Family Stories

Patrice Higonnet

  • The Past in French History by Robert Gildea
    Yale, 416 pp, £30.00, February 1994, ISBN 0 300 05799 7
  • La Gauche survivra-t-elle aux socialistes? by Jean-Marie Colombani
    Flammarion, 213 pp, frs 105.00, March 1994, ISBN 2 08 066953 2

Robert Gildea’s subject is less French history than French ‘political culture’. His method eschews ‘the theorising pretensions of the Marxist and the Annales schools’ without ‘reducing history to one senseless deed of violence after another’, as he presumes (wrongly) Simon Schama to have done. Also to be avoided is Theodore Zeldin’s pointilliste description of isolated individuals, moving through time and space like ‘rogue electrons’. Following Keith Baker, Gildea means to study instead the ‘set of discourses and practices’ used by one community ‘to articulate and enforce its claims against those of rival communities’ and to define ‘the identity and boundaries of the community to which they belong (or from which they are excluded)’.

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