Faculty Profile: Jack Murphy

In fall 2011, Jack Murphy joined the Department of French at Gettysburg College. Bringing with him a background in sociocultural anthropology and a research agenda focused on urban youth in contemporary France, he has been working with colleagues in the Department to help expand offerings in contemporary French culture and society.

Holding a joint degree in French Studies and Anthropology, Jack completed his doctoral work at New York University in 2009. This dual-track program combined multidisciplinary training at NYU’s Institute of French Studies with rigorous disciplinary training within the Department of Anthropology. Jack complemented his coursework in New York with study in Paris at the École normale supérieure (ENS) and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS).

With the generous support of a Bourse Chateaubriand, Jack undertook a year of dissertation field research in France in 2005-2006. The timing could not have been better. Jack’s project sought to examine how young people, coming of age in France’s disadvantaged outer cities (banlieues), conceive of and express social identity. Less than two months after his arrival in France, youth rioting erupted on the outskirts of Paris after the accidental death of two teenagers during an encounter with the police. Unprecedented in scale, the rioting spread to more than 250 cities across France, including Limoges, where Jack was conducting his research, before finally subsiding three full weeks later. Then, the following spring, another social drama unfolded when the French government’s announcement of a youth employment reform sparked months of massive student-led protests.

In his publications, Jack has drawn on data collected during the heat of these moments of unrest to discuss such issues as race and ethnicity, social class, youth and Islam, and the forms and meanings of public contestation in contemporary France. Jack is currently at work on a book-length manuscript. Tentatively titled “Yearning to Labor: Youth, Unemployment, and Social Destiny in a French Outer City,” it presents this French case to question how people more generally make sense of the inequality they encounter in today’s precarious labor market.

At Gettysburg, Jack has put to use his educational background and research experience to re-conceptualize the French Department’s introductory course on French culture and society: “French Revolutions: Cultural and Social Upheaval in France since 1789.” He has also added two new courses to the Department’s slate of offerings: “Plural France,” which explores conceptions and expressions of difference in France, and “Exploring French Foodways,” which draws on a new research interest in the intersections of food and national identity. Through these courses and their emphasis on an anthropological approach to culture and society, Jack hopes to offer students another lens, alongside his colleagues’ courses in literature and cinema, for reflecting on the complexities of France and the Francophone world.