It is impossible to take a neutral stance on France, such is the strength of the images it projects outwards to the world. In this volume, we set out to identify, enjoy, and then move beyond the stereotypes associated with such pictures (Brouard et al.: 2009). But scholars have their own battles with the study of France, and especially with the concept of the ‘French exception’. Brouard et al. see ‘French exceptionalism’ as a perspective that can blind us to the fact that ‘France […] lies no further outside the spectrum of advanced industrial economies than any other’ (2009: xiv). Chafer and Godin are less categorical, but still conclude that ‘the French exception’ is probably more parody than politics (2010: 239). Accordingly, we asked not, ‘is France exceptional?’ but, rather, ‘is France still France?’ (Kuisel, 1995: 31), especially given the extent of change undergone since the very beginning of World War II. This is the theme that has run through these pages, and a matter that has already preoccupied French governments at the start of the twenty-first century, leading in 2009–10 to an awkward, unpopular and inconclusive public ‘debate’ on the matter.
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