Collection of French riot posters goes online

April 06, 2006, volume 35, no. 7
By Howard Fluxgold



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The year was 1968 and Andrew Feenberg was a student at the Sorbonne in Paris studying Plato and Marxist theory of literature.

His studies were interrupted when the university was shut down by a student strike, so he joined the protest that eventually brought the country to its knees.

While he was dodging police and avoiding tear gas he was also engaging in his childhood passion of collecting. “For some reason, as a little boy I collected things,” recalls Feenberg, a Canada Research Chair in the philosophy of technology in the school of communication. “I collected rocks and shells and all sorts of things. During the protests I began collecting posters and leaflets and later came to realize that they might have some value.”

Since he had no classes to attend, he and his French girlfriend, a teacher on strike, participated in the demonstrations. “The tear gas was unpleasant but I was able to escape the French police, who had a reputation for brutality, because I was a distance runner at the time and could outrun them.”

On his website (www.sfu.ca/%7Eandrewf/), there is a photograph of Feenberg at a rally in support of the workers at the Paris Renault factory. The workers had closed down the plant.  Several examples of the posters he collected  were published in 2001 in a book he co-authored titled When Poetry Ruled the Streets. The title is taken from graffiti written on a Paris wall during the riots.

When Feenberg came to SFU from San Diego State University in 2003, the Bennett library began the arduous task of scanning and cataloguing the many thousands of leaflets and posters with the help of students from Feenberg's applied communication and technology laboratory.

The library is preparing to put them online in spring or summer so they are accessible to a wide audience.
Feenberg says the posters were produced by French art students in consultation with workers.

“I'm primarily interested in the political images of the protest,” he adds. The protest, which Feenberg calls “the last great revolutionary movement in society,” was against both capitalism and communism. “What they wanted was worker control of the economy,” explains Feenberg. “It was a fascinating concept that was implemented briefly in one town, but never caught on.”

He says the protesters may not have achieved their goals but “they did bring about the end of post-war attitudes and old style politics in France. It also ushered in a number of social movements such as feminism and ecology and it set the stage for the left to come to power.”

In March, Feenberg spoke at Harbour Centre about his collection and showed a short film on the posters produced by an Emily Carr student.

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