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Diana Holmes & David Looseley (eds.), Imagining the popular in contemporary French culture

Peter Hawkins
p. 177-178
Référence(s) :

Diana Holmes & David Looseley (eds.), Imagining the popular in contemporary French culture, Manchester & New York, Manchester University Press, 2013, 254 p.

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1This collection of essays reflects the growing academic interest in the popular culture of France in UK university departments of French and Francophone studies, where the analysis of canonical high-cultural literary texts is often still predominant. The opening theoretical introductions by the editors, discussing the categories of “lowbrow, middlebrow and highbrow” in cultural production and the rival principles of “politics and pleasure” in official French cultural policy, are followed by a “discursive history of French popular music” by David Looseley, tracing the notions of “authenticity and appropriation across a wide historical survey”. Diana Holmes goes on to examine “the mimetic prejudice” in the French popular novel; and David Platten traces the themes of “identification, imitation and critical mortification” in French popular cinema, often neglected in favour of its “high cultural” and “art-house” varieties. Lucy Mazdon traces the ideology of the “national popular” through the evolution of French television since the Liberation years, from the monolithic state-run ORTF to the contemporary proliferation of digital channels. Nigel Armstrong wonders if “popular culture means popular language” and looks at social and linguistic change in the contemporary French vernacular. The volume is rounded off with a brief concluding chapter that identifies a move from “a culture of the word to a polyvalent culture of the visual, the sonic and the digital”.

2In spite of its synthesizing ambitions, it is difficult to trace a common thread through the disparate chapters of the collection. The survey is also not as complete as it might have been: one wonders why more attention was not paid to topics such as the typically French fascination with “bande dessinée” and graphic novels, or to the culture of sport in France, both areas currently being developed as research specialisms in academic departments of French studies. It is also curious that the chapter on the evolution of the French language doesn’t give more space to the proliferation of “argot” or slang in French everyday speech and oral forms of expression, such as rap music and stand-up comedy. In terms of the study of popular music, it is the chapters by David Looseley which are likely to attract the most interest, well-versed as they are in the very Anglo-centric domains of cultural studies and Anglophone popular music studies, as well as the avatars of French state cultural policy. Looseley draws attention to the ambivalence of the term “populaire” in the French context, where it refers more to “folk” culture; whereas the term “culture de masse”, with its elitist overtones, is probably more appropriate to the Anglophone conception of “popular culture”. His opening chapter analyses the intervention of the French state in the development of popular culture since as long ago as the mid-nineteenth century, and the tensions that arise between its pretensions to cultural universalism and the growth of commercially-motivated forms of entertainment, notably those of popular music. His chapter on the discursive history of French popular song is impressively wide-ranging and thoroughly documented, tracing the evolution of notions of authenticity from the Troubadours right up to the early 21st century reactions to recent television talent shows such as “Star Academy”. The later chapters are less encyclopaedic although equally well documented, but likely to be of less interest to researchers working on popular music. In general the collection provides a stimulating alternative view of the significance of popular culture in a linguistic domain singularly different from the more familiar Anglo-American mainstream.

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Référence papier

Peter Hawkins, « Diana Holmes & David Looseley (eds.), Imagining the popular in contemporary French culture », Volume !, 12 : 1 | 2015, 177-178.

Référence électronique

Peter Hawkins, « Diana Holmes & David Looseley (eds.), Imagining the popular in contemporary French culture », Volume ! [En ligne], 12 : 1 | 2015, mis en ligne le 30 novembre 2015, consulté le 19 janvier 2019. URL :

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Peter Hawkins

Peter Hawkins est Senior Research Fellow au département de français de la School of Modern Languages, University of Bristol. En 2013, il a réalisé Love and Anarchy: the songs of Léo Ferré, un CD de ses adaptations en anglais du chanteur franco-monégasque, et a publié plusieurs articles sur lui. Il fait régulièrement des recensions sur les livres portant sur la musique populaire française pour French Studies et le Journal of European Studies.

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