Contemporary French Civilization

Public discourse and the conceptualization of football in France since 1998

Contemporary French Civilization (2014), 39, (1), 11–34.

Abstract

In a period of just over a decade football has taken on an unprecedentedsignificance in public life in France. In terms of football as both a sportingand economic phenomenon, the French team and French football have, inthis period, notwithstanding notable failures in major tournaments, establishedFrance as a highly significant and influential (if not quite major)footballing nation. At the same time, a turbulent, intense, and complex relationshiphas developed between les Bleus and the French. This period,which is bookended by the neo-republican “multicultural” enthusiasm thatfollowed the 1998 World Cup victory in France and the implosion of theteam in South Africa, has seen football grow in cultural, political, andeconomic importance. In short, it seems that France now talks football inways that it did not before 1998. That is to say, public discourse of variouskinds has been inflected with what Christian Le Bart and Jean-François Polocall “l’infinie discutabilité du football.” This article looks at the developmentof this talk on football and considers the social, cultural, and political significanceof the discursive and rhetorical forms it takes in France. Two areas areanalyzed in particular detail. First, some commentators have argued thatsport, economy, and business have become the dominant paradigms ofpublic life in contemporary France. Football and other sporting metaphorsreinforce the construction of politics as an interpersonal “game,” thus downplayingthe properly ideological aspects of politics. The mutual linguisticexchange between the worlds of football and politics only serves to impoverishthe significance and complex reality of both fields. Second, footballtalk has played itself out as a form of national psychodrama in France,providing a framework within which to talk about issues of social cohesionand identity. Taken together, these areas allow football talk to be used as alens through which to view key contemporary issues of politics and identity,as well as cultural and economic globalization in France.

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Author details

Marks, John