Our Encyclopedia of Contemporary French Culture reflects the growing interest in French cultural studies that is a feature of the current academic and intellectual scene. Its existence echoes, in other words, the trend towards a broadening of the syllabus for further and higher education programmes in French, away from the once sacrosanct duo of language and canonical literature, to incorporate such areas as cinema, political and social institutions, gender-based studies and critical theory. More generally, it will be relevant to students of areas such as above who do not necessarily have a particular interest in French culture per se. French cinema remains the dominant Western national industry outside the United States; French political history and institutions, given France's place since 1789 as the first modern nation-state, exercise a continuing fascination; feminist theory, and critical theory more generally, are frequently nowadays thought of as characteristically French developments. Our text presupposes no knowledge of the French language, nor indeed of France's history and institutions beyond what might be expected of the educated lay reader of a quality daily paper or news weekly, so that its usefulness will extend well outside the domain of French studies.
The Encyclopedia of Contemporary French Culture is intended, above all, to break new ground. Our project, in producing it, has been to create a reference volume which, unlike the standard works of reference that exist within the context of French studies, brings together material relating to French (and francophone) culture defined in its very broadest sense. Areas covered, and connected, by the Encyclopedia's palette of essay texts include art, cinema, economic issues, education, food and wine, intellectual life, linguistic issues, literature, media, music, performing arts, politics and society, transport, and technology. While the chronological period taken in by the Encyclopedia ranges from the end of World War II in 1945 to the present day, we have sought to weight the contents of many of our overview articles towards the latter. However, some pre-1945 material has been included where developments in contemporary French society would be difficult or impossible to understand without it.
The Encyclopedia is composed of pieces of varying lengths, ranging from fairly extensive short essays to thumbnail sketches. Longer entries are 'facts-fronted' and have lists of texts for further reading, some of which are accompanied by a short note explaining their content and/or relevance. Essays and entries are carefully cross-referenced, either in the text or in the see also section at the end of the entry. The purpose of this is to permit the Encyclopedia's readers to pursue their own 'paths' through the texts contained in the volume, teasing out connections that might not perhaps otherwise have been self-evident.
In an enterprise of this kind, it is impossible to be all-inclusive. The selection of entries contained in the Encyclopedia reflects this fact, and reflects a number of decisions which we, as editors, in consultation with our editors at Routledge, found ourselves having to make. We decided, for example, that it was important that the Encyclopedia should address francophone culture, as well as the cultural life of mainland France and its overseas départements and territories (DOM-TOMs such as Martinique, Guadeloupe and La Réunion), and that it should avoid doing so in a tokenistic manner. Issues of space meant, however, that we could not engage with the culture(s) of la francophonie-the totality of French-speaking areas-as comprehensively as with that of France itself. We concluded, therefore, regretfully, that only those francophone countries which are geographically close to the Hexagone or which, for a variety of reasons, enjoy close cultural links with France, should be the object of scrutiny in our volume. We also decided that aspects of francophone culture
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Publication information: Book title: Encyclopedia of Contemporary French Culture. Contributors: Alex Hughes - Editor, Keith Reader - Editor. Publisher: Routledge. Place of publication: London. Publication year: 1998. Page number: xi.
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