Selves and Shelves. Consumer Society and National Identity in France

by Hetel, Ioana Laura

Abstract (Summary)
Since the late nineteenth century, France has been confronted with the rapid instauration of consumerism and its society has been shaped by the tension between the political ideal of everyone under one roof and the consumerist ideal of everything under one roof. This study investigates representations of modern shopping sites (department stores and large format retailers such as supermarkets and hypermarkets) and elucidates how representations of retail stores in literature and other textual media have been constructed based on the opposing polarities of lieux de mémoire, intentionally defined as places of identity, of social relations, and of tangible history, and non-lieux, described as unconcerned with identity, non-relational, and ahistorical. This dichotomy, I claim, is the product of a fundamental conflict between a nostalgic view of a nationalistic past and an unavoidable adoption of the modern. Focusing on the diachronic dimension of French retail and building on McNair's wheel of retailing, I theorize the model of the cultural wheel of retailing in order to illuminate how and why the same type of store is constructed as either a site of memory or a non-place at different time periods. Then, shifting my attention to the post-1945 period, I analyze the emergence and spread of large format retailers by successively focusing on each of the five meaning-making loci of culture: production, consumption, regulation, identity, and representation. With these insights in mind, I move to the investigation of six postwar French novels (Christiane Rochefort's Les Stances à Sophie, Georges Perec's Les Choses, Simone de Beauvoir's Les Belles images, J.M.G. Le Clézio's Les Géants, Frédéric Beigbeder's 99 Francs, and Jean-Christophe Rufin's Globalia) and identify the presence in them of a chronotope of dystopic consumption, a sub-surface combinational scheme that manifests itself through the presence of six synergetic themes: shopping, the happiness myth, advertising, good consumers and bad citizens, Americanization, and books and reading as antidotes to consumerism. Since large format retailers are both objects of fiction and sites for commercializing literary texts, I also investigate the problematic journey of literature from the shelves of bookstores to the shelves of the grandes surfaces.
Bibliographical Information:


School:The Ohio State University

School Location:USA - Ohio

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:french literature consumer society consumerism national identity retailing


Date of Publication:01/01/2008

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