Châteaux as Sites of Heritage and Hegemony: An Exploration of Power, Discourse, and Dissonance Within France’s Heritage Regime

Krasnopoler, Emma, European Studies, University of Virginia
Krasnopoler, Emma, Arts & Sciences Graduate, University of Virginia

There are over 5,000 châteaux in France recognized as national historic monuments where tourists discover the architectural genius of past kings and lords, amble through manicured gardens, and marvel at large-scale restoration efforts funded by the French government. Châteaux, symbols of royal power and extravagance, were reinterpreted and preserved as integral parts of French national cultural identity after the French Revolution. This thesis aims to evaluate the processes of heritage-making at French châteaux through the lens of Antonio Gramsci’s theory of cultural hegemony in conversation with Laurajane Smith’s theory of Authorized Heritage Discourses. This thesis argues that the transformation of châteaux into heritage sites embodies processes of institutionalization and ideological exceptionalism perpetuated by the French State, the unquestioned guarantor of French cultural heritage since the end of the 18th century. The state-sanctioned restoration of short-lived historic formal gardens at the Château de Chambord represent a hegemonic project that replicates the politics and hierarchies of the 18th century. The Château de Condé, a heritage site grappling with the decision to preserve historic authenticity or accept the authorized heritage discourse, is evidence that the State’s heritage ideology has become hegemonic. Finally, this thesis presents the medieval château and garden of Montrond-les-Bains as a developing example of local resistance to the State’s authorized discourse of heritage. Understanding how the French State uses heritage at châteaux to maintain its dominance over French cultural affairs is imperative to recognizing alternative heritage discourses that offer a new way of thinking about heritage in France.

MA (Master of Arts)
France, Cultural heritage, Hegemony, Architecture, Garden history
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