21G.053 | Spring 2014 | Undergraduate

Understanding Contemporary French Politics


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 3 hours / session


There are no prerequisites for this course.

Overview of the Course

This course examines French politics since 1958. It analyzes how politics has deeply influenced cultural and social life in France, including daily interactions between its citizens and residents. France is often described as a country of salient ideologies, where conflict prevails over lobbying. The course will deconstruct such a prejudice by revisiting public controversies and historicizing political cleavages, from the Algerian war to postcolonial issues, from the birth of the European construction to the recent financial crisis, and from the moral “revolution” of the seventies to the recognition of new families. Moreover, the class will show that, despite the decline of political participation, French people remain more than ever steeped in politics: they are now involved in public life through new channels, in particular the new media. The course argues that the Fifth Republic is more than a political regime: it is a mirror of French society.

To discover French institutions and understand the impact of political issues in contemporary France, students will run for the French presidency! They will prepare historical notes, deliver speeches, participate in a first-round presidential debate, and submit a final political statement.

Grading Policy

Sessions will be divided between:

  • Student speeches on weekly issues
  • Debates on topical controversies associated with the weekly issues
  • Every three sessions: Screening and debate

Final grade will be determined from four types of required exercises:

  • One grade will be based on one speech. Each student will make a ten-minute speech on the weekly issue, followed by a debate with the class.
  • One grade will be based on three historical notes. Each note will cover one political event, one political character, as well as one political party, and one institution.
  • One grade will be based on a six-page political statement. The paper will consist of a political statement of intent, as if students were running for the French presidency.
  • One grade will be based on a one-hour presidential debate. Students will prepare a political platform that they will advocate in a first-round presidential debate.
  • Other elements will be taken into account for the final grade: 1. attendance, 2. the demonstration that the students have done the readings, 3. the quality of their oral output.

One ten-minute speech 20%
Three historical notes 30%
Six-page political statement 40%
One-hour presidential debate 10%

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2014
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments
Presentation Assignments
Instructor Insights