Claude Lévi-Strauss Driving towards a Technocrat Society in a Ford Car: Did He Have to or Was He happy to?
Kristin Ross's book is an inspiring adventure into the essential yet underexplored relationship between the rising of Americanized consumerism, business management, production, and the development of social sciences and popular culture in the 60s and 70s France, which has shaped our way of thinking and criticizing until now. As she indicates, she employs automobiles and human bodies as reflected in novels, magazines, movies and academic research to explain this complicated marriage—reluctant to some extents but finally inseparably merged marriage—between decolonization, Americanization and the making of a new cadre- and technocrat-oriented French culture. I am impressed by her awareness to raise the important question by seeing the history from below, namely from popular culture, which was obscured by mainstream research that focus too much on the internal struggles and interactions among the French intellectuals in the 60s and 70s.
However, some characters of her book may undermine her argument. First, Ross has a critical attitude towards structuralism and the efforts to reconstruct social sciences made by mainstream French intellectuals after the disillusion of revolution after 1968. To do so, she points out that structuralism actually was in complicit with the discourse of capitalism at that time, by "objectively" discovering the scientific rules governing the society which implies the same logic as the technocrat-oriented management and engineering sciences at that time. However, I believe that there is a distinct gap between sincerely supporting this logic and discovering the logic at first but failing to offer a solution to it. If the latter one is the case in the French intelligentsia, then Ross's critique of how academic research at that time participated in the silent Americanized reordering of French culture may not that tenable. Why it failed to offer a solution, in addition to how it supports the formation of a new French culture, might be a noteworthy question here.
Second, it is unfortunate that the common young people, engineers, and middle managers that Ross' research supposes to talk about are actually silent in this book. They are always represented by intellectuals and elite writers. I admit that the middlebrow media, such films, magazines and television programs do reflect popular culture. But I think without citing some sources that might be closer to the thoughts and the way of thinking of these new elements of the French society, Ross' interpretation of how their lifestyles and values were Americanized through objects like cars and refrigerators lacks ground-level evidence. If we could see how some auto thieves actually talked about their motivation of stealing a car in legal archives, Ross' discussion would be much more tenable. After all, none of the authors, directors, and professors discussed in Ross' book actually need to steal a car to pursue freedom and speed in the 60s and 70s France.
In general, Ross' book is inspiring in a sense that it explains the relationship between spatial, economic and cultural reordering of French culture through the lens of consumerism at that time. Her awareness of this problem could teach us much about understanding contemporary culture after the disillusion of revolution in the last mid-century and the context of academic critiques produced in France that has influenced our current way of thinking of criticizing.