Fette awarded Fulbright grant to research migration, citizenship in French children’s literature

Julie Fette, associate professor of French studies
Julie Fette, associate professor of French studies at Rice

Julie Fette, associate professor of French studies, has won a 2022-23 Fulbright U.S. Scholar grant to further her research in Paris with the Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales (School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences), one of France’s most prestigious institutes of higher education.

Fette’s grant will allow her to study contemporary French children’s literature and how picture books depict experiences of migration and citizenship in ways that reveal much about French ideological norms.

Beginning around 2000, Fette noticed, French children's books began to address migration and citizenship in their stories. Fette plans to analyze how this new body of literature either espouses or opposes the French republican model of assimilation and universalism, in which newcomers are generally welcome, but on the condition of becoming “French.”

“Books are so central in socialization, especially children’s books,” Fette said. “This is where gender begins.”

Fette’s research background in French studies includes work across many intersecting topics, including migration, racism and gender, all driven by the question that’s defined her scholarship: Why do human beings discriminate against and exclude others?

Her first book, “Exclusions,” examined middle-class discrimination in French society in the professional fields of law and medicine between 1920 and 1945 as shaped by anti-Semitism and xenophobia. Her second monograph, “Gender by the Book,” will look at representations of gender in French children’s literature and their effects on childhood socialization.

The Fulbright fellowship will allow Fette to connect her specializations in an initial article-length publication and possibly a third research monograph, all while creating valuable collaborations with her French peers and colleagues.

“It’s really fascinating to come full circle with this Fulbright project, tying in both my background in migration and racism on the one hand and children's literature on the other,” Fette said. “I'm able to bring two very different branches of expertise to this project.”

In doing so, Fette will become a founding scholar in two subfields. In immigration studies, she’ll bring focus to the socialization of foreign and minority children through fictional picture books; in French children's literature, her work will set a precedent for bringing questions of diversity to the forefront of debate.

Fette will also have the opportunity to work firsthand with materials at Paris’ Bibliothèque nationale de France, the country’s national library, and the Musée national de l'histoire de l'immigration, a large immigration museum. She hasn’t had a chance to conduct long-term research in France for many years, making this grant exceptionally meaningful.

“When your research materials and your networks are abroad, that creates a whole set of problems to foster your career goals,” Fette said. “You have to be there.”

Aligned with the Fulbright mission, Fette has committed her career to cultivating international understanding, especially between France and the United States. For over 20 years, she’s collaborated with the French Consulate in Houston in co-organizing events and has lectured at French schools in the U.S. such as Awty International School. In her French courses at Rice, Fette emphasizes the similarities and differences in the ways French and American democracies integrate their diverse populations. She also recently published a textbook in French for American students that analyzes French society in a comparative approach.

Along with her colleagues in the Department of Modern and Classical Literatures and Cultures, Fette has also spent many years bringing high-profile French intellectuals to campus, such as Éric Fassin’s March 21 lecture on academic freedom. And in 2015, Fette launched a free, massive open online course (MOOC) through Rice called America through Foreign Eyes, recruiting Rice colleagues specializing in Africa, China, Mexico and Russia to create a truly global course that has enrolled over 15,000 students. Fette, of course, teaches the French module of the popular MOOC.

Rice remains among the nation’s top producer of Fulbright students, scholars and administrators, celebrating one of its largest cohorts of student scholars in 2020. Fette also credits the Office of Proposal Development for its support of faculty seeking fellowships like the Fulbright, a grant that speaks to her years of research and collaboration.

“Fulbright is all about ambassadorship between countries for the benefit of international understanding, and that’s exactly what I do,” Fette said. “My whole career has really been dedicated to cultural ambassadorship between France and the United States.”

The award will open doors for Fette as well as Rice, as its objectives focus on educational, diplomatic and cultural exchange, said Adria Baker, associate vice provost for international education.

"We are all so proud of Dr. Julie Fette’s Fulbright scholar award," Baker said. "It not only represents the outstanding work that she has been doing in her field, but it also highlights the high level of distinction of Rice faculty overall — and on a global stage, as well."