From delegation to participation : citizen politics in Grenoble and Toulouse, 1958-1981
Examining the period between 1958 (the inception of the Fifth Republic) and 1981 (election of François Mitterrand as President and Socialist parliamentary majority), my research sought to answer the question: why and how did grass-roots mobilisation in favour of citizen participation develop in two French cities, Grenoble and Toulouse? The thesis first develops a general conceptual framework within which to analyse each locality. It elaborates the notion that there existed two public action cycles in France. The first was a 'reform cycle' (1958-1968) which preceded, and was interrupted by, a more critical 'contention cycle' which developed post May 1968 (ending by about 1981); both were triggered by major political crises. The reform cycle was marked by a high level of extra-party organisation through clubs and educational associations, which attempted to change patterns of interaction between civil society and the political process. In contrast, the contention cycle that followed May 1968 was far more radical in its critique, range of themes, organisational structures and forms of action. In the case studies, I explore the contrasting experiences of Grenoble and Toulouse during the two cycles. We see how the development of powerful associative currents in Grenoble during the reform cycle facilitated the emergence in 1964 of a citizen action movement, the Groupe d'action municipale (GAM). The success of the GAM in coming to power in coalition with other parties of the non-Communist Left created a municipality determined to institute improved participationary practice. This commitment to new forms of democracy from within city hall meant that the contention cycle in Grenoble did not precipitate major pressure for fundamental change in local government structures. However, in Toulouse, the reform cycle had no comparable impact upon city politics or associative life in the 1960s. The local associative world was far more fragmented and unable to exert any substantial influence. The traditionalist Socialist administration and subsequently a centre-right, conservative municipality were then confronted with sustained grass-roots opposition in the aftermath of May 1968. What occurred in the city during the contention cycle was typical of patterns elsewhere in France. For close to a decade, a small core of associations, seeking a radical overhaul of municipal decision-making, consistently challenged city hall, using a mixture of diplomatic approaches and direct action techniques. I draw two central conclusions from my research, one empirical, the other conceptual. Firstly, evidence from both the national and local level indicates that associations played a key role in the public action cycles. This challenges the traditional view of France as having inherently weak associative structures. Secondly, my research questions the frequently made connection between a so-called 'new middle class' and innovative forms of political action, showing the term 'new middle class' to be misleading and inexact.