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Rural Change: From 'Exode Rural' to 'Exode Urbain'

Key questions

  • How has rural France changed since the Second World War?
  • Who supported these changes, and who opposed them? What was Poujadism and why was it such a powerful movement?
  • Why have sociologists written so much on the 'vanishing French peasantry'?
  • Is rural France today in a state of decline or renewal?
  • Why is there so much nostalgia for rural values and communities?


The lecture will discuss the significance of the French term 'paysan' (the English translation 'peasant' has quite different connotations!), and explain the historical importance of the peasantry in France, particularly in the twentieth century. Then it will analyze the 'modernization thesis', according to which postwar France entered into a time of intense industrialization that spelled the (definitive) end of rural communities. Finally, it will explore some of the challenges to rural change and to this thesis: firebrands such as Pierre Poujade and José Bové, who have incarnated the image of the militant peasantry; city workers who move to the countryside; enthusiasts for local products and customs who recreate rural communities and even renew traditional festivals and carnivals.


Download the lecture handout; lecture PPT; listen to the lecture

Seminar structure and preparation

Building on the lecture, we will use the seminar to explore attitudes to rural France and its 'heritage' in French writing, advertising and film. Study groups A and B should focus on the extract from Anny Cordié's memoirs (6b in the Sourcebook), and Study groups C and D on the Naturalia adverts (6c). In addition, I would like each of you to bring to the seminar something that reflects rural nostalgia — this could be an image, an extract from a novel or poem, or a piece of advertising or marketing (e.g. a crisp packet from a neo-traditional company like Tyrrell's....) Come prepared to tell us what image/s your artefact projects about rural life and work, and why. In the seminar, we will also watch and discuss a short extract from the film of Marcel Pagnol's Gloire de mon père.

For your general prepation, you will find it helpful to look at the sections on economic modernization and on Poujadism in the textbooks (e.g. Gildea and Sowerwine), and to consult the secondary reading on rural France in the course bibliography. I would particularly recommend the following article (available online via JSTOR): Jean-François Chanet, ‘Terroirs et pays: mort et transfiguration?’ Vingtième siècle 69 (Jan-March 2001), pp. 61–81.

Further reading

There has recently been an outpouring of peasant memoirs, especially by those who remember rural France in the 1930s and 1940s, and this is also a topic of interest at the moment among French historians. Have a look at this recent article: Sarah Farmer, 'Memoirs of French peasant life: progress and nostalgia in postwar France', French History 25.3 (September 2011), pp. 362–79