#learn power wednesdays: Decoding French Regional Elections


The first round of French regional elections on 6 December brought unprecedented scores for the Front National (on the map above, pink is Socialists and their allies, blue center and right parties, and brown, how subtle, French Ministry of the Interior, the Front National; numbers are % of votes expressed).

The second round on 13 December brought almost audible sighs of relief, as not one single region was won by the Front National: a combination of retreats of lists and appeals to vote for political opponents helped to carry the day. But it is safe to assume that respite will be only temporary. More than 28% of the voters which represents about six million people, and their concerns are not going to magically disappear.

I invite all of you French speakers to listen to a Radio French Culture programme on French societal fractures, with Jean-Paul Delevoye,
former mediator/ ombudsman of the French Republic and former President
of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council (CESE) and Malika Sorel-Sutter, essayist and former member of the French Council for Integration. Not much to add there on the root causes of FN victories.

But what can we learn from this, in terms of power in the interconnected world we inhabit?

Almost twenty years ago, Manuel Castells published his trilogy, The Information age: Economy, Society and Culture, grappling with our existence in a network society brought about by ICT and a turbo-boosted capitalism. The rise of Marine Le Pen and her Front National is exactly what Castells predicted in The
Power of Identity, The information Age: Economy, Society and Culture
Vol. II.
Cambridge, MA; Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1997.

In our network society, which is characterised by a space of flows and timeless time, a separation between our day-to-day lives and the seat of power has occurred. Power has migrated into transnational networks: States are still relevant, but they have lost their erstwhile monopoly of power and their capacity to fulfill the social contract between them and their citizens. Next to said networks, individuals and what Castells calls communitarian identities (identit├ęs communautaires) exist, with a capacity to resist techno-economical globalisation. Said globalisation will be transformed or at least shaped as a function of cultures, histories and geographies around the globe.

Identities organise meanings. Castells recognises three, the first being identities of legitimisation (legitimising existing authority and creating the basis for civil society), the second being identities of resistance (creating defensive identities against globalisation, such as nationalism or religious fundamentalism) and the third carrying a project of societal transformation (feminism, the environmental movement). The Front National falls into the second category of communitarian identities. It is a rallying cry against the brave new networked world we live in, and thus a logical product of our network society.

Johanna M

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