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Open Access Publications from the University of California

French Modern: Norms and Forms of the Social Environment by Paul Rabinow

  • Author(s): Fischler, Raphael
  • et al.

French Modern is one of these books that one should read twice: the first time, in order to enjoy the author's storytelling; the second time, to learn from his skillful analysis. The story, in this case, is that of the gene­ sis of French urbanisme. It is the story of "technicians of general ideas": social reformers and statisticians, military men and politicians, architects and social scientists whose work lies in "the middle ground between high culture or science and ordinary life" (p. 9). Rabinow tells us about their efforts to fashion new fields of knowledge and technologies of social control, as well as new urban forms and social spaces. Through this story, Rabinow analyzes the specific forms of rationality that these men embodied and articulated, forms of rationality that made possible a new mode of social regulation: modern city planning. While the book is about French planning, it has lessons for American planning practi­ tioners, historians, and theorists, who may find that the field of planning evolved in similar ways on both sides of the Atlantic. Both French and American planning share an early emphasis on hygiene and both gradu­ ally came to rely on universal standards in order to analyze and regu­ late the city and its population.

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