French 3015 Online

Social Identity in Contemporary French Culture


Course description

This course will analyze social representations in French culture throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. From the brutal murder of their employers by the Papin sisters in 1933 to contemporary strikes and social unrest, this course will analyze social representations in films, literature and newspapers. Particular attention will be paid to the production, reception and perceptions of clashing social identities in sociology, politics, artistic production and the mass media. The class will be conducted in French.

Course objectives

  • To help students understand a crucial aspect of French culture and how it shapes current events and cultural production.
  • To give students the tools to discern how facts and fiction intermingle, how literature and films portray society and how this in turn shapes our understanding of the world.
  • To help students understand the role of cultural production in our perceptions.
  • To better understand the political recuperation of social class differences and gain a better grasp of contemporary French politics.
  • To further develop all four skills: reading, writing, listening, speaking
  • To further develop one’s ability to express complex ideas.


Assignments : 60%
7 bi-weekly individual online audio-visual assessments with prof : 28%
Final project : 12%


Week 1
Weeks 2 and 3
Film: Les Blessures Assassines, Jean-Pierre Denis.
Documentaire: Les Soeurs Papin
Themes : Working classes and social clashes in the early 20th century in France, perceptions, the media, the reception of the Papin sisters’ brutal murder of their employers.
Weeks 4 and 5
Article: La construction discursive
Play: Les Bonnes by Jean Genet.
Themes: Genet’s representation of the murder by the Papin sisters as a social act of transgression.
Week 6
Sociology: extracts from Pierre Bourdieu
Themes: social classes in post-WWII France; the role of sociology in interpretation and representation.
Weeks 7 to 9
Novel: Les Armoires vides, Annie Ernaux
Themes : differences between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, social alienation through school, access to the bourgeoisie.
Week 10
Short stories : Le Jour du Président, Marie NDiaye ; Salut et Liberté, Fred Vargas.
Themes : the representation of the provincial bourgeoisie and of its values in contemporary France; romanticized representations of the vagabond.

SPRING BREAK: March 16-20

Week 11
Film: D'Os et de Rouille
Weeks 12 à 14
Novel L’Elégance du Hérisson by Muriel Barberry.
Themes : access to high culture and how it defines the individual, romanticized representation of social identities and clashes.
Week 15
Film: Paris, Cédric Klapisch
Themes: presents a mosaïque of social classes in Paris, and of corresponding types of interaction.



Dr. Cottille-Foley, 215 Swann, School of Modern Languages