Two authors discuss how notions of race, culture, and gender differ when we toggle between American Exceptionalism and the French Exception.
While both France and the U.S. boast a racially and culturally diverse population whose sexual orientations and identities run a broad gamut, each country conceives of this diversity and of notions of citizenship in unique ways. Laure Murat and Bruno Perreau, two scholars who have made the transatlantic journey form French academia to the ivory towers of the U.S., offer their insights on these in the dialogue below.
How has migrating from France to the US transformed your scholarly work on France?
LAURE MURAT: It’s transformed it in many ways. First, I should specify that I migrated from Paris to Los Angeles, and not from some provincial town in France to New York City or to the Midwest, for instance, which would have been different in each case. The greater distance (in miles, time difference and culture) from California makes a real difference, as well as the fact that Los Angeles is a very big and fascinating city but also the opposite extreme of Paris. It allows me reassess my vision of France and consider more accurately its limitations, its alienation from the past, but also its great qualities.
Second, I had the luck to be hired at UCLA, a great institution where intellectual life is extremely vibrant. Every week, lectures, conferences, and screenings give us the opportunity to discover new ways of thinking and work from people all over the world. My experience is of a “decolonization” of the mind and of a new openness. In particular, everything related to diversity, gender and queer theory, black feminism, racism, and the like is at the core of a complex reflection that France largely ignores. I also deeply appreciate the liberty we experience in the US when it comes to moving boundaries between disciplines.