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The Unbearable Lightness of the Fait Divers: Investigating the Boundaries of a Journalistic Genre

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This paper investigates the boundaries of a journalistic category that typifies the French-speaking press, namely the faits divers, of which the approximate equivalent in the English-speaking press would be human interest stories. Bourdieu defines faits divers as journalistic discourses whose only function is to create diversion from what really matters, that is, socio-political issues (Bourdieu, 1996). I challenge this conception through the analysis of a case where journalists have politicized a fait divers and have used it to heighten awareness of a social problem. Certainly, the failure of these journalists’ attempts demonstrates that Bourdieu is right to define faits divers as a-political news. For all that, the case shows that faits divers cannot be dismissed as pure diversion, as they fulfill functions that other journalistic discourses do not take charge of. Bourdieu's critique stems from his contempt for the logic of emotion that is at work in the fait divers and fails to recognize that the narrative of the fait divers presents a crisis of causality that can inspire a reflection on human condition. Going back and forth between theories and the case study, the paper raises the question of definition, in terms of nature and function, of this journalistic genre.
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Keywords: Fait Divers; Human Interest Stories; Journalistic Genre

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2012-08-01

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