Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales

Groupe de sociologie politique et morale


On Critique: A Sociology of Emancipation

Luc Boltanski

Broché, 2011


The relationship between sociology and social critique has haunted the discipline since its origins. Does critique divert sociology from its scientific project? Or is critique the ultimate goal of sociology, without which the latter would be a futile activity disconnected from the concerns of ordinary people? This issue has underpinned two divergent theoretical orientations that can be found in the discipline today: the critical sociology that was developed in its most elaborate form by Pierre Bourdieu, and the pragmatic sociology of critique developed by Luc Boltanski and his associates. In critical sociology, description in terms of power relations underscores the potency of mechanisms of oppression, the way the oppressed passively endure them, going so far in their alienation as to adopt the values that enslave them. Pragmatic sociology, by contrast, describes the actions of human beings who rebel but who are endowed with reason. It stresses their ability, in certain historical conditions, to rise up against their domination and construct new interpretations of reality in the service of critical activity. In this major new book Boltanski develops a framework that makes it possible to reconcile these seemingly antagonistic approaches - the one determinist and assigning the leading role to the enlightening science of the sociologist, the other concerned to stick as closely as possible to what people say and do. This labour of unification leads him to rework central notions such as practice, institution, critique and, finally, ‘social reality,' all with the aim of contributing to a contemporary renewal of practices of emancipation.

On Justification: Economies of Worth

Luc Boltanski& Laurent Thévenot

Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2006


A vital and underappreciated dimension of social interaction is the way individuals justify their actions to others, instinctively drawing on their experience to appeal to principles they hope will command respect. Individuals, however, often misread situations, and many disagreements can be explained by people appealing, knowingly and unknowingly, to different principles. On Justification is the first English translation of Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thévenot's ambitious theoretical examination of these phenomena, a book that has already had a huge impact on French sociology and is likely to have a similar influence in the English-speaking world.

In this foundational work of post-Bourdieu sociology, the authors examine a wide range of situations where people justify their actions. The authors argue that justifications fall into six main logics exemplified by six authors: civic (Rousseau), market (Adam Smith), industrial (Saint-Simon), domestic (Bossuet), inspiration (Augustine), and fame (Hobbes). The authors show how these justifications conflict, as people compete to legitimize their views of a situation.

On Justification is likely to spark important debates across the social sciences.

The new spirit of capitalism

Luc Boltanski & Eve Chiapello, Gregory Elliot (translator)

London, Verso, 2005


Why is the critique of capitalism so ineffective today? In this major work, the sociologists Eve Chiapello and Luc Boltanski suggest that we should be addressing the crisis of anticapitalist critique by exploring its very roots.

Via an unprecedented analysis of management texts which influenced the thinking of employers and contributed to reorganization of companies over the last decades, the authors trace the contours of a new spirit of capitalism. From the middle of the 1970s onwards, capitalism abandoned the hierarchical Fordist work structure and developed a new network-based form of organization which was founded on employee initiative and relative work autonomy, but at the cost of material and psychological security.

This new spirit of capitalism triumphed thanks to a remarkable recuperation of the "artistic critique"—that which, after May 1968, attacked the alienation of everyday life by capitalism and bureaucracy. At the same time, the "social critique" was disarmed by the appearance of neocapitalism and remained fixated on the old schemas of hierarchical production.

This book, remarkable for its scope and ambition, seeks to lay the basis for a revival of these two complementary critiques.

Distant Suffering: Morality, Media and Politics

Luc Boltanski

Cambridge University Press, 1999


Distant Suffering examines the moral and political implications for a spectator of the distant suffering of others as presented through the media. What are the morally acceptable responses to the sight of suffering on television, for example, when the viewer cannot act directly to affect the circumstances in which the suffering takes place? Luc Boltanski argues that spectators can actively involve themselves and others by speaking about what they have seen and how they were affected by it. Developing ideas in Adam Smith's moral theory, he examines three rhetorical 'topics' available for the expression of the spectator's response to suffering: the topics of denunciation and of sentiment and the aesthetic topic. The book concludes with a discussion of a 'crisis of pity' in relation to modern forms of humanitarianism. A possible way out of this crisis is suggested which involves an emphasis and focus on present suffering.

The Making of Class.Cadres in French Society.

Luc Boltanski translated by Arthur Goldhammer

Cambridge University Press1987


One of the most important social groups in mosern France are the so-called cadres- middle-to-high level administrative personnel, who nonetheless differ among themselves in termes of their income, qualifications, and what they actually do. The occupational groups that constitute tha cadres are present in almost all advanced industrial societies, but it is only in France that they have formed a conscious collectivity. In this book, Luc Boltanski presents a sociological and historical study of the formation og this social group, and examines centrally important sociological questions about the nature of social class. In contrast to historically deterministic theories of class formation, wether Marxist or functionalist, Boltanski argues that collective identity arises not solely in response to underlying objective class realities, but through a complex process of political negociation. He shows that the emergence of the cadres in France was the product of a particular set of political circumstances that arose at a critical historical conjuncture. He reveals the importance of the period from 1930 to 1945 for the political representation of professional interests in France, showing that during that time the administrative definition of “citizen” came to be couched in socio-professionals, and particularly the cadres, had become the benchmark against which ordinary people define themselves.

This innovative approach to the study of class formation and the construction of social theory. Furthermore, in successfully integrating perspectives from sociology, history, political science, economics, anthropology and semiotics the book offers an excellent example of the kind of unified social science that emerges from the breakdown of traditional disciplines, and an invaluable guide to future work of this sort.

Rethinking Comparative Cultural Sociology: Repertoires of Evaluation in France and the United States

Michèle Lamont and Laurent Thévenot (eds)

Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2000


This book provides a powerful new theoretical framework for understanding cross-national cultural differences. Focusing on France and America, it analyzes how the people of these two different societies mobilize national and cross-national »repertoires of evaluation» to make judgment about politics, economics, morals, and aesthetics.

The analysis draws on eight case studies by eleven French and American researchers who have worked together over a number of years to develop systematic comparisons between these countries. The topics are wide-ranging, comparing how individuals use the cultural tools at their disposal to answer questions such as : are race equal? What constitues sexual harassment? What is the value of contemporary art? Should journalists be neutral? How can the defense of the environment be reconciled with economic imperatives? How does private interest contribute to the public good? Moving beyond simplistic essentialist models of national character, this comparative approach offers important insights that will interest not only sociologists but also political scientists and anthropologist.

The Politics of Large Numbers. A History of Statistical Reasoning

Alain Desrosières

Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 2002


In this ambitious and sophisticated study of the history of statistics, which begins with probability theoryin the seventeenth century, Alain Desrosières shows how the evolution of modern statistics has been inextricably bound up with the knowledge and power of governments and the mathematical artifacts that both dictate the duties of the state and measure its successes.

Fiscal Disobedience. An anthropology of economic regulation in Central africa

Janet Roitman

Princeton, Princeton University Press; 2005


Fiscal Disobedience represents a novel approach to the question of citizenship amid the changing global economy and the fiscal crisis of the nation-state. Focusing on economic practices in the Chad Basin of Africa, Janet Roitman combines thorough ethnographic fieldwork with sophisticated analysis of key ideas of political economy to examine the contentious nature of fiscal relationships between the state and its citizens. She argues that citizenship is being redefined through a renegotiation of the rights and obligations inherent in such economic relationships.

The book centers on a civil disobedience movement that arose in Cameroon beginning in 1990 ostensibly to counter state fiscal authority--a movement dubbed Opération Villes Mortes by the opposition and incivisme fiscal by the government (which for its part was eager to suggest that participants were less than legitimate citizens, failing in their civic duties). Contrary to standard approaches, Roitman examines this conflict as a "productive moment" that, rather than involving the outright rejection of regulatory authority, questioned the intelligibility of its exercise. Although both militarized commercial networks (associated with such activities trading in contraband goods including drugs, ivory, and guns) and highly organized gang-based banditry do challenge state authority, they do not necessarily undermine state power.

Contrary to depictions of the African state as "weak" or "failed," this book demonstrates how the state in Africa manages to reconstitute its authority through networks that have emerged in the interstices of the state system. It also shows how those networks partake of the same epistemological grounding as does the state. Indeed, both state and nonstate practices of governing refer to a common "ethic of illegality," which explains how illegal activities are understood as licit or reasonable conduct

Transnational intellectual networks. Forms of academic knowledge and the search for cultural identities

Christophe Charle, Jürgen Schriewer, Peter Wagner (eds)

Chicago, The University Press of Chicago, 2004


The university system, both in America and abroad, has always claimed a universal significance for its research and educational models. At the same time, many universities, particularly in Europe, have also claimed another role—as custodians of national culture. Transnational Intellectual Networks explores this apparent contradiction and its resulting intellectual tensions with illuminating essays that span the nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century nationalization movements in Europe through the postwar era.

Theorizing Modernity: Inescapability and Attainability in Social Theory

Peter Wagner

London, SAGE Publications, 2001


Peter Wagner argues that the social sciences have lost their ability to provide critical diagnoses of the present human condition. He attemps to restore that ability by retrieving some of the key questions that sociologists tend to gloss over – either because they take the answers to them for granted, or because they presuppose that the answers are beyond the reach of sociology. The former issue is one of inescapability, the latter is one of the attainability.

Theorizing Modernity identifies five key questions in which issues of inescapability abd attainability emerge. These are the certainty of our knowledge, the viability of our politics, the continuity of our selves, the accessibility of the past, and the transparency of the future. The author demonstrates how these questions have been addressed during the past 200 years and how they persist today.

Incisive, shrewd and persuasive, this book is a major contribution to social theory and the sociology of modernity.

A History and Theory of the Social Sciences: Not All That is Solid Melts Into Air

Peter Wagner

Nottingham, Nottingham Trent University, 2001


Divided into two parts, this book examines the train of social theory from the 19th century, through to the 'organization of modernity', in relation to ideas of social planning, and as contributors to the 'rationalistic revolution' of the 'golden age' of capitalism in the 1950s and 60s. Part two examines key concepts in the social sciences. It begins with some of the broadest concepts used by social scientists: choice, decision, action and institution and moves on to examine the 'collectivist alternative': the concepts of society, culture and polity, which are often dismissed as untenable by postmodernists today. This is a major contribution to contemporary social theory and provides a host of essential insights into the task of social science today

The Social Fabric of the Networked City

Géraldine Pflieger, Luca Pattaroni, Christophe Jemelin, Vincent Kaufmann



This book is constructed around the work of Manuel Castells on the space of places, the space of flows and the networked city. Following an introduction by Castells in which he sets out the theoretical and empirical framework to be followed, the book will feature nine original contributions focusing on the transformation of the fabric of the networked city in terms of policies and social practices. The articles will touch on a range of areas, such as architecture, local public action including its sociohistorical transformation, and mobility practices which create tensions between places and flows.

Encounters of Body and Soul in Contemporary Religious Practices. Anthropological Relfections

Anna Fedele, Ruy Llera Blanes



Social scientists and philosophers confronted with religious phenomena have always been challenged to find a proper way to describe the spiritual experiences of the social group they were studying. The influence of the Cartesian dualism of body and mind (or soul) led to a distinction between non-material, spiritual experiences (i.e., related to the soul) and physical, mechanical experiences (i.e., related to the body). However, recent developments in medical science on the one hand and challenges to universalist conceptions of belief and spirituality on the other have resulted in “body” and “soul” losing the reassuring solid contours they had in the past. Yet, in “Western culture,” the body–soul duality is alive, not least in academic and media discourses. This volume pursues the ongoing debates and discusses the importance of the body and how it is perceived in contemporary religious faith: what happens when “body” and “soul” are un-separated entities? Is it possible, even for anthropologists and ethnographers, to escape from “natural dualism”? The contributors here present research in novel empirical contexts, the benefits and limits of the old dichotomy are discussed, and new theoretical strategies proposed.

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Les annonces

  • Les travailleurs intellectuels à l'épreuve des transformations de l'emploi et du capitalisme. Nouvelles figures, nouvelles classes ? Parmi les tendances caractéristiques du capitalisme contemporain, les sciences sociales mettent souvent en avant d’une part les transformations de la relation salariale vers davantage de flexibilité, d’intermittence et d’incertitude quant à ses frontières et ses statuts et, d’autre part, la montée en puissance d’une production immatérielle ou cognitive et d’un travail plus « créatif ». L'objectif de cette journée d'études est d’interroger les travaux théoriques ou empiriques qui voient dans ces deux tendances le fondement d’une recomposition des classes sociales, en particulier à travers l’émergence de nouvelles géométries sociales centrées autour de la figure d’un travailleur intellectuel précaire.