English Issue > 2006

An Annual English Selection - 2006 - 47 - Supplement

Radical Academicism or the Sociologist’s Monologue : Who are Sociologists Talking to ?




pp. 3-33


Since the early 1990s, a very successful approach has developed in sociology in France called “radical academicism”. It involves the sociologist identifying himself or herself with an “objectivity” external to society (and incarnated by the institution), and it leads to a kind of elitism : only an elite made up of “savants” can accede to the lucidity offered by theory and universal values ; only its members escape social determinism and can perceive such determinism at work in the lives of others. This elite, then, ends up speaking a monologue and establishing its “self” as the point of intersection between science and the political, meaning –so goes the argument– that it is in a position to “show” the dominated the real meaning of their actions. In addition to the advantages it offers, this position resonates with the social experience of “intellos précaires” [persons working in the intellectual professions in France whose socio-economic situation remains unsure, “precarious” ; e.g., adjuncts], who can therefore consider their own “misère” comparable to the “suffering” of the most underprivileged members of society, thereby universalizing their own interests. Radical academicism goes together with sharp hostility to democracy, and its mixture of self-pity and critical distance may also be said to characterize middle-class ideology in France. At the political level, radical academicism exemplifies middle-class appropriation of what was once the world of working-class demands, and middle-class power to weaken working-class defenses.



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