On the 16th October 2023, I met with Claire Launchbury and Charles Forsdick to discuss the recent publication of Transnational French Studies (Liverpool UP, 2023), a collection of essays that draws attention to the diverse objects of study and methodologies that can be brought to bear on French cultural production. This is the latest in the “Transnational Modern Languages” series published by Liverpool University press. The series furnishes frameworks and concrete examples of how to study languages and cultures through their interactions, rather than as isolated national traditions. It is especially of note that Transnational French Studies has been conceived as a handbook for students of French (at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels). The key objective of the volume is to define the core set of skills and methodologies that constitute the study of French culture as a transnational, transcultural and translingual phenomenon. Written by leading scholars within the field, chapters demonstrate the type of inquiry that can be pursued into the transnational realities - both material and non-material - that are integral to what is referred to as French culture. The book is divided into four sections: Languages, Spaces, Temporalities and Subjectivities. These follow a detailed introduction written by the editors that comprehensively explains and situates “transnationalism” and its reception within contemporary French Studies.
The collection moves smoothly from literature to sociolinguistics to videogames and comics. In addition to its diverse subject matter, the edition makes a major contribution to French Studies by drawing attention to the complex ways that monolingualism can become conflated with monoculturalism in our discipline. Forsdick and Launchbury in their introduction stress that the “nation is a keyword that all students of France must interrogate in its historic and semantic complexity”. The collection’s historical breadth expands social scientific definitions of “transnationalism” and historicizes both “Frenchness” and the French language’s (and cultures’) evolutions. Individual essays explore histories of migration, flows of ideas and goods to demonstrate that “transnationalism” is not a contemporary phenomenon but a cultural disposition that extends back centuries.
Amber Bal is a PhD Candidate at Cornell University.