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Unit information: Political Cultures of Early Twentieth-Century France in 2020/21

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Unit name Political Cultures of Early Twentieth-Century France
Unit code FREN30044
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Hurcombe
Open unit status Not open

FREN20001 French Language or equivalent.



School/department Department of French
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit examines a particularly turbulent period of French history which witnessed not only two world wars, but also social and political challenges to the French state. It studies the interaction of a wide range of cultural forms and media with the political, considering how the latter is communicated in visual cultures, literature, and print media in early twentieth-century France. By studying a range of themes, it considers how cultural artefacts reflect, but also shape the political, whether through direct or indirect engagement. In so doing, it seeks to understand how the political was experienced not only as a set of ideas or principles enacted upon society through legislation, party politics and policy, but a cultural phenomenon that permeated human exchange and altered perceptions, thinking and behaviour. Themes studied may include nationalism and the war culture; gender representation and relations; sport; working-class culture and the Popular Front; existentialism and engagement. The unit aims to:

a) Develop students’ knowledge of what constitutes political culture and of a range of political cultural expressions from the era;

b) Develop students’ knowledge and use of a range of cultural and political theories through which to interpret such expressions;

c) Refine students’ knowledge of the political, social and cultural context of the era;

d) Expand their understanding of the multiple ways in which the social and the political intersect and are expressed culturally;

Allow students to undertake independent research into an aspect of early twentieth-century political culture

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of this unit, students will be able to:

  1. identify what constitutes political culture through a range of political cultural expressions from early twentieth-century France;
  2. deploy an appropriately advanced range of cultural and political theories through which to interpret such cultural expressions;
  3. illustrate the social and political context in which these cultural expressions occur and with which they engage;
  4. explain the interaction of the social, the political and the cultural in early twentieth-century France;
  5. demonstrate an advanced understanding of the French language by engaging in detailed analysis of French prose and film through close reading/sequence analysis and extensive secondary reading in the language.

Teaching details

Teaching will be delivered through a combination of synchronous sessions and asynchronous activities, including seminars, lectures, and collaborative as well as self-directed learning opportunities supported by tutor consultation.

Assessment Details

1 x 1000-word commentary (25%). Testing ILOs 1-5.

1 x 4000-word written project (75%). Testing ILOs 1-5.

Reading and References

A selection of national daily papers and weekly reviews (available at

Le crime de Monsieur Lange (dir. Jean Renoir, 1936)

Camus, Albert, Le mythe de Sisyphe (Paris: Gallimard)

Sartre, Jean-Paul, L’existentialisme est un humanisme (Paris: Gallimard)