Diversity – French Heritage Papers

Written into the Constitution of France of 1946 was a preamble that guarantees equal access for children and adults to instruction, vocational training and culture. The state endeavours to maintain equal access for everyone in the country by taxation and laws and by provision of support by spending those taxes on infrastructure, schools, universities, healthcare and services. The constitution aims to be a written collection of all the rules, that it aims to apply, to keep this balance of equal access. The idea that a society can write and maintain a constitution comes from ‘The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen’, first passed in August 1789 as the key document of the French Revolution (1789-99). This revolution aimed to end feudalism and is remembered for these key events:

– the Storming of the Bastille prison, on 14 July 1789, still celebrated today

– the proclamation of what would become a secular and democratic Republic in September 1792

– the execution of King Louis XVI on 21 January 1793

Coming out of that period, too, was the slogan or motto ‘Freedom, equality, brotherhood or death’, which was renewed during the 1848 Revolution but erased from public buildings by Napoleon III in 1852. He preferred ‘Order and Progress’, which is now on Brazil’s flag. The Paris Commune, another revolution in spring 1871, took up the slogan again. Eventually it was made officially part of the social and political heritage under the Third Republic (1870-1940) when it took on its welfare meaning, that is, the state would uphold these values. It remains in the twenty-first century as an intangible artefact of national heritage, as a cultural symbol which evokes a set of values and is written in to the constitution. This means that the French political class re-examine it from time to time, airing the motto in public to re-define it or to re-align the power relations to fit the debatable meaning.

How does this legacy impact upon diversity in a twenty-first century European state? Firstly, the residents of France are considered citizens, not as subjects of a monarch. If someone seeks residence in the French Republic they have to appear at the préfecture, the mayor’s offices (Drake 2011, 104). A citizen is considered as having rights but also duties. If the citizen takes on these duties, obeying the law, which includes using French, and paying taxes then in theory they are equal so, in theory, there is no need to look any deeper at class, poverty or race.

On the question of the French language, in this diversity discussion, in 1539 an ordinance was made to use French in the courts, rather than Latin. Since 1958 French has been written into the Constitution and it was made clear again in the Toubon Law of 1994:

‘The French language is a key element in the personality and the heritage of France. French shall be the language of instruction, work, trade and exchanges and of the public services. It shall be the chosen bond between the States comprising the community of French-speaking countries.’ (Dglf 1994)

Two aspects of French culture are at work in this, one, the use of written law to document all the acquired components of the nation’s heritage and secondly, a constant modernisation process to streamline the workings of the country. This modernisation is a call to agree on how citizens will conduct themselves in public, in business dealings, and in social and collective actions, and then adhere to those rules so that no one is disadvantaged. Indeed, if people do want to form a group to stage a local event or festival, then they are required to form an Association under the 1901 Law (Legifrance 1901). A good example of this is the Detective Fiction Festival staged every year in Concarneau. On their web-site they have to state that they formed an Association under the 1901 Law and declared this at the mayor’s office, la préfecture at nearby Quimper. (Yellow Dog 2014).

Work-Out: Before we go any further I’d like you to do a simple exercise that will help you at the end of the lecture reading. Please write these 5 headings: Living things (people, animal, plants), Law, Land and locale or local areas, Leisure (what people do when they are not working), and Language. Then beneath each one write what diversity means for you and your culture in relation to that heading.

Save these important notes. We will come back to them and talk about them later.

For the French in France there is no concept of diversity as, for example, the British understand the term, since every French citizen is equal. No French citizens have to have any concerns that they are different, or as the British might say, are from a diverse background, since they have already passed the test of French citizenship. British society is often called multi-cultural which to French thinking, means that not all the subjects of Britain are equal citizens. To the British mind, though, it means that the British are tolerant of other ethnicities, leisure activities, language use and relationship with living things. In the pure concept of being a French citizen there can be no racism, since race is outside the concept of being a citizen.

This clarity of the concept can be traced to the years when Algeria was part of France. A quick recap of the history again: ‘Monday, 14 June 1830 The invasion began in the early hours of the morning at Sidi-Ferruch […] 30 km west of Algiers’ (Evans 2013, 7) within 21 days the French commander, General Bourmont was in control of the capital. Charles X was the current king of France; he would be overthrown in Paris in Three Glorious Days, the July Revolution of 1830. Now fast-forward 51 years: ‘Friday, 26 August 1881. On this day the French government, led by arch colonialist Jules Ferry, announced a momentous step to the National Assembly. Henceforth Algeria would be administered as an integral part of France under the Third Republic’s 1875 constitution’ (Evans 2013, 19). By the 1950s, France was locked in violent struggle, as Kristin Ross reminds us, with itself, which she does by using the oft-quoted phrase: ‘Algeria, after all, was France, the Mediterranean divides France […] as the Seine divides Paris’ (Ross 1996, 123). People living in Algeria were French and many returned to mainland France as the French citizens that they were, not as immigrants. Just like a Devonian moving to live in London.

Insee, the Institut national de la statistique des études économiques in France maintain very useful figures to help you support your arguments when writing essays. Here for example, are the figures on immigration:

People living in metropolitan France who gave Algeria as country of birth in 2010

382 251 men

347 494 women

729 745 total insee.fr

Data from Insee reveal that 97,000 total new acquisitions of French nationality occur annually on average in this decade, compared with 820,000 births and 570,000 deaths each year. Depending on whether you feel France needs more people or less you can compare the contribution made by immigration with that of births on French soil.

Algeria became independent from France in July 1962. Those living there could choose to go to live on mainland France. This group of French citizens, with Algerian cities on their birth certificates, includes the philosophical writers, Hélène Cixous, born in Oran in 1937 and Albert Camus, born in Dréan in 1913. Both made their professional careers in Paris.

Work-Out: If you were like Cixous or Camus, what would you have chosen to do in the 1960s? Which passport would you choose? Which country would you live in after independence?

Work-Out: How do the French use the term Diversity?

A case study of Brittany’s recent move to embrace diversity shows that the concept is about consumption of other cultures. Diversity means having access to and enjoying a variety of cultural artefacts in leisure time whilst remaining French. In your analysis use the 5 headings to pose questions to yourself and to the materials you find from Brittany:

Living things – which people wrote and published the web pages? And which people are they aimed at? How would the Bretons who wrote these pages integrate, say, First Nation peoples from the USA to come to live alongside them in Brittany?

Law – how is legislation made clear on the pages?

Land and locale – which part of France is discussed? How has that area been defined by the authors?

Leisure – what is proposed as a leisure activity?

Language – which languages are the web-sites written in? Is that legal in France?

These two web-sites provide useful case study resources for exploring the French view of diversity:



Work-Out: In the class, if you do not have Internet access, with a partner or two, please try this exercise. Imagine you have just been elected President of the French Republic, you decide that you do not have enough skilled workers to develop your industry. Using the 5 headings, decide on a law under each heading to improve the situation.

Now consider this long citation from John P Murphy in French Cultural Studies as he prepare to analyse his own ethnographic fieldwork in France:

‘Certainly, acknowledgement that forms of racial and ethnic discrimination exist in France is hardly groundbreaking: controversy surrounding the Dreyfus affair at the end of the nineteenth century and later condemnation of the Nazi collaboration provide some evidence of this […] However, claims that […] discrimination is now leading to the formation of self-identifying minority groups that express themselves through collective action, like the 2005 riots, have been met with widespread apprehension among many segments of the French population. This is not only because of the republican model’s universalist conceit according to which all individuals have inherently equal potential and race is repudiated as a meaningless basis for social classification, much less hierarchical distinction; of no less concern is the perception of the emergence of such special-interest groups as tantamount to communautarisme, a highly problematic arrangement in the French context. […] Sometimes awkwardly translated as ‘communalism’ (e.g. Bowen, 2007; Scott, 2007), communautarisme means to identify first with a particular group because of shared personal connections (such as a common foreign ancestry, but also sexual orientation, religious beliefs, and so on) before identifying with the nation.’ (Murphy 2011, 34-35); full text at http://frc.sagepub.com/content/22/1/33.full.pdf+html


For the French in France there is no concept of diversity as, for example, the British understand the term, since every French citizen is equal. For the French there is no need to question another French citizen’s ethnicity since they are already French. In the twenty-first century various French groups have begun to formulate their definition of diversity. From a case study of the initiative, Bretagne et Diversité, this concept is that diversity represents the variety of cultural activities and artefacts from around the world that are available for consumption by the French.

To cite: Mansfield, C. (2020) ‘Diversity’, Patrimoine: The French Heritage Papers, TWO online https://eserve.org.uk/patrimoine/ Accessed date