Full Speed Ahead? The Trente Glorieuses in a Rear View Mirror

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It is a historiographical commonplace to portray France during the so-called Trente Glorieuses of economic expansion after the Liberation, especially during the last of those three decades ending in the 1973 oil crisis, as engaged heart and soul in a project of full-throttle modernisation. The Fifth Republic under Charles De Gaulle and Georges Pompidou rolled up its sleeves and set to work tackling the country's multifarious examples of historical backwardness. France ceased to be a nation of peasants, small-minded small business owners and bolshie workers, and instead dreamed of becoming one of confident technocrats, technicians and world-beating industrialists. Only after the end of the Trente Glorieuses, it is often assumed, did that dream of technologically based progress give way to greater scepticism, pessimism and environmental concern, for modernisation swept all before it until its assumptions were rudely challenged by the end of growth in October 1973 - or at least until they were by the political crisis of May 1968. While more critical perspectives on post-war modernisation are evident in recent historiography, notably on issues around planning in general and housing and the grands ensembles in particular, transport policy and the set of social experiences which it sought to shape have been relatively more marginal to our understanding. This review article seeks to explore how issues around transport, and their broader implications about the very nature of modern growth-oriented capitalist society, are leading the debate onto new terrain. The underlying purpose of several of the books under review is to cast doubt on the accepted narrative of the Trente Glorieuses. They do so, however, in two defiantly opposite directions: some defending the distinctly pro-car orientation of the post-war elites and others offering a more radical critique of this perspective.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)189-199
Number of pages10
JournalContemporary European History
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2017


  • Trente Glorieuses
  • Transport
  • French History


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