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Unit information: Intellectuals and the Media in France in 2021/22

Unit name Intellectuals and the Media in France
Unit code FREN30108
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Paul Earlie
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of French
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

The figure of the Gauloises-smoking, coffee-guzzling, aphorism-spouting intellectual is one of the most persistent images projected onto France from abroad. Yet beyond such clichés, intellectuals have played an undeniably vital role in shaping public discourse in France, from Emile Zola’s passionate dreyfusisme to Simone de Beauvoir’s drive for women’s rights and Michel Foucault’s work to improve conditions in French prisons.

In a time of populism and the apparent irrelevance of the public intellectual, this unit begins by exploring the origins of the figure of the intellectuel engagé in the nineteenth century. It examines the flourishing of French intellectual life in the second half of the twentieth century—a time when la French Theory became a global media phenomenon—before turning to the alleged decline of the intellectual in France in recent decades.

In exploring these questions, we will trace the crucial yet shifting role of the media in transforming French thinkers into public intellectuals. We will consider a range of media formats—print newspapers, radio and television talk shows in addition to more recent developments such as personal websites, blogs and Twitter—used by French writers and philosophers to communicate with their reading publics. Particular attention will be paid to how thinkers such as Emile Zola, Simone de Beauvoir, Jacques Derrida, Bernard-Henri Lévy and Eric Zemmour have used and been used in turn by the mass media. Part of the course will therefore look at the role of the media in fuelling public controversies such as the Dreyfus and Sokal Affairs, the continual polemics surrounding the work of Michel Houellebecq, and the success of Eric Zemmour’s dystopian vision of France in Le suicide français (2014).

In addition to developing skills in analysing the specific rhetorical structure of a range of media formats, students will learn how to relate the particular media and genres chosen by writers to the sociological, political, and technological transformations that have accompanied the development of the media in France, from the magazine to the pulp paperback to the important role of analogue television programmes such as Bernard Pivot’s Apostrophes and the digital revolution represented by the site d’auteur.

This unit will appeal to students interested in pursuing careers in media and there will be ample opportunity for comparative analysis of the development of media in France and the UK. It will also be of interest to those interested in contemporary intellectual life in France and in the traditions that underpin it.

Intended Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will be able to:

  1. demonstrate advanced knowledge and understanding of the evolution of the figure of the intellectual in France and different media forms since the nineteenth century, and of the key cultural, historical, and political roles they have played in shaping French public discourse;
  2. analyse and compare the rhetorical structures of different media formats;
  3. relate the particular media and genres chosen by writers to the sociological, political, and technological transformations that have accompanied the development of the media in France;
  4. communicate complex ideas to a general audience and sensitivity to the medium in which these ideas are communicated;
  5. develop presentational skills as part of a joint project.

Teaching Information

Teaching will be delivered through a combination of synchronous sessions and asynchronous activities, including seminars, lectures, and collaborative as well as self-directed learning opportunities supported by tutor consultation.

Assessment Information

1 x 1500-word blog in English or French (25%). Testing ILOs 4-5.

Prospective students can consult examples of previous blog posts:

1 x 3500-word essay, in English or French (75%). Testing ILOs 1-3.


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. FREN30108).

How much time the unit requires
Each credit equates to 10 hours of total student input. For example a 20 credit unit will take you 200 hours of study to complete. Your total learning time is made up of contact time, directed learning tasks, independent learning and assessment activity.

See the Faculty workload statement relating to this unit for more information.

The Board of Examiners will consider all cases where students have failed or not completed the assessments required for credit. The Board considers each student's outcomes across all the units which contribute to each year's programme of study. If you have self-certificated your absence from an assessment, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (this is usually in the next assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any extenuating circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.