Visible Subjects: Universalist Politics and "Minority Studies" in France


deshayes__visible_subjects (1).pdf


Deshayes, Jess, “Visible Subjects: Universalist Politics and "Minority Studies" in France,” Scholar@Simmons, accessed January 16, 2021,


Visible Subjects: Universalist Politics and "Minority Studies" in France


Deshayes, Jess




This project moves between France and the United States looking at “visible subjects,” in both senses of the term: “subjects” as areas of study, and “subjects” as individual people with individual and community-based identities. I argue that areas of study such as ethnic studies, queer studies, and gender studies do not exist as explicit subjects (areas of study) within French universities as they do in the United States. This parallels, and indeed is informed by, the way in which activism, legislation, and relevant discourse are not organized around marginalized subjects (individual people) in French politics as they often are in the United States. To show this, first I trace the historical and structural relationship in the U.S. between identity politics and the institutionalization of certain studies, specifically Black studies and women’s studies. Then I demonstrate the uncommonness of these programs in France, despite their prevalence in both the U.S. and other Western European countries. What has affected the visibility of such subjects in French intellectual discourse is, first of all, the assumed irrelevance of their content and analytical position in the “public sphere.” This has to do with the Republic’s central tenet, universalism, and its insistence on the “abstract” citizen. Another major factor is the association of these subjects with U.S. cultural imperialism and academic fragmentation. This comes from the history of U.S. identity politics, “politically correct” discourse, and the cooption of some identity politics-based movements by unchecked consumerism. This work offers a jumping-off point for further consideration of the present and future of critical areas of study in France, as well as a reflection on the interplay between academics and politics in general.


Simmons College (Boston, Mass.)


1 PDF (59 Pages)




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