[Education & Identity in Rural France: The Politics of Schooling]

Article excerpt

This book analyzes the interaction between France's highly centralized school system and the local identity of the people of a commune in the Auvergne. Unlike other parts of France, there is no large-scale Auvergnat nationalist movement that prescribes a normative regional identity. Thus the study deals with a locally created identity uncomplicated by political forces telling people how to be "proper" peasants. Interestingly, this work focusses on the most visible aspect of the central government in the local community, its elementary school.

The author's informants use the concept debrouiller to describe their situation and their way of manipulating it to their advantage. "In Lavialle, se debrouiller refers to the ability to make the best of, or take advantage of, a situation; and get out of, or manage to cope with, a difficult situation. It has to do with 'making do' in the face of hardship, but also with trying to turn such circumstances to one's own advantage in order to 'make out' ... this skill is highly valued for both men and women, and it is felt to be an important characteristic of the Auvergnat" (p. 62). Reed-Danahay presents a first-rate description of the local kinship system, domestic organization and socialization practices. Although it is essential to her analysis of the school's position in the community, it is not subservient to that analysis and stands alone as a model of succinct description of the essential elements of rural life.

The discussion of the school system includes a historical description of the French national elementary education system. The author uses archival material, including the reports which a local schoolteacher wrote in the 1870s to explain the situation in the commune. For the 20th-century archival material is augmented by interviews with former teachers. A microhistorical analysis of three commune schools' responses to the central system demonstrates that meaningful variation occurs within the lowest level of the central system, i.e., the commune.

When the author did her field work in the commune there was only one elementary school, where most of the direct ethnographic observation took place. …


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