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Fri January 13, 2012
Dr. William Poulin-Deltour, Middlebury College - Concepts of Community
Albany, NY – In today's Academic Minute, Dr. William Poulin-Deltour of Middlebury College explains how divergent cultural roots created different ideas of community in the United States and France.
William Poulin-Deltour is an assistant professor of French at Middlebury College. His teaching and research interests include the anthropology of France, sex and gender in contemporary France, multiculturalism, and the French educational system. He holds a Ph.D. from New York University.
Dr. William Poulin-Deltour - Concepts of Community
Cultural translation is a tricky affair. We often assume that linguistic cognates have similar cultural meanings. This can be misleading. Take, for example, the English word "community." In French, one says "communaut ." The equation between the terms appears evident. However, community and "communaut " are, in fact, "faux amis" or false friends. If in American English, "community" has a positive connotation, conjuring up images of social cohesion, shared values and neighborly solidarity, in France, its meaning is much more polemical. This is because many French fear that the existence of separate communities will lead down a slippery slope to what they call "communautarisme" - translated into English as communalism or communitarianism - that will inevitably lead to the demise of the French Republic's integrity.
French hostility toward the concept of community is hardly new. The French Revolution of 1789 created, after all, a Republic, "one and indivisible", that banned intermediary powers - such as communities -perceived as coming between the individual citizen and the general will of the Nation.
More recently, however, suspicion of the community concept in France appears fueled by anxieties over the increasing visible diversity of contemporary French society. Differences in ethnic background, race, religion, and sexual orientation have entered the public sphere in France like never before, thereby ostensibly threatening national unity. Groups such as the National Council of Black Associations and Paris's LGBT Center claim, however, that discrimination is the key to understanding current communitarian development in France. Rather than coming together in a desire to separate from society or to celebrate ethnic and cultural diversity, members of these groups are coalescing around the common everyday experiences of prejudice and intolerance.
From this perspective, the future of French "communautarisme" depends on the ability of the French Republic to integrate all its citizens, regardless of their difference.