Publication Date

Summer 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Mary Pickering



Subject Areas

Modern history; European studies


The "Macron Law," liberalizing French Sunday shopping hours, created great controversy in the French media in the winter of 2014-15, with particular opposition coming from the political left and the religious right. The controversy seemed to symbolize deeper issues for French society, appearing to some as a watershed, to others a threat. Some citizens expressed concern that the “European way of life" was disappearing, being replaced by a more materialist, consumerist, extreme capitalist economic model that posed an overt threat to the traditional social protection system. Were these fears real or only imagined? To an observer, shops open on Sundays might only be a convenience, not an encroachment of “jungle capitalism,” and the French welfare state, even with changes in recent years, still appeared quite generous. Was the Macron Law a simple adjustment of business hours, or was it an existential moment for the nation? Focusing on French socialism, the social welfare system, and the pivotal presidential years of François Mitterrand, this thesis argues that the evolution of the meaning of Sunday in France can be seen as a metaphor for the nation’s political and economic development in the late twentieth century. The thesis contends that following the turbulent 1970s, as the neoliberal paradigm became dominant globally, France forged a unique approach, an acceptable path between that model and the nation’s traditions, just as an accommodation was found in the Sunday shopping controversy, when aspects of religious and socialist traditions were compromised to meet the demands of modern life.