Society for Linguistic Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Bergson’s remarks on politeness as a civic virtue came on the coattails of the Jules Ferry Laws of 1881-2, which made public education in France free, mandatory, and secular. His vision of liberal education as a preparation for participation in civil society closely parallels Durkheim’s contemporaneous conception of the social sciences as a mode of both moral education and secular religion that could promote solidarity across differences of ethnicity and class. In this talk, I examine how French Republican ideals of the public school as a site of egalitarian language socialization capable of shaping children as civil and civic discursive subjects has fared in recent years, amidst conflicts of class, ethnicity, and religion. How are discourses of “lacking respect” mobilized in both moral panics about contemporary French adolescence and young people’s counter-hegemonic struggles against structural inequities? What is the cultural relationship, in short, between respect and politeness in contemporary French civil society?The failures of French public education, in an era of cultural pluralism, to live up to its nation-building ideals points to a broader crisis: in a world that is increasingly riven by intolerant, uncivil discourses, do the liberal arts and social sciences—and particularly linguistic anthropology—have a pedagogical role to play in the (re)generation of civil society? Drawing on the traditions of Bergson and Durkheim, how do ethical protocols of politeness connect with epistemological protocols of anthropological inquiry in—and beyond—the discursive space of the twenty-first century classroom?