Encyclopedia of Contemporary French Culture

By Alex Hughes; Keith Reader | Go to book overview
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See also: cinema

Further reading

Morin, E. (1961) The Stars, New York: Grove Press (a standard introduction; originally published in French in 1957).

street papers

Macadam Journal, Le Réverbère, La Rue and Faim de siècle, launched in rapid succession in 1993, followed by Le Lampadaire in 1994, are the main French street papers, commonly referred to as la presse SDF. SDF means people sans domicile fixe (of no fixed abode). These alternative newspapers, championing the cause of the homeless, are sold in the streets by homeless vendors in return for a percentage of the cover price, normally 60 per cent. Their aim is to provide a source of revenue, and act as an instrument of social integration for vendors, giving them self-respect and facilitating contacts with the public.


See also: restaurants du coeur


An influential intellectual movement dominant in France from the late 1950s to the early 1970s. The origins of structuralism are multiple, and some commentators (such as Piaget and Serres) rightly insist on its transdisciplinary basis (e.g. in physics, mathematics and biology). However, the main path of assimilation of structuralism into the human sciences in France was via linguistic theory, and in this version at least it could more precisely be called linguistic structuralism.

The basic elements of linguistic structuralism can be found in the pioneering work of the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, the Course in General Linguistics (Cours de linguistique générale), published in 1916. Saussure distinguished between two aspects or levels of language, langue and parole. Parole refers to the external and contingent aspect of language production in activities such as speech and writing, while langue-the principal object of linguistic science-is the set of patterns or rules which precedes and makes possible the realization of language in parole. For Saussure, langue is a system, in which it is the relations between elements, and not the elements themselves, that are responsible for meaning. On the semantic level, an individual word (e.g. 'horse') only makes sense in terms of its difference from other, related concepts (e.g. donkey, ass, unicorn, automobile, etc.). On the phonetic level, difference of meaning is generated by the substitution of minimally distinct units of sound: 'horse', 'Norse', 'course', etc. From this differential explanation of signification follows the central postulate of Saussure's linguistic theory, the arbitrariness of the sign. Word and concept (or 'signifier' and 'signified') have no essential connection other than their habitual association within the system of langue. An important aspect of Saussure's distinction between langue and parole is that it also implies a distinction between the individual and the collective. Saussure reiterates that langue is by nature a social construct, whereas parole, the exercise or execution of langue, is individual and variable.

Probably the most important mediation of Saussurean linguistics in postwar French thought came from the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss. Inspired by the phonological theory of the Russian linguist Roman Jakobson, in his first book, The Elementary Structures of Kinship (Les Structures élémentaires de la parenté), Lévi-Strauss argued that it is possible to isolate a small number of elementary and invariant structures from which the diversity of observable kinship structures might be derived. He then went on to extend his application of the linguistic model to other areas of social life. Already in the Cours Saussure had indicated that linguistics dealt with only one of a number


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