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The Corsican Quest for the Real: The Struggle for Self Identification among Cultural Militants in Corsica's Movement for Cultural Reacquisition

Davis, Sarah (2011)
Dissertation (243 pages)
Committee Chair / Thesis Advisers: Brown, Peter J; Paul, Robert A
Committee Members: Konner, Melvin J ; Risjord, Mark
Research Fields: Anthropology, Cultural
Keywords: Corsica; nationalism; identity; cultural revitalization; Mediterranean; ethnography
Program: Laney Graduate School, Anthropology
Permanent url:



Over the past 35 years on the French island of Corsica, self-described cultural
militants have led a movement for cultural reacquisition called the riacquistu. Militants
have fought to re-appropriate and valorize the vrai (true) Corsican tradition, identity and
language. The riacquistu overlaps with Corsica's violent nationalist movement, which
seeks political autonomy from the French State. This dissertation focuses on the
riacquistu, in particular the population of cultural militants in Northern Corsica, in the
area roughly corresponding to the arrondissement of Corte, which has been a center of
cultural and political activism on the island since the late 1960s. During 14 months of
fieldwork, I found that these militants are, in fact, highly critical of the deluge of
riacquistu discourse and cultural production that they themselves have helped create and
successfully perpetuate over the past few decades. Now many feel that the riacquistu has
done more harm than good, and they argue that it has further buried the true Corsican
tradition and identity rather than vindicate it, as the movement was meant to do. This
anti-riacquistu sentiment has led to a fascinating new genres of identity discourse and
methods of cultural reacquisition, which attempt to bring to the surface what these
militants feel has been lost as a result of their riacquistu efforts. The discourse, activities,
and cultural production of militants in, what I call, this "second wave" of activism is the
focus of the dissertation. Ultimately, what I found is that these militants are expressing
an understanding of cultural essence and authenticity that they argue is corrupted when
standardized, extracted from life through research, and put into books, museums, or even
political platforms (which is largely what the riacquistu has done). This is particularly
interesting because the vision of cultural essence they are now invoking does not align
with what anthropologists have come to expect from movements waged in the name of
essential or true identity (whether ethnic, national, or cultural). Rather than problematic
Enlightenment ideals of homogeneity, ethnic or linguistic purity, a bounded homeland, or
an immemorial past, these Corsicans are expressing something remarkably different.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Corsican Quest for the Real 1

Chapter I: Corsican Essentials 22

Chapter II: The Village, The Clan and the Non-Dit 41

Chapter III: The Riacquistu 73

Chapter IV: Nationalist, Ethnic and Cultural Revitalization Movements in Contemporary Anthropological Scholarship 115
Chapter V: The Corsican Versu: Cultural Essence and the Emergent Present 135
Chapter VI: A Crisis of Identity and Theoretical Reflections: The Tension between the Ordinary and the Analytic 175

Conclusion 212

Bibliography 225
Discography 237


application/pdf Dissertation 243 pages (994 KB) [Access copy of Dissertation]
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