Generation Moulinex

Generation Moulinex

Researcher: Jackie Clarke

This project explores the history and memory of the French domestic appliance company, Moulinex, paying particular attention to questions about work, consumption and working-class subjectivity in France from the 1950s to the present.

Moulinex is worthy of attention in part because it has become emblematic of two key historical developments: firstly the expansion of mass production and consumption from the 1950s to the early 1970s, and secondly the crisis of French industry and the French working class in the age of globalisation.  No brand was more closely identified with the postwar boom in domestic consumption in France and Moulinex factories sprang up rapidly in the comparatively rural region of Lower Normandy (and neighbouring departments) following the launch of its first electrical appliance in 1956. In 2001, however, the heavily indebted company went bust amid allegations of financial irregularities and most of the remaining factories closed with the loss of over 3000 jobs in the region.  Among the most visible victims of this process were the women who occupied the majority of production jobs at Moulinex, many of whom had joined the firm in its heyday in their teens or early twenties and spent much of their working lives there.  This project follows the life cycle of the company and of these workers, drawing on oral history interviews, published cultural production, and the archives of the company, the trade unions and the ex-Moulinex workers’ associations that have emerged since the factory closures.

A first phase of research was carried out in 2010 and has resulted in several article publications (see below).  The current phase of the project focuses on the memory of Moulinex and on what this can tell us not just about how people deal with the personal and social rupture of factory closures, but also about the contemporary politics of industrial heritage and post-industrial nostalgia.  It combines analysis of workers’ life history narratives with an examination of local commemorative projects in Cormelles Le Royal and Alençon, the sites of the two largest Moulinex factories in Normandy.   This work is being funded by a British Academy/Leverhulme Trust Small Grant, ‘Afterlives of the Factory: Remembering Moulinex in Contemporary France’ (2013-14).

Publications

Jackie Clarke, ‘Work, Consumption and Subjectivity in Postwar France: Moulinex and the Meanings of Domestic Appliances, 1950s-1970s’ Journal of Contemporary History,47:4, forthcoming October 2012.

Jackie Clarke, ‘Social Exclusion, Creative Writing and Democracy: The Politics of a Socio-literary Project in Caen’ Contemporary French Civilization, 37:1,  June 2012.

Jackie Clarke, ‘Closing Moulinex: Thoughts on the Visibility and Invisibility of Industrial Labour in Contemporary France’ Modern and Contemporary France 19:4 November 2011.