Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Andrew W. M. Smith's "Terror and Terroir"

Andrew W. M. Smith is Teaching Fellow at University College London. He has also worked as an Associate Lecturer at Brunel University London, Queen Mary, University of London and the University of Chichester.

Smith applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Terror and Terroir: The Winegrowers of the Languedoc and Modern France, and reported the following:
Winegrowing is a rustic profession rooted in the soil, and seared by the sun. In the South of France, it has often been seen as a profession for burly men with rough hands, earth on their boots and overalls that bore testament to their graft in the fields. Prominent spokesmen for these southern winegrowers were celebrated for their skill on the rugby field, and the weathered faces of these labourers was trumpeted as the sign of a burden nobly born. In my book, Terror and terroir: the winegrowers of the Languedoc and modern France, I explore this world of winegrowing at its most intense, looking at a group of militant winegrowers called the Comité Régional d’Action Viticole (CRAV). This group was the armed wing of the unions, who sought to defend their interests by any means necessary, including bombs, bullets and barricades.

It was with surprise, therefore, that on carrying out ‘the page 99 test’, I found some valuable nuance in this image. I turned to page 99 which fell in the midst of Chapter 3, ‘Molotovs in the Minervois: revolution in the vines (1961–1976)’. Despite the violent rhetoric, and amidst discussions of veterans of the Algerian War, I take a step back from this boys’ club to ask where the women of the region were when it came to protests, and what we might understand by their absence.
Looking at postcards and pictures of the 1907 demonstrations, it is striking that women hold some of the most important symbolic positions. Yet, in the postwar world, there are remarkably fewer female faces to be counted in the records of these protests, fewer vocal spokeswomen, and less discussion of the Languedoc’s daughters.
In this section, ‘Women, winegrowing and protest’, I look at how changes to the world of wine reinforced traditional gender roles and served to minimise the space for women’s voices amongst the winegrowing radicals.
[T]he forces the CRAV seemed to be standing against (the capitalist rationalisation of winegrowing), pushed women into domestic labour spheres, and increasingly separated them from the identity of winegrower. To put it simply, tractors tended to replace women in the vineyard, marginalising their voices when the defence of winegrowing was raised in the post-war world.
Yet, despite this paucity of female involvement, it would be rash to conclude that women were absent from the movement. One of the key means of broadening the movement’s appeal was to encourage winegrowers to bring their wives to demonstrations, and this was a key policy from one of the CRAV leaders in the 1960s.
Bringing women to meetings boosted numbers, engaged whole households in the movement and helped ensure the CRAV could call on a wider array of support by speaking to the domestic alongside the professional and predominantly masculine world of unions.
This ensured that some prominent women were represented in the 1960s, when the winegrowers’ movement was establishing itself as a potent social force in the South of France. In particular, Madame Gélis became a prominent spokeswoman, though was always referred to in this formal manner, and never by her first name. This in itself hints at certain unspoken limits. Gélis never challenged gender norms, and her activism was voiced firmly in the language of domesticity. This language of protest was designed to reinforce that downturn in the winegrowing of the Languedoc, the dominant economic activity of the region with a vast cultural symbolism, was felt sharply at the hearth of ordinary working people. The movement was radical in its methods, though never dependably radical in its social outlook. If they opposed the markets, it was in favour of the artisanal and the local. If they petitioned the government, it was for aid, or to prosecute the oft-suspected fraud that blighted the market. Theirs was not a radicalism that challenged gender norms or offered alternative models for social interaction.

The story of the CRAV is dominated by rugged masculinity, the endurance of suffering, and explosions of violent protest. It is steeped in the legacy of the region and its culture, presenting a strident challenge to Paris and national attempts to reform the region. Yet it is telling that at the heart of this book is an acknowledgement of absence, and a gendered reading of this avowedly male movement. Looking at page 99 has offered me a different perspective on my own work, and highlighted an important aspect of the study overall. To quote the introduction to the book,

“If France was, as Michelet contended, ‘the daughter of her liberty’, the Languedoc was, in many ways, the daughter of her vines.”
Visit Andrew W. M. Smith's website.

--Marshal Zeringue