Twenty-First-Century France : A Sociological Approach

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Course Information
Terms offered: 
Language of instruction: 
Contact Hours: 

This course hopes to give students the ability to understand French society through the differences they experience on a daily basis. Knowledge of facts and figures alone does not lead to better understanding—it is necessary to study facts from their inception all the way through their place in the contemporary public discourse. This study of “reality” thus avoids falling into notions of common sense. Rather, we will analyze contemporary French themes through careful reflection rooted in the social sciences

Attendance policy: 

Attendance is mandatory. Please note that absences and tardies will prevent you from fully understanding the material of the course and lowers your final grade. In case of illness, please alert your professor and the academics coordinator.

Learning outcomes: 

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  • Discuss contemporary French society based on daily life in Paris
  • Identify French people and their common behavior according to sociological methodology
  • Analyze and understand cultural differences by analyzing contemporary French society with the help of information learned in class
  • Discuss one’s own culture by comparing two different societies
Method of presentation: 

The course will take the form of a seminar. For each course there will be a different reading. Every student must read the assigned text before the course, as course readings will form the basis of the discussion between the instructor and the students. Students must participate actively during discussions. In addition to these readings, students should consult the daily/weekly/monthly French press. Multiple courses will be based on current affairs in France, and each student must be able to speak in class about current news in relation to the course and current events. We will organize a conference during the course, date and time to be determined (it will be held outside of the normal class time)

Required work and form of assessment: 
  • Class participation: 20%

  • Written assignments: 2x15% = 30%

  • Mid-term exam: 20%

  • Final exam: 30%

In addition to class participation, students must read the assigned texts for each course and participate in course discussions. There will be two exams, a mid-term and a final. These exams are based on in-class material. Two written assignments (2 pages each) must be turned in on the specified date on the syllabus (these assignments can be replaced by an oral presentation at the end of the semester if so desired).

Session Content
General Introduction
1 Course presentation. Panorama of the French press.

Introduction to Intercultural Studies « Etiquette et savoir-vivre », Denis C. Meyer, 2004.
Look up a specific point of interest in the text that you would like to discuss in class


The French Populace. « France 2009 : l’age moyen à la maternité atteint 30 ans » Gilles Pison, bulletin mensuel d’information de l’INED, mars 2010.

  1. What is the INED?
  2. What is the fertility rate index?

What is culture? « Nouveaux regards sur la culture. L’évolution d’une notion en anthropologie, Denys Cuche, Sciences Humaines, 77, nov. 1997

  1. Does a clear definition of culture exist?
Pedagogy and Education

The Educational System in France. France under the microscope, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2007.

  1. What interests you the most about this system of teaching?

« L’exigence laïque du respect mutuel » Y. Benguigui et H. Pena-Ruiz, Le monde diplomatique, janvier 2002


Religion in France. Images of France, website: « L’état de la pratique religieuse », INSEE, mars 1998

  1. Look at the numbers and compare them to what you know about religion in the United States

Deadline: 1st Written Assignment: What surprises you about the French method of education? Note three examples and compare them to what you know about the American system.


Family. « La famille française moderne», in

  1. What do you think about what you’ve observed, in Paris, about French families?

Discrimination. « Discrimination: une question de minorités visibles ». Cris Beauchemin, Christelle Hamel , Maud Lesné , Patrick Simon, bulletin mensuel d’information de l’INED, avril 2010

  1. Based on the concept of positive discrimination, we will discuss affirmative action and the differences between France and the USA

Assignment: A personal research project in the French press about statistics of ethnicity and a comparison between France and the USA. This will serve as the basis of our discussion.

9 MId-Term
Identity, Ethnicity, Community

« La France et ses étrangers, 1789-1945 », Émile Temime, in Immigration et intégration, l’état des savoirs, Philippe Dewitte, dir., La découverte, Paris, 1999, pp 56-68

  1. Explain the following terms: assimilation, xenophobia
  2. What does the author mean by the term “national discourse”?

« Burqa: l’assimilation en défaut ? ». Éric Fassin et Abdellali Hajjat, Libération, 26 janvier 2010

  1. Find press articles about the “headscarf affair” and prepare them for discussion

The Youth and The Suburbs (“Banlieue”)

  1. What do you know about this subject? What are some of the clichés in the USA?
  State and Power

Understanding the Political System in France. http://www.gouvernement .fr

  1. What are the fundamental differences between France and the USA?

Right and Left, Political History. Encyclopedia Universalis.

Deadline: 2nd Written Assignment: Describe how the executive and legislative branches work in France


Social Protection, Pierre Maurice Clair, Masson, 1984, pp 143-150

« Les acquis sociaux », Atlas des Français, Autrement, 2002

  1. Compare with the American System

Social Protection (cont.). Les glaneurs et la glaneuse,  Agnès Varda, 2000

  1. Watch the film before class

Paris and “Province”. Atlas des Français, Autrement, 2002. « Paris-Province », pp 16-17 et Nelly Mauchamp, op. cit.pp 46-49

  1. Which other regions in France do you know about?
18 Conference

Women and Society. “Les Women’s studies aux Etats-Unis, Eliane Elmaleh, .Transatlantica [En ligne], 1 | 2003, mis en ligne le 27 mars 2006.

  1. What are the differences between American and French feminism?

Abortion. « Pourquoi le nombre d’avortement n’a-t-il pas baissé en France depuis 30 ans ? », Populations et sociétés, n° 407, décembre 2004

  1. What do you know about these questions in America?
21 Oral Presentations
22 Course conclusions
23 Final Exam
Required readings: 

All of the texts in the course book are required. French press should also be consulted at least twice a week.