Schaeffer, Boulez, and the Everyday Diplomacies of French Decolonization

  • Noé Cornago
Part of the The Sciences Po Series in International Relations and Political Economy book series (SPIRP)


This chapter examines the international influence of Pierre Boulez and Pierre Schaeffer, two outstanding figures of French contemporary culture, from a rather unexplored prism, namely, that of their respective roles in the decolonization of French diplomacy during the central decades of the past century. More specifically, it aims to ascertain to what extent, if any, Boulez and Schaeffer’s possible contributions to the decolonization of French diplomacy and culture may be explained—beyond their personal views and intellectual dispositions—in terms of their interaction with the various institutional contexts and material infrastructures and artifacts in which they were involved over the course of their long professional careers. In so doing, this study contends that diplomacy operates through countless practices, observable not only at ministerial headquarters and embassies or international governmental summits but also in a variety of sites, including radio stations and concert halls. The argument this chapter aims to put forth is that the variety of infrastructures and artifacts in which the activities of these two singular personalities were embedded had an additional political effect that reverberates in the wider cultural and political context, facilitating either the continuity of the existing power relations or conversely creating the basis for its subsequent contestation. Despite the participation of Boulez in some important mobilizations in favor of Algerian independence, his combination of sharp modernism as composer and his careful cultivation of European classical music tradition in his role as conductor may be understood as a supreme form of Western cultural rationalism perfectly compatible with a merely superficial reformulation of colonial mentality in comfortable continuity with its corresponding diplomatic inertia. Conversely, Schaeffer’s radical attempt to redefine the frontiers between music and sound, combined with his involvement in different professional capacities—including colonial administration—as an expert in the politics of broadcasting, worldwide and more specifically in Africa, entailed a somewhat paternalistic but real engagement with the course of events that finally were conducive to the decolonization of French diplomacy.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Noé Cornago
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of International Law and International RelationsUniversity of the Basque CountryBilbaoSpain

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