Jean-Michel GUY
september 2016
16 p.

To what does the term "culture" refer in the French imagination, what spontaneous ideas are associated with it and with which registers are they associated? To find out, and as part of the latest 10-yearly survey into cultural practices in France (which has been carried out by the Ministry of Culture and Communication since 1970), the Department for Studies, Forward Planning and Statistics has carried out a survey of the forms and values associated with culture based on a sample of 1500 individuals representative of the French population as a whole.

Spontaneous mention of words and expressions to refer to culture may be grouped, according to semantic proximity, into 28 registers. The first of these, cited by 41% of French people, refers to learning and knowledge, the second to literature and reading and the third to music and dance. Whilst there may be an observable consensus that cultural heritage and the arts, as well as travel, science and cuisine form part of culture in all cases, there are also fairly clearly delineated areas of exclusion, whereby reality TV and television series, video games and theme parks are seen as falling outside of the cultural sphere.

Four major notional areas of culture emerge from this: cultural liberalism (everything is cultural), critical eclecticism (everything is potentially cultural, according to certain criteria), the conservative view (the cultural sphere is not extensible) and the anti-establishment view (real culture is elsewhere).

Whilst young people (those aged 15-24) more readily include media-based forms of expression and culture in their definition, and women include a greater range of content and activities than men, overall there appears to be a lower influence of the variables which have historically determined cultural participation, in particular social background. It seems very much as though there is a fairly broad and firmly-established common view of culture which crosses all social classes.