WOKE: a nebulous catchall word that refers to cancel culture, “Islamo-leftism”, intersectionality, anti-colonialism, etc. A concept supposedly imported from American universities that, according to some of France’s highest authorities, is contaminating France, maybe quicker than the Covid virus. Hardly a day goes by that it is not referred to in French media, especially as we approach French presidential elections.

AAPA invited the internationally renowned sociologist, Michel Wieviorka, specialist in social movements, democracy, terrorism, racism and anti-Semitism, to speak about this word – and the ideas behind it. What is going on in France?

According to Wieviorka, much of the tension in French society today is due primarily to the question of Islam and immigration -how they are perceived by French citizens and how they have been exploited by politicians and the media. He rejects the idea of a “clash of civilizations” as described by Samuel Huntington. The French ideal of Universalism and “la République” are at odds with today’s reality of multiculturalism and inherent inequalities. Intellectual debate has become polarized: “neo-McCarthyism” according to the right, “néo-réactionnaires” for the left. The question is, who is cancelling whom?

Wieviorka’s attitude as a sociologist dedicated to research, is to reject both extremes. However he expresses concern regarding the present “droitisation” of French politics and the temptation of authoritarianism, though “the worst is not certain” he says.

By Thomas Haley