Bretons - Sociopolitical Organization

Brittany, formerly a province under the ancien régime, today is qualified as a "region" within the republic of France; it is sometimes grouped with other western-lying departments under the generic title of "l'Ouest" (the West). Administratively, it consists of the four departments noted earlier (a fifth department, Loire-Atlantique, was recently reassigned to another region). Each department has delegates elected to the National Assembly under a multiple-party system that represents Communist, Christian democratic, socialist, and right-wing viewpoints. Departments also have préfets (chief executive officers) who are appointed by the central government and are not necessarily of Breton origin.

Social Organization. The traditional social organization revolved around the extended family as the basic unit of kinship and subsistence; however, local groupings of families into hamlets and plous was another important organizational component in which people could provide material and psychological support for one another through mutual Cooperative efforts (e.g., at harvest time, at birth and death). Vertical class divisions also organized people and activities, more stringently in the past than now, into peasant, bourgeois, aristocrat, religious, and secular classes.

Political Organization. Implementation of national policies at the regional level is carried out through the French system of departmental, arrondissement, and cantonal divisions (these are in decreasing order of jurisdiction). There is also a regional council with elected representatives empowered to make some decisions independent of the central government. Local matters are considered at the level of the commune, which is presided over by a mayor and municipal councillors (elected positions).

Social Control. The Catholic church historically played a key role in social control (and in reproduction); its influence has steadily diminished in the present century. On an informal level, gossip—within the neighborhood or village—remains a powerful tool of social control. At the formal level of control and conflict resolution, the French legal system—based on the Napoleonic Code—has been in effect since 1804.

Conflict. Breton soil has been the site of much armed conflict throughout its history as Bretons early on fought Frankish and Norse invaders and attempted to gain or maintain sovereignty and territorial integrity; from the eleventh century until annexation of Brittany to France in 1532, innumerable bloody confrontations—on both land and sea—took place as English and French forces vied for Breton territory. Internal conflict has also erupted intermittently, notably following the French Revolution, when Republicans and Royalists were pitted against one another. The 1930s witnessed the rise of syndicalism and the workers' assertion of their rights vis-à-vis employers and unfavorable economic policies. Brittany was occupied by the Germans during World War II; the civilian population suffered considerable losses, and internal conflict again arose here (as elsewhere in France) between collaborationists and résistants. Post-World War II years have witnessed protests and demonstrations against the central government's economic policies regarding French regions, against nuclear power plants in Brittany, and in favor of greater economic, cultural, and linguistic autonomy.

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