Where Sunday trading has long been entrenched in British culture, it is still heavily regulated in France, limited to certain trades, some of which (furniture but not DIY tools) seem something of a misnomer. Despite calls to relax these laws, there remains an ‘ideological’ resistance to Sunday trading in France not dissimilar to the one voiced in the UK in the early 1990s prior to the law changes. A comparison of the economic, labour and socio-cultural issues arising from the difference in these laws might be a useful exercise – a springboard for thinking more carefully about how we spend our free-time and, consequently, how such time is structured in relation to the working week. To discuss Sunday trading laws should inevitably involve a discussion of how and why an extra day of trading is deemed necessary to a country’s economic survival and development as well as the impact this places on the labour-force, infrastructure, childcare and welfare and other related effects of increased production and consumption.As might have been expected, the so-called ‘debate’ between Agnès Poirier and Michael Hogan in yesterday’s Observer (here) was a completely missed opportunity in this respect. Instead, the discussion descended into a barrage of stock clichés (reading Proust, waving baguettes around vs. trips to IKEA as fun family days out) supplemented by the gentle goading of one another for doing so. In their respective ‘analyses’ both parties were clearly focused on Paris and other large cities in France where the whole range of purchasing establishments – from market stall to Carrefour –are all readily available along with the glut of cinemas, galleries, museums and theatres. Poirier, in particular, seemed keen (as she usually does in her Guardian columns) to provide us with a view of what French people think English people think of them rather than offering any sustained insight into the complexities of Sunday trading in France.
Both Hogan and Poirier might have benefitted from reading Theodor Adorno’s essay on ‘Free Time’ (in The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture – republished with Routledge in 2001) before they embarked on firing cheap shots at one another. Not only might they have thought more carefully about how such free-time functions to produce a more complicit workforce whether via unbridled consumption or supposed ‘cultural’ activities like going to the cinema or museum – they might have also been able to work together to bring Adorno’s critique into the twenty-first century via a culturally inflected analysis of the competing capitalist and nationalist ideologies underpinning this ‘free-time’. Which leaves me wondering, what, if any, purpose did this cheap satire have? All that seems to have been achieved is the reaffirmation of a set of established cultural, stereotypes along with a reductive ‘politics of difference’ no doubt with the aim of circumventing serious critique and dissatisfaction with the way in which our free-time is organized and prescribed.