In my dissertation, entitled “Oikos: Sustainability, Dwelling, and Culture in Urban France,” I study how individual cities have adapted nationwide policies for sustainable development to local conditions. The 2005 constitutional amendment known as the Charte de l’environnement enacted an encompassing understanding of sustainability that combines ecological protection with social justice and economic development. Moreover, since the 1980s politicians such as Jack Lang have conceived of cultural initiatives as a way to strengthen the economy. These views have subsequently informed the current dynamic turn in France’s politique de la ville, and have guided my search for answers to the following question: What makes the city livable today?
I received a Chateaubriand Fellowship for fall 2016 to conduct on-site research in Angoulême, Lyon, and Nantes, the three cities that serve as case studies for my dissertation. I approach these sites from an interdisciplinary perspective that blends cultural history, urban design, landscape architecture, and ecocriticism, conceiving of the city as a prism through which to analyze concrete and symbolic interactions between humans and their built environments. I have found that industry and commerce had defined each city’s identity through much of the twentieth century, and therefore that deindustrialization could have subsequently led to either empty commemorations of a bygone era or a weakened local identity. Instead, I argue, these cities have recycled their industrial past into a foundation for successful festivals, museums, and performances that have renewed local identity and enlivened neighborhoods while laying the groundwork for a more dynamic local economy.
Building upon recent scholarship in French cultural studies that shows how past and present intermingle in contemporary urban identity, I demonstrate how cities are reimagining themselves dynamically to secure a more promising future for their inhabitants. As nostalgia and reactionary impulses abound not only in France but in Europe and North America, as well, the need to identify new paths forward has become increasingly urgent. The ways in which Angoulême, Lyon, and Nantes are creating livable spaces make these urban centers potential models for other struggling cities both within and beyond France’s borders.
In broad strokes, my research interests include French cultural studies, urban studies, debates related to modernity and postmodernity, 20th- and 21st-century French literature, the poetics of space, sustainability, and digital humanities.