Accepted paper:

"Return Utopias": the nostalgic appeal to a traditional rural world as a rhetorical tool for the "back-to-the-Nature" movement in France


Madeleine Sallustio (Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB))

Paper short abstract:

Nostalgia for a traditional rural world can be understood as a critical reaction in the face of a social and economic crisis.In the case of the new ecological "back-to-the-nature" movement, the reference to an idealized past is indeed the basis of new alternative ways of living: the "Return Utopias"

Paper long abstract:

We are observing today in France a new wave of return to the countryside and to its associated activities. These "back-to-the-nature" movements, also called "Return Utopias", bring with them the will to re-appropriate traditional knowledge and to establish a specific way of life, based on the idea of sustainable self-sufficiency and aspiring to a self-managed and collective social organisation.

This research project in anthropology intends to study the influence of nostalgia in the implementation of this utopian project, whether the appeal of an idealised past is generated by personal motivations and justifications (which can be spiritually orientated towards a "better life" or motivated by the wish for a break) or by the will to build a new form of modernity-criticism.

In order to set up a comprehensive analysis of the "returners" daily life (by focusing on three specific aspects of their life: the food practices, the education of children and the work organisation), I plan to study nostalgia as a vector of utopias. In this way, I intend to demonstrate that nostalgia, often considered as a backward-looking approach of the social world, is in fact a multiple phenomenon that can be contradictory and often be brought about by utopian philosophies and critical drives facing contemporary disappointments, frustration and anxieties in these times of crisis.

panel Rur002
Traditional knowledge as the key for sustainable rural development: utopia or reality?