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Book Review: May 68 + 40

Mai-Juin 68 edited by B. Damamme, B. Gobille, F. Mattonti and B. Pudal (Ivry sur Seine: Ed. l’Atelier 2008). ISBN 978-2708239760. In French.


Looking back on the French social movements and political significance of May 68 and now looking back on the many retrospective studies published in French to mark the 40th Anniversary of the student occupations of the Sorbonne and the Ecole des Beaux Arts from mid May to the end of June that year, one is overwhelmed by the sheer number of pages. Not to mention the critiques of this hagiogrpahic literature, recently translated into French, such as Kristen Ross’ May 68 and its Afterlives (Chicago UP 2002 ) which takes issue witht he way in which media and intellectuals have recast a predominantly political protest and labour strike into a cultural event in which Anti-Americanism, anti-imperialism, death, violence and workers have been erased.

My pick is Mai-Juin 68. It one of the broadest anniversary anthologies. It shows how the varied social movements interacted during a crisis in the social contract and the legitimacy of governance at the time.

Do you really know May 68?

So begins the publisher’s blurb for Mai-Juin 68 – and I can hear the indignant voices saying “Mais-oui, merde!” But rather than fetichizing the dates of “le soixante-huit“, this book shows how the crisis developed across multiple contexts, including the church, workplaces, schools and in the family. Traditional forms of authority were questioned, put to the test and destabilized. The reactions of institutions and the public at large also contributed to an overall series of events which no one could control. Although there was soon to be a return to ‘normality’ after this ‘liminal’ breach or ‘time out of time’ norms had been shifted and redefined, meaning that in effect a new order was established. New forms of critique, new activities, and new attitudes towards change and hierarchy were introduced. This book shows how May 68 was less of a student countercultural ‘festival’ and in fact a broad and far-reaching moment of collective introspection and democratic change which outflanked the existing institutions and the corporate, religious, academic and political management of change.

This is an informative text, drawing on solid archival, textual and sociological research and analysis. A must have for libraries, researchers and the overall choice of May 68 anniversary books. Available via