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The Anthropological Turn in French Thought: The 1970s to the Present

  • Author(s): Collins, Jacob Joseph
  • Advisor(s): Hunt, Lynn A.
  • et al.

This dissertation focuses on post-1968 French thought and looks at how French thinkers responded to a new set of challenges that emerged in the 1970s and 80s: the economy had begun to falter, the revolts of 68 failed to produce an alternative to capitalism, and the "great ideologies" that had once sustained cultural life in France - Catholicism, communism, and Gaullism - no longer mobilized people in the same way. I argue that philosophers and social theorists met these challenges by reconceiving the language of politics, using concepts and methodologies associated with anthropology to do so. They wanted to rediscover the roots of political sentiments and social bonds as a way of understanding how they had gone so astray in the twentieth century. Much of their writing was focused on the legacy of totalitarianism, the role of religion in contemporary life - which they all took to be of first importance - the fragmentation of political identities with the advent of globalization, and the persistent social inequalities that attend modern democracy. The thinkers I examine cover the entire ideological spectrum: on the far left, R�gis Debray, a revolutionary in the 1960s turned militant republican in the 70s; on the center-left Emmanuel Todd, demographer, political liberal, and sharp-eyed critic of neo-liberalism; on the center-right, Marcel Gauchet, former left-libertarian turned theorist of democracy; and on the far right, Alain de Benoist, architect of the "New Right" movement, cultural essentialist, and implacable critic of egalitarianism. I show how each thinker constructed a meta-narrative of modernity, and how, in spite of their political differences, they came to see fundamental issues in similar ways.

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