A sociologist in an ancient church


The village of Vaugines in Provence

You could be forgiven for thinking that a 16th century church is a strange place to hear a sociologist talking about “The New Portrait of France”. Jean Viard, born in 1949, is a renowned french sociologist. (Google him!). On Saturday last he came to the tiny church in Vaugines where the classic Marcel Pagnol film, Jean de Florette, was filmed. The village and its church warrant a blog to themselves but I’ll save that for another day.

Back to this new portrait of France. My french readers will have to forgive me if I am not always accurate in my interpretation of M Viard’s presentation. His delivery was extraordinarely rapid. A competition between Patrick Moore, the british astronomer, and M Viard, the french sociologist, to establish who could squash the most words into one sentence in the shortest possible time, would produce a very keen contest indeed.

The quality of life in France,according to M Viard, is being influenced by many factors among them, social democracy, culturel life and even the climate. Seventy percent of French people think France has no future. They are the least optimistic people in the world. At the same time 75% of french people say they are happy with their work, happy at home and happy with where they live.

In an attempt to explain the french private happiness but lack of public optimism he quoted a load of statistics which he claimed had a profound influence on the quality of our lives today and makes us feel content with our lot.

Our life expectancy has increased 40% in four generations. But the longer we live the shorter our life appears to have become because of the “model” we have established. It takes so much time to learn a trade or profession, get established in our profession, get married, have children and prepare them for life.

We have approximately 400,00 more hours, outside sleep and work, available to amuse ourselves in our lifetime. We spend vast quantities of this extra time in front of our televisions or taking holidays which will have a profound effect on our lifestyles.

We work only 12% of our lives in total leaving us 80% of our time to sleep and to amuse ourselves. We think, however that we are ‘time poor’. This is because there is so much more on offer for us to do. We continually multitask despite having, in fact, more time. But it is still our impression we don’t have enough time to talk to our friends, our children or our parents.

A work life balance is extremely important for a good quality of life. If this balance is absent an enterprise will fail. How we organise our free time develops in us a culture of organisation. Within the working environment there is still a hierarchical structure here in France whereas outside work lives are becomming less and less structured. France is way behind in introducing any level of autonomy in the workplace. M Viard believes the Dutch model where people have the right to work full time, half time or almost anything in between is a better model.

Another factor which influences the quality of life here in France concerns the ‘family’ of today. Fifty three percent of children, in France, are born outside marriage which changes completely the old structure of things. In two parent families both parents usually work. Women are having their children later or not at all.  The number of children a couple will have will be greatly influenced by the hours they work. Grandparents will be  part of their lives for much longer. Because of our increased longevity 50% of french people have their parents until they retire causing a complete change in family dynamics.

French people travel on average 45km per day compared to 5km per day until the sixties. This changes completely how we live. It leaves little time for contact with our neighbour or for socialising. But despite this our increased mobility, he claims, has a very positive influence on our lives. We are free to travel to increase our experiences.

France is one of the most visited tourist centres in the world. This world of tourism has a huge influence on our way of life. What we wear, what we eat, how we treat those we meet is all influenced by travel. Young people are more relaxed about aquaintenances and freer to live their lives. The patriarchical society is no more.

Where we live today is greatly influenced by what we believe to be a place that offers a better quality of life.We all aspire to live near big cities or towns which are ‘well placed’. But above all we want, apparently, to live in tourist areas. This is because we believe they are the most attractive places to live.

So the new portrait of france is of a country in change, above all in our private lives. He feels that enterprise would do well to observe how life is being lived outside the workplace and to try to emulate it within.

You can hear M Viard for yourselves is you so wish on: