Intellectuals and the Media: An Introduction


The figure of the Gauloises-smoking, coffee-guzzling, aphorism-spouting intellectual is one of the most persistent images projected onto France from abroad. Yet beyond such clichés, intellectuals have played a vital role in shaping public opinion in France, from Emile Zola’s passionate dreyfusisme to Simone de Beauvoir’s drive for women’s rights and Michel Foucault’s work to improve conditions in French prisons.

In a time of populism and the apparent irrelevance of the public intellectual, this online exhibition from Modern Languages students at the University of Bristol explores the shifting relationship between the media and the development of the figure of the intellectuel engagé in France, from the end of the nineteenth century to the alleged decline of the intellectual in France in recent decades.

In exploring these questions, the exhibition traces the crucial yet shifting role of the media in transforming French thinkers into public intellectuals. It considers a range of media formats—print newspapers, radio and television talk shows in addition to more recent developments such as personal websites, blogs and Twitter—used by French writers and philosophers to communicate with their reading publics. How did thinkers such as Emile Zola, Simone de Beauvoir, Jacques Derrida, and Bernard-Henri Lévy use print and visual media for their own purposes? How, in turn, were they  used by these media? And what role did pressures of the marketplace play in shaping how their work was received?

Each post comments on a particular media artefact—a photograph, a radio interview, a film or documentary—and relates it to the larger sociological, political, and technological transformations that have accompanied the development of the media in France, from the magazine to the pulp paperback to the popularity of analogue television programmes such as Bernard Pivot’s Apostrophes and the digital revolution represented by the site d’auteur and the rise of social media. As more posts are added and the exhibition grows in size, we hope this website will provide a valuable archive of the evolving relationship between intellectuals, the media, and the reading public.

For questions, comments, or contributions, please get in touch with

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Image Credit: WireImage contributor Dominique Charriau © WireImage.

The image was also used in James Woods’ review of The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq in the New Yorker, January 23, 2011, p. 79 (
All material cited is for purposes of study, criticism or review and is fully credited. 


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