Accepted Paper:

At home in bookshops : exploring the rhetoric of the domestic sphere in French independent bookshops  


Sophie Noël (Université Paris 13)

Paper short abstract:

The domestic sphere plays an important part in values promoted by independent bookshops in France in order to differentiate themselves from competition. This paper aims at understanding the imagery of the home that is inseparable from the independent bookshop rhetoric.

Paper long abstract:

The imagery of the home is central in the publishing field, as the term « publishing house » bears witness. The same holds true for independent bookshops, which form a dynamic but fragile part of the retailing industry in France. The research I have carried out in 2015-2016 shows that the domestic sphere and the home play an important part in the rhetoric and values promoted by independent bookshops in order to differentiate themselves from competition - mainly Amazon - while asserting a project with strong cultural and political undertones.

The paper draws on thirty semi-structured interviews carried out with medium-size independent booksellers created in the past 15 years in France, together with observation during special events and debates organized in bookshops. It shows that independent bookshop tend to blur the boundaries between domestic space and working space, between the intimate and the economic, following the precapitalist model of the oïkos. They put forward such characteristics as their being "local", "authentic" and "subjective", as opposed to the distant and dehumanised quality of online retailers. The aim is to recreate an "intimate atmosphere", akin to that of the home, a re-enchanted commercial space where friends and like-minded people can meet and exchange about books. The furnishing of the bookshop is therefore crucial in order to convey a sense of home (carpets, plants, sofas, music, paintings…). It is indeed a third place (Oldenburg, 1989) and an extension of the owners' private space, together with a refuge from the commodification and homogenization of culture.

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Books create a home: exploring books and reading practices as domestic symbols and rituals