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Level 5

5AAFF258 French Political Thought II

Credit value: 15 credits
Module tutor: Dr Stathis Kouvelakis 
Assessment: Assessed coursework of 1500-2000 words worth 25% submitted during the semester and a 2 hour exam (75%) at the end of the module.
Teaching pattern:
Two classes per week (a lecture and a seminar).
Re-assessment: all re-assessment for this module will take the form of coursework.


The purpose of this module is to provide an introduction to French political thought of the 20th-century, a significant current of French intellectual life and an important avenue for the understanding of both historical and cultural tendencies in France in this period. The module focuses on three issues: the rise of fascism, which dominates the interwar period; the controversy between socialism, liberal democracy and individual revolt which follows immediately the end of the war; and the subsequent opening of new spaces for political thought around the themes of gender, race and everyday life. This series of focal points provides a representative sample of the knots which tie together political thinking and the major historical tendencies which shaped this period. This module will allow students to complement their knowledge of the first half of the 20th century by providing an accessible introduction to some of the major figures of 20th century French thought and illuminating their links with other aspects of French culture. It will thus provide a deeper understanding of the tendencies that shaped contemporary French society. It complements 5AAFF251 Modern French History, and develops, both chronologically and conceptually the concerns explored in 4AAOB102/4AAFF114 French Political Thought (although this is not a prerequisite).

Educational aims and objectives

This module aims to:
  • Introduce students to some of the key texts and intellectual debates in French political thought of the 20th-century.
  • Develop an understanding of the way political thought is related to the history of the period.
  • Develop an understanding of the way political thought impacts upon and is related to cultural production.
  • Enable students to engage analytically and critically with one of the significant intellectual currents in the 20th century.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this module students will have:

  • Acquired a broad understanding of the crucial currents and debates in French political thought of the 20th-century.
  • Have a sound knowledge of the relation between these currents and debates and the historical context.
  • Be able to relate and situate key texts and tendencies in 20th-century French political thought to the cultural and literary context of this period.
  • Be able to construct coherent arguments drawing on interpretative engagements with the primary material of the module.

Core texts 

The texts will be available in a coursepack (either online via KEATS or printed) and students are not expected to purchase their own copies

The rise of fascism

  • Georges Bataille, 'La Structure psychologique du fascisme' (1933)
  • Georges Bataille, 'Le Jour des morts', extract from Le Bleu du ciel (1957/1935)
  • Julien Benda, 'Vue d'ensemble - Pronostics', extract from La Trahison des clercs (1927)
  • Simone Weil, 'Réflexions sur les causes de la liberté et de l'oppression sociales' (1955/1934)

Revolution, revolt, liberal democracy

  • Jean-Paul Sartre, 'Matérialisme et révolution', extract from Situations II (1946)
  • Albert Camus, 'Le Terrorisme d'etat et la terreur rationelle'; 'Révolte et révolution', extracts from L'Homme révolté (1951)
  • Raymond Aron, 'Les Intellectuels en quète de religion’; ‘Conclusion’ extract from L’Opium des intellectuels (1955)

New terrains

  • Simone de Beauvoir, ‘Introduction’; ‘Conclusion’ extracted from Le Deuxième Sexe (1949)
  • Henri Lefebvre, ‘Notes écrites un Dimanche dans la campagne française’ extract from, Critique de la vie quotidienne (1948)
  • Claude Levi-Strauss, Race et histoire, 1952

The modules run in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand so there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary depending between years.

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