The Department of Modern Languages and Cultures hosted the fifth ASMCF Postgraduate workshop on 10 June 2015. The North West group of the Association for the Study of Modern and Contemporary France organise this event on an annual basis, and draw together research students from across the north of England. The theme of this year’s workshop was ‘divisions’ in contemporary France and participants were invited in particular to consider the Charlie Hebdo massacres, most notably from the perspective of the rift they have driven (in France and elsewhere) between the ideal of free speech and the notion of censorship and restriction.
Keynote speaker Dr Andy Stafford (University of Leeds) offered some bold and important reflections on the negative aspects of the Je Suis Charlie movement, drawing insightful parallels from the discussions of Roland Barthes on Voltaire.
Beatrice Ivey (University of Leeds) scrutinised the particular performative nature of mourning, and the political nature of the global reaction (on social and mainstream media) to the killings. The theme of ‘divisions’ has a broad reach, and presentations from Mason Norton (Edge Hill University), Sophie Handler (University of Durham), and Will Amos and Hugh Hiscock (University of Liverpool) demonstrated how the term is relevant to a great deal of research on modern and contemporary France.
Mason discussed the teaching of history in France today, questioning the extent to which it is subjected to entirely honest reflective practices; Hugh explored the contested sites of memory in the French south, and the role of this in constructing Maghrebian identities; Will’s presentation dealt with the battle for Corsican and Occitan linguistic rights, and the divisions these cause with French; and Sophie discussed the cultural otherworldliness of Proust’s ‘Magic Lantern’, and the differences conjured therein between ‘our’ world and the Oriental.
Andy’s keynote, in particular, prompted a long and enlightening discussion about the possible problems of supporting Je Suis Charlie, a feeling which is gaining traction in various commentaries on the massacres in particular, and on contemporary France in general.