EHESS Summerschool 2017: The Unity of Social Sciences? Rethinking the concept of Revolution

The 2017 EHESS Summerschool : The Unity of Social Sciences? Rethinking the concept of Revolution took place from 3rd to 14th July 2017.

The study of the “longue durée” and the study of “Revolutions” have long been two of the holy grails of the social sciences: how structures perpetuate themselves and how they shift or collapse are, arguably, two central questions of the social sciences. The EHESS is famous for having produced path-breaking works on both topics (thanks to Fernard Braudel or François Furet, to mention only two of the most obvious examples). However, in light of recent world events (from the Arab Spring to the Internet Revolution), and because 2017 is the one-hundredth anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, the EHESS would like to devote its Summer School to the study of Revolutions. How do we study Revolutions and what are their social and anthropological ramifications? These are the two broad set of questions that we will ask during two intensive weeks of discussion in four different seminars.

  • ‘Political Revolution’: Hamit Bozarslan (seminar leader), Alain Blum, Ivan Ermakoff, Sophie Wahnich (guests).
  • ‘Economic Revolution’ : Sébastien Lechevalier (seminar leader), Nicolas Barreyre, Francis Chateauraynaud, Pierre-Cyrille Hautcoeur (guests).
  • ‘Sexual Revolution’: Eva Illouz et Elizabeth Armstrong (seminar leaders), Rainer Kiesow, Clyde Marlo Plumauzille (guests).
  • ‘Symbolic Revolution’: Gisèle Sapiro (seminar leader), Kapil Raj, Frédérique Matonti, Esteban Buch (guests).
  • Lecture : Roger Chartier (Collège de France) July 10th 6p.m - "Do Books Make Revolution(s)?" 

The summer school is organized in partnership with the Excellence Laboratory “Tepsis” (Transformation de l’Etat, Politisation des sociétés, Institut du social).

More information : syllabus

Review of Roger Chartier's lecture

The past is never quite past: thoughts on Roger Chartier’s lecture at EHESS “Do Books Make Revolution(s)?”

By Daniel Benson, PhD (NYU), student at the EHESS summer school 2017

Halfway through the EHESS summer school of 2017 “Rethinking the concept of revolution,” Roger Chartier brought us back to the contentious historiography of the French Revolution, a debate in which Chartier intervened over twenty-five years ago in On the Cultural Origins of the French Revolution. He began by noting the irony that his talk took place in the amphitheater François Furet, named after the great historian of revolution who also happened to be a ferocious critic of Chartier’s book. Chartier explained the difficulty in walking the narrow path between Furet’s approach to understanding the French Revolution, inspired by political philosophy, and socio-historical approaches that emphasize economics and class. Chartier’s own cultural approach was at the center of his talk, “Do Books Make Revolution(s)?

          The entry point to his discussion was the relationship between the revolution and the Enlightenment which preceded it. Reversing historical causality, Chartier’s provocative claim is that the question to ask might be less: “how did the Enlightenment shape the Revolution?”, but rather “how did the Revolution shape the Enlightenment?” The creation of canonical texts and authors as precursors to the event was an important way for the actors of 1789 to legitimize their activity, as for example when the remains of philosophes such as Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau were transferred to the Pantheon as forefathers of the Revolution.

            Although Chartier’s talk was based on the Revolution of 1789, his goal was to provide ways of thinking about the visibility of revolutionary events in general: from the period immediately proceeding them, to the revolutionary moments themselves, on to their later reception, memory and historiography. Indeed, the issue of elaborating a comparative history of revolutions was one of the recurring themes of this year’s summer school, given the diverse historical, geographical, and methodological interests of the participants’ research. To this end, Chartier presented the three elements central to his cultural approach to Revolution, an approach which 1) takes into account not only conceptual production, but collective representations and forms of belief; 2) considers institutions and forms of sociability as dynamic and changeable, rather than seeing them as static and deterministic elements of revolutionary events; 3) refuses to reduce non-discursive practices to discourse, for such a reduction tends to eliminate the plurality, possibility, and choices of the actors of an event into a single, monolithic ideology or explanatory structure.

            He concluded his talk by relating it to the participants’ projects of the 2017 summer school, which included a discussion of the ambiguous nature of security and surveillance in revolutionary periods, the tension between different forms of violence and emancipatory hopes, the relationship between media and revolution, and the question of women and their exclusion from rights or political activism. Students had many questions, from the utopian aspect of the Declaration of the Rights of Man, to the translation of books from one revolution to another, to the relevance of books in revolutionary contexts today. Indeed, the interest and discussion generated by Chartier’s talk revealed that the French Revolution, its historiography, and its meaning are still central concerns for the new generation of scholars that came together for this year’s summer school at the EHESS. This is perhaps to be expected, for revolutionary history is one in which the past is never quite past.


Informations pratiques

Roger Chartier, Esteban Buch, Francis Chateauraynaud, Kapil Raj, Alain Blum, Gisèle Sapiro, Hamit Bozarslan, Pierre-Cyrille Hautcoeur, Rainer Maria Kiesow, Frederique Matonti, Ivan Ermakoff, Eva Illouz
  • Lundi 03 juillet 2017 - 10:00
  • Vendredi 14 juillet 2017 - 17:00
  • EHESS, 105 boulevard Raspail, 75 006 Paris