Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Major Professor

Anne-Hélène Miller

Committee Members

Sebastien Dubreil, John Romeiser


Through this thesis, entitled “Rethinking l'exception culturelle in French Music then and now: Language, Memory, and Political Order,” I explore the concept of exception culturelle as it relates to music in France. I break down this concept by situating current French music trends within a historical landscape, highlighting certain moments of tension between music, politics, and language that appear in the decades after the Dreyfus Affair (1894), which I consider to be a turning point in the way French music is and was perceived inside and outside French national borders. I also examine the years after the second World War which saw the rise of Charles De Gaulle and his ideas of reinforcing nation through establishing a France of grandeur, a product of the celebration of individuality and creativity among the French people. Using these historical moments in French cultural history, I attempt to contextualize a comparative look at the reception by the cultural establishment of two imported forms of music in France--American Rock in the 60's and Techo/Electronic music in the 80's/90's in order to show the effect of French l'exception culturelle upon the development of French music throughout the 20th century. Evidenced by certain measures taken by the ministry of culture to control, censure, or support certain musical genres, I attempt to demonstrate that l'exception culturelle, although its primary aim is to protect culture and further national unity, has played a major role in the frailty of the French music scene today and the necessity of many French musicians to tour, record, and reside outside of France’s borders. I will argue ultimately the French have used the control of culture as a means to solidify national sentiment and to maintain its image as a long standing world power. In effect, an attitude of exclusion and cultural exceptionalism has so persisted that the productivity of musicians and organic development of musical genres has been highly effected, resulting at times a certain loss of community and national cohesion among the musical community--the very things that exception culturelle claims to foster and create.

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