Discriminating democracy : theater and republican cultural policy in France, 1878-1893

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The dissertation analyzes the projects of popular theater devised by the republican governments and assemblies, 1878 to 1893, in order to understand the conflicted point of view of republicans with regard to the democratization of art. In the 1880s, the four state-subsidized theaters (the Opéra, the Opéra-Comique, the Comédie-Française, and the Odéon) had a very select audience. Yet, republicans were divided on the issue of its diversification. On the one hand, the purportedly inferior moral capacities of the popular public made dramatic performances hazardous without a prior education of its will. On the other hand, it was fair to let people who paid for the upkeep of state-subsidized theaters access these institutions and to fulfill the wish of a significant part of the population to acquaint themselves with high-brow culture. The successive projects of popular theater represent the various solutions imagined by republican governments to reconcile two contradictory impulses, democratization and discrimination. They show how a culture of prejudices, inherited from previous regimes, progressively came to terms with a new conception of justice, more respectful of individuals' autonomy and sovereignty. At the end of the 1870s, the minister of public instruction and fine arts Agénor Bardoux denied that the state had any responsibility to democratize art. He variously argued that democratization happened spontaneously or that the artistic mission of the state did not include the dissemination of works. Jules Ferry believed that the state owed a theater to the lower classes, but, convinced that lower classes were inferior in their aptitudes, he imagined a popular lyric theater that would be the pale copy of the Opéra. Finally, Léon Bourgeois accepted the director of the Opéra's proposition that the institution should organize reduced-price performances. Bourgeois thought it more conducive to social peace to promote a common culture than to cultivate separate class identities. In his mind, the difference between the people and the elite should consist in their respective degrees of exposure to high-brow culture. The study of theatrical democratization in the 1880s shows that French republicans abided by two principles of government. One, which reflected the republicans' universalist credo, advocated the equal treatment of individuals by virtue of their equal rights. The other, inspired by utilitarian tenets, defended the differentiated treatment of individuals on the grounds of their unequal aptitudes. This dissertation argues that the ambiguity of the notion of merit in the republicans' discourse (did it lie in the essence of a social group or was it the result of individuals' actions?) informed a tension between the desire to extend liberties and democratize elite practices, on the one hand, and the perceived necessity to control activities and discriminate against the people, on the other.


Type of resource text
Form electronic; electronic resource; remote
Extent 1 online resource.
Publication date 2011
Issuance monographic
Language English


Associated with Chapin, Emmanuelle Sandrine
Associated with Stanford University, Department of History
Primary advisor Daughton, J. P. (James Patrick)
Thesis advisor Daughton, J. P. (James Patrick)
Thesis advisor Riskin, Jessica
Thesis advisor Rodrigue, Aron
Advisor Riskin, Jessica
Advisor Rodrigue, Aron


Genre Theses

Bibliographic information

Statement of responsibility Emmanuelle Sandrine Chapin.
Note Submitted to the Department of History.
Thesis Thesis (Ph.D.)--Stanford University, 2011.
Location electronic resource

Access conditions

© 2011 by Emmanuelle Sandrine Chapin
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 Unported license (CC BY-NC).

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