Peasants and politics in the Age of Revolution (1760- 1848): A historiographical account of the issue in France

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Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, new studies have enriched and widened our understanding of the concept of politicisation in the French rural world. The first historiographic breakthrough was achieved by no longer regarding peasants as an apolitical and apathetic mass which the political elite had to politicise. On the contrary, analysing what politicians said about peasants clearly reveals the former’s incapability of grasping the latter’s political aspirations. There is also a growing awareness of political impulses in rural areas. Some French historians are now more interested in the informal or apparently apolitical dimension of politics to the extent that some of them have even talked of the people’s allegedly a-temporal politics. Other historians attempt to redefine the institutional space and its practices in the rural world: e.g. learning how to vote or how to be a citizen – and its corollary, political sociability. Finally, the role played by emotions and memory, notably the return of the repressed and the resurgence of memory which brought about antagonistic political cultures within the peasantry, have been reconsidered. The other historiographic breakthrough results from the methodological prudence of a new generation of historians, who are anxious to no longer view the peasantry as an ‘object-class’ (P. Bourdieu) but rather try to deconstruct it. Sharply contrasting geopolitical attitudes in the rural world and a new way of examining temporal processes have emerged thanks to their work: No political process is any longer held to have been linear and teleological in the peasant world (political reclassifications were constantly occurring from 1789 to 1848). Consequently, the peasant community is also reconsidered and dissected. Its alleged unanimity has been questioned and greater attention is now being paid to centrifugal forces which led to divisions and even sometimes implosion. This implies focusing more on the political individuation of peasants and on the way collective and personal strategies as well as formal and informal political processes were articulated and how local and national forces interacted.
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Verlag DLG-Verlag
  
  
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