Social Organization. The southwest, like France in general, is class-stratified. While post-World War II economic development has produced new wealth, approximately 1.56 percent of households in France possess 25 percent of the nation's wealth. It is reported that 10 percent of households share 50 percent of the nation's wealth, while the poorest 25 percent share only 6 percent of the wealth. Consolidation of peasant tenures as well as marked differences in agricultural production within the Aquitaine make the southwest a mirror of class stratification in France.
Political Organization. France is a republic, or constitutional democracy, with a National Assembly consisting of 577 deputies elected by direct suffrage and a Senate consisting of 319 members elected by indirect suffrage. The President of the republic is elected every seven years and, besides appointing the prime minister, is responsible for protecting the constitution, the national independence, and the territorial sovereignty of France.
France is divided into communes, cantons, arrondissements, and departments, of which the first and the last are the most significant. All of these political divisions are represented in the southwest. The communes are local in focus and traditionally represented groupings of villages or agricultural settlements, whereas the departments serve principally as administrative arms of the state. Departments and communes have come under criticism for their inadequacy as spatial units of administration and for their arbitrary boundaries, respectively. Consequently, to facilitate administration and state planning, regions were introduced as a unit in three stages, in 1964, 1972, and 1982. Apart from being identifiable as a cultural area, the Aquitaine now serves as a region. Regions were partially decentralized by the socialist government in 1982 as a means of enhancing their autonomy.
Social Control. The French legal system at the local and national level serves as a primary instrument of social control. This is reinforced, especially in villages, by the power of gossip and public opinion.
Conflict. Regional identity periodically surfaces as a source of tension with the nation-state, in addition to differences that emerge within the region as a result of political and economic inequalities. More recently, the many immigrants who have settled in the southwest have served as a source of tension and debate among political parties and the general citizenry.