the analytical leapfrom narrative to explanation, as well as to political implications, whichintroduces a second weakness of this book. Some of the paradoxical de-velopments in contemporary French politics are not foreshadowed bythe recent history as told by Lebovics: Why is the moderate right in-creasingly gaining the favor of the immigrants and the  beurs  (a variationof the French term,  arabe  )? Why is Jacobin republicanism a value of the 114  |  S O P H I E M E U N I E R  left, preventing the emergence of afªrmative action and “positive dis-crimination”? Why has President Chirac, a conservative, become a na-tional and international herald of anti-globalization, at least in rhetoric?The strongest reservation about this otherwise interesting book isthat it does not discuss the construction and constant reactive recon-struction of French national identity. What it means to be French is alsopartly deªned by what it means not to be French. France’s exceptional-ism emerges largely in opposition to the perceived ºaws of other na-tions’ characteristics—the United States’, for one. On a related note, theauthor’s contention that the European Union does not enter Frenchidentity because it is not part of the French heritage is puzzling, to saythe least. If true, he needs to explain why. The current lively debate onthe European Constitution and the future of European integration cer-tainly shows that this issue is far from settled. But is Lebovics correct?After all, France has abandoned much of its national sovereignty to Eu-rope over the years, not the least its national currency, the Franc, a sym-bol until then of national identity. Whether the construction of Frenchidentity includes a European dimension is worth exploring further, per-haps in another book.Sophie Meunier Princeton University Bruges: Cradle of Capitalism.  By James M. Murray (New York, Cam-bridge University Press, 2005) 409 pp. $100.00Before Antwerp, Amsterdam, and London became, in Braudel’s view,anchors of the early-modern world economy, Bruges was the trade cen-ter of northern Europe, and the economic midwife to these heirs. 1 For all its economic complexity and cultural richness, fourteenth-centuryBruges is surprisingly understudied, especially outside of Belgium.Murray’s new book is a fresh, deeply researched social portrait of the cityand its economic life from the late thirteenth to the late fourteenth cen-tury that goes a long way to ªll this scholarly lacuna. The book bristleswith important social data about Bruges’ ªnancial world and its wider civic realm, offering a compelling, impressively researched case study of early capitalism in a mercantile society. For this reason alone, Murray’sstudy should be of signal importance to scholars who seek to understandbetter one of late-medieval Europe’s economic linchpins and how itsnexus of moneychangers, brokers, hostellers, and merchants madeBruges an international “node and network” of commerce, ªnance, in-ternational trade, and textiles.Murray’s book offers the fullest portrait hitherto of Bruges as anearly center of capitalism. This city, after all, had the famous Bourse REVIEWS  |  115 1 Ferdinand Braudel,  Civilization and Capitalism. III. The Perspective of the World   (London,1984).
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