The Colonial Origins of French Social Thought: sociology in the overseas empire, 1930s - 1960s
Commentary: Andreas Eckert (HU Berlin)
This talk develops a revisionist history of postwar European sociology through the mid-1960s, focusing on “Greater France.” I argue first that colonial research represented a crucial part of the renascent academic discipline of sociology after 1945, especially in Britain, France, and Belgium. Colonies became a privileged object and terrain of investigation and a key employment site for sociologists, engaging nearly half of the sociology professions between 1945 and 1960. Colonial developmentalism contributed to the rising demand for new forms of social scientific expertise, and sociologists became favored scientific partners of colonial governments. Part of this was new forms of applied sociology focused on urbanization, detribalization, labor migration, industrialization, poverty, and resettlement of subject populations. In other respects, however, this colonial moment led to the emergence of entirely new forms of social theory and social research. This can be seen in the cases of four of the leading French sociologists of the postwar era: Raymond Aron, Jacques Berque, Georges Balandier, and Pierre Bourdieu. While some colonial sociologists served colonial offices and policymakers, others pursued autonomous intellectual agendas, even when they were located in heteronomous conditions and marginal institutions. Colonial sociologists made theoretical, methodological, and empirical contributions that shaped the subsequent discipline and foreshadowing transnational and global history, historical anthropology, and postcolonial theory.
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