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‘L’ascension sociale’ and the return to origins: reconstructions of family and social origin in the writings of Albert Camus, Annie Ernaux, Didier Eribon and Édouard Louis.

Padfield, William Nicholas (2015) ‘L’ascension sociale’ and the return to origins: reconstructions of family and social origin in the writings of Albert Camus, Annie Ernaux, Didier Eribon and Édouard Louis. Masters thesis (MPhil), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

The ‘ascension sociale’ referred to in the title of this study is of a particular character. It concerns the phenomena of dislocation and ‘éloignement’ described in the writings of certain French writers who become, from relatively humble origins, ‘intellectuels de première génération’. For the individuals concerned, the exceptionality of such a trajectory brings with it particular social and psychological pressures which raise important questions relating to social class, culture and the key role of education in social reproduction. Variations on this theme are reflected in the chosen texts of the French writers with whom this study is concerned – Albert Camus, Pierre Bourdieu, Annie Ernaux, Didier Eribon and Édouard Louis. They are writing out of different historical and geographical contexts and in a variety of different genres, and this enriches the possibilities of a comparative cultural study. Such a study is further enhanced, I argue, through invoking a British tradition which can be discerned in the writings of, among others, Richard Hoggart and Raymond Williams. To provide a theoretical perspective from which to view this work, Chapter I brings together Richard Hoggart’s social analyses in two key texts – The Uses of Literacy (1957) and A Local Habitation (1988) – and Pierre Bourdieu’s work with Jean-Claude Passeron on social reproduction and educational inequality reflected in Les Héritiers (1964) and La Reproduction (1971). Hoggart’s reflections on his educational experience as a ‘scholarship boy’ in A Local Habitation are set alongside Bourdieu’s depiction of his life as an interne in his Pau lycée in Esquisse pour une autoanalyse (2004). This Franco-British theoretical background is used in subsequent chapters to provide a lens through which to view key texts by the French writers who return, in a variety of ways, to their own pasts, and to their experience of cultural displacement and of living between two worlds.

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