Students on a theater trip in Iceland.

Democracy

Mai 68 Conference

Combes Building, 6, rue Colonel Combes – 75007 Paris
Saturday, June 9, 2018 (All day)

On Saturday June 9, Prof Stephen Sawyer of the Center for Critical Democracy Studies and Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins of Yale University are organizing a conference on the anniversary of Mai 68 . The presentation will reflect on the importance of these uprisings for democracy in Europe and North America fifty years after the fact. For anyone interested in attending the event, please see the full program and abstracts below.

The evening before, join Tocqueville 21 for an apéro discussion at the Bar Commun in the 18th arrondissement. The theme of our conversation will be the importance of Mai 68 for contemporary politics and ideas, and have as a guest speaker the distinguished philosopher Frédéric Worms. The evening will be hosted by Tocqueville 21 contributor Aurore Lambert.

If you are interested in attending, please email Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins at dsj2110@gmail.com

Find the full details on the Tocqueville 21 website.

Conference Schedule

9:00-9:15: Refreshments

9:15-9:45: Introduction: Stephen Sawyer (American University of Paris) and Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins (Yale University)

III. 9:45-11:00: Thinking the Political After 68

Danilo Scholz (EHESS), Châtelet and May 1968

Daniel Zamora (Université Libre de Bruxelles), 68 and the Shaping of Politics and Thought

Kalinka Alvarez-Courtois (Columbia University), May’68, to make a long story short

 

11-11:15: Coffee Break

 

11:15-12:30 May 1968 and the Question of Democracy

Wim Weymans (KU Leuven), May 68 and the Question of Democratic Agency: Lefort versus Gauchet

Sarah Miles (University of North Carolina), Watching May Unfurl: France’s ’68 and Radical Separatists in Quebec

12:30-1:45: Lunch

VII. 1:45-3:30: Decolonization and May 1968

Grey Anderson (Sciences Po), Between two Mays and After, 1958 to1968 and Beyond

Mohamed Amer Meziane (Université Paris 1 – Panthéon-Sorbonne), Sex, Speech, Confession After May 68

 

VIII 3:30-3:45: Coffee Break

IX 3:45-5:45: May 68 and the Political Imagination

 

David Sessions (Boston College), May 1968 and the Liberal Eschatology of the Twentieth Century

Georgiana Perlea (Independent scholar), May 68 putting paid to Marxism? The case of Boris Souvarine’s “Social Contract”

Mia Schatz: (University of Pennsylvania), “The Memorial Bind: Analogical Thinking in Political Revolt”

Conference Abstracts

Kalinka Alvarez-Courtois (Columbia University)

May ’68, to make a long story short. 

As we all know it, the expression May ’68 is falsely temporal since, in French history for instance, these events went on in June and later, if not before. Talking about May ’68, pour faire court, is thus always shortening. At best it indicates a starting point, never a length. In my presentation I will reflect on this expression, thinking about the two narratives it can be located into, whether you put it in a short-term or in a long-term social history. On the one hand, the expression in a “sociohistoire du temps court” (Gobille) reveals “l’événément 68” ; on the other hand, in a long-term social history, Artières and Zancarini-Fournel study the “années 68” a period running from 1962 to 1981 while Alain Geismar, one of the student leaders of May 1968 makes it slightly shorter : “Ce que j’appelle 68 ou plutôt la période dont 68 est l’acmé, commence avec lors de la grande grève des mineurs de 1963 et se termine avec la grève de Lip à Besançon en 1973”. As the new historiography on May 68 has been more and more focusing on uprisings happening outside of Paris, and/or in the Souths, the delimitations and the definitions of a Global May ’68 have been varying as well. Why then keep this expression and what does it reveal?

 

Sarah Miles (University of North Carolina)

Watching May Unfurl: France’s ’68 and Radical Separatists in Quebec

In the Summer 1968 edition of the radical Quebecois magazine Parti Pris, separatist Philippe Bernard described the importance of student radicals’ “global contestation” taking place in Paris and, simultaneously, in Montreal. While not often considered central to the francophone world, Quebecois’ reactions to the events of May ’68 in France can be illuminating. More than simply observers, Quebecois leftists had long partnered with French activists—like the Situationist Patrick Straram, pied-noir scholar Jacques Berque, or publisher François Maspero—and saw their fate as tied to that of their francophone brethren in France. Indeed, radical separatists in Quebec watched the events of May 1968 in France unfold with great interest. This paper argues that, rather than focusing on France, examining how another active francophone political scene received, analyzed, and re-appropriated May ‘68 Paris can shed light on the long-term legacies of these events for the broader francophone New Left.

In the 1960s, Quebec, the only francophone province of Canada, was in the midst of a political revolution which would lead to the kidnapping of a government minister in the name of separatism and, eventually, the rise to power of the independentist Parti Quebecois in 1976. Radicals in the province therefore spent much time discussing the relevance of the French protests. By analyzing reactions to May ’68 in Quebec historians can examine how the actions and rhetoric that emerged from these events shaped the francophone New Left in the long-term. This paper examines reporting on the Parisian events from several leftist publications in Quebec as well as archival documents from Quebecois radicals in order to show how the events in 1968 in France pushed the francophone New Left towards student- and labor-oriented activism and de-emphasized global solidarity in favor of more limited alliances and identity politics.

 

Grey Anderson (Sciences Po) 

Between Two Mays, 1958-1968

On May 13, 1958, a settler revolt in Algiers issued in a seizure of power by the armed forces. Three weeks later, the government in Paris ceded to pressure from its African legions, abdicating before Charles de Gaulle, who was invested as the last premier of the Fourth Republic. Over the coming four years, he presided over a radical transformation of French politics and institutions. In the midst of what was later christened the Trente Glorieuses, Sherman tanks enfiladed before the National Assembly and the French army was in revolt. For the second time after the debacle of 1940, in 1958 the republic in wartime awarded proconsular powers to a general. A great deal of historical ink has been spilled over the revolution that did not occur in 1968. Astonishingly little space has been devoted to the successful Machtergreifung ten years earlier.

Why do we memorialize strikes and student demonstrations that yielded not revolution but a resounding conservative electoral victory, whilst barely recalling a coup d’état that set off a rash of military plotting and subversion, opened the door to Algerian independence, and radically transformed the constitution of France? The answer, this paper argues, lies in a self-conscious enterprise of neutralization accomplished by the new rulers of the Fifth Republic. On taking power, de Gaulle and his collaborators moved to recast the violent discord that had catalyzed the crisis of the old regime as a struggle between ancients and moderns, consigning deep-rooted political differences to the cellar of atavism and unthinking tradition.

 

Wim Weymans  (KU Leuven),

May 68 and the question of democratic agency: Lefort versus Gauchet 

In this paper I will examine to what extent both Lefort and Gauchet remain critical about the legacy of the May 68 events they both witnessed. While Gauchet went on to mainly criticize the ideologies that it produced, Lefort also saw the May events’ potential for democratic renewal. Lefort thus faced the more daunting task of looking for ways to keep the dream of May 68 alive, while also condemning many of the more problematic ideas and practices it produced. I will argue that part of their disagreement about the legacy of May 68 is about conceptualizing agency and democracy: while Lefort uses a broader notion of agency and democracy that includes forms of democratic contestation, Gauchet starts from a more limited and structuralist idea of collective agency that limits the potential for democratic renewal and paradoxically even may foster passivity. When remembering May 68 today I will show how Lefort allows us to see the importance of radical contestation and social change, while also remaining critical of some of its excesses as well as of some of the ideologies that succeeded and partly replaced and possibly even betrayed the spirit of 68.

 

Daniel Zamora (University of Cambridge, UK/Université Libre de Bruxelles)

68 and the Shaping of Politics and Thought

This paper explores the specific transformations and relations of how thinkers like Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes or Gilles Deleuze thought about politics and aesthetics in the aftermath of 1968. As such, it will explore a set of texts written shortly after the events that put in relation the question of how we should read texts and how the events of May expanded our conception of politics. These works will profoundly alter not only literary criticism in the decades to follow with the so-called death of the “sovereign author” but also, a certain conception of “sovereign power” and the kind of politics it shaped. Both will strongly oppose the old models either of textual interpretation and of left politics and putting at the centre of their project, the autonomy of the subject. If the question was not anymore to become the sovereign author, similarly, it was not anymore to conquest the sovereign power, to become the sovereign. For these authors, 1968 was beginning of a new kind of pluralism in politics, allowing us to invent the text and invent our existence.

 

David Sessions (Boston College)

 May 1968 and the Liberal Eschatology of the Twentieth Century 

What did the “end of ideology” in the 1950s and the “end of history” in the 1990s have in common? They both represented a liberal eschatology in which twentieth-century capitalist society marked the highest level of a historical process in which brought about, as Francis Fukuyama wrote in 1989, “the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism.” In between was May 1968, an event that disrupted social-scientific expectations and predictions, bringing new historical actors onto the stage and inspiring old ones to throw out the script sociologists had written for them. Drawing on social-scientific sources from both before and after 1968, this paper will attempt to sketch an outline of the relation of eschatological discourse to the functioning of modern capitalism itself, explaining why the paradigm of the “end” seems to remain a “default” mode of liberal thought despite being repeatedly undermined by historical events. It suggests answer to the question of why liberal thinkers seem unable to escape the linear teleology they claim to have so discredited Marxism, and that liberal eschatology plays a dialectical role in processes of radicalization that put it into question. Finally, it examines several ways that the immobility of history have figured in recent critiques of liberalism, and suggests ways for accounting for the continual openness of the future.

 

Mia Schatz (University of Pennsylvania) 

The Memorial Bind: Analogical Thinking in Political Revolt 

Historical analogies animated the minds of left-wing activists in France as they revolted against their governments in May of 1968. References to the French Revolution, the Revolutions of 1848, the Popular Front, the anticolonial protests that had grown over the course of the Algerian War all haunted the 1968 movements as they developed. This paper considers the political role such analogical thinking and historical memory played during 1968 and how that thinking evolved in the events’ aftermath.

 

Mohamed Amer Meziane (Université Paris 1 – Panthéon-Sorbonne) 

Sex, Speech, Confession After May 68

Why is May 68 often associated with sexual liberation? Is this emancipation of sex, bodies and speech a myth? If one assumes that the event called ‘‘May 68’’ cannot be reduced to politics, does it mean that sexual liberation relates to religion? I will try to address these questions by using intellectual history as a mode of anthropological inquiry into concepts. How do concepts of the self, of discourse and embodiment depend on ‘‘May 68’’? Through a comparative study of De Certeau’s writings on May 68 and Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality, I will examine how one might challenge the idea of ‘‘secular’’ speech breaking ‘‘religious’’ taboos about sexuality. I will argue that, by historicizing Christianity through the lense of speech, confession or sexuality, Certeau and Foucault paved the way to a critique of some ideological reconstructions of ‘‘May 68’’ as a secular event of sexual liberation.

 

Georgiana Perlea (Independent scholar) 

May 68 putting paid to Marxism? The case of Boris Souvarine’s “Social Contract”

 

Interrogating May 68 as event commonly focuses on the new set of political and cultural options put forth. Less often we ask what May 68 has ended conclusively and to what effects. Recent oral history (Mitchell Abidor) suggests that Marxism itself and party Communism were the actual victims in the ensuing political play – echoing thus intellectual history’s venerable thesis that Marxian thought became culturally ubiquitous and academically trendy just as its political viability faded in the ’70s (George Lichtheim). This short paper tests the hypothesis against the case of the historian Boris Souvarine, PCF founder turned early critic of Stalin, whose journal “Le Contrat Social” proposed in the 60s a less-than-typical reckoning with Marxism-Leninism and state socialism. This intra-Left clash of principles turns up unexpected takes (and an Aron cameo) on the vexed franco-français problem of liberty, complicating the established May narrative of a new Left squashing the old one.