The Interdisciplinary Laboratory of/Center for the Study of Reflexivities (LIER, Laboratoire interdisciplinaire d’études sur les réflexivités) is a new research group. Founded in September 2012 at a seminar that brought together its future members, LIER officially became a research unit of the School for Advances Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS, Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales) in March 2013. Like the Center for the Study of Social Movements (CEMS, Centre d’études des mouvements sociaux), the Center for the Study of Legal Norms (CENJ, Centre d’études des normes juridiques), and the Center for Linguistics, Anthropology, and Sociolinguistics (LIAS, Linguistique, anthropologie et sociolinguistique), LIER is part of the Marcel Mauss Institute (IMM, Institut Marcel Mauss), a joint research unit (UMR, Unité mixte de recherche) associated with the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS, Centre national de la recherche scientifique): the UMR 8178. The IMM is also associated with the “State Transformations, Politization of Society, Institutionalization of Social Issues”, Laboratory/Research Center (LabEx TEPSIS, Laboratoire d’excellence Transformations de l’Etat, politisation des societés, institution du social), within the PRES héSam.
LIER currently consists of ten statutory researchers, eight research associates, two postdoctoral researchers, twenty-one PhD students, and an engineering administrator. It operates on a collegial basis: a general meeting is regularly held; the director is assisted by a board, which meets weekly and includes researchers’ and PhD students’ representatives.
The result of an encounter
Although founded recently, LIER originates in an encounter between sociologists and philosophers in the 2000s. Most LIER sociologists trained at the Group for Political and Moral Sociology (GSPM, Groupe de sociologie politique et morale) and at the Center for the Sociology of Innovation (CSI, Centre de sociologie de l’innovation) or worked there at some point. Both research centers decisively contributed to the development of pragmatic sociology, with which LIER sociologists identify. They share an interest – peculiar to this approach – in the way in which knowledge and theories forged by social science impact on the configurations it studies. This approach compels social scientists to analyze the tension between objects and instruments of knowledge.
On the other hand, LIER philosophers have outlined a program centered on the philosophy of social science. Besides the epistemological issues related to the validity of the produced knowledge, the program aims to grasp the manifestations of the conceptual (and therefore philosophical) thought as a form of social experience, echoed throughout social science literature.
Meanwhile, concept work appears in its essential connection with social experience, while the latter appears in what defines it as the locus of a thought – although not necessarily a conceptual one – that conditions it. Hence certain questions, around which LIER’s scientific program revolves.
A new alliance between sociology and philosophy
LIER aims to combine sociology and philosophy and eventually to add history to this original alliance.
Interdisciplinarity, as LIER practices it, contrasts with the tendency to amalgamate and even confuse disciplinary approaches, whose specificities should on the contrary be recognized. Conversely, it goes without saying that an autarkic or even predatory conception of the relation between disciplines precludes a genuine interdisciplinary endeavor. Besides, the latter requires translation and conversion operations from one discipline to the other.
Therefore, it is considered that these disciplines can be questioned and affected by others from within, by means of a controlled resumption and revival. This demanding conception of interdisciplinarity is key to LIER researchers. By subjecting their work to discussion, they have to invent interdisciplinary approaches and achievements.
This implies that discipline-specific settings be maintained within LIER, such as the “Sociology Workshop” (Atelier de sociologie) or the seminar “Social Science Faced with Modernity” (Les sciences sociales face à la modernité), held since 2013. Additional events, such as “LIER’s Evenings” (Soirées du LIER), are dedicated to comparing and contrasting disciplines as well as grasping their mutual influence. Moreover, regular workshops lead to an annual multi-day seminar.
It should be noted that LIER collaborates with the Studies on Modern Historiographies Group (GEHM, Groupe d’études sur les historiographies modernes), a research team from the Historical Research Center (CRH, Centre de recherches historiques) at the EHESS coordinated by Antoine Lilti, who has been involved in the project’s definition from the outset. In the long run, LIER aims to develop a synergy between sociology, philosophy, and history.
The social forms of reflexivity
As diverse as it may be, LIER’s work revolves around the cross-cutting topic of reflexivity, towards which the disciplines will converge, each from its own standpoint. Since LIER is currently composed of sociologists and philosophers, its scientific project will initially focus on the connection between empirical reflexive practices and the theoretical production of reflexive knowledge.
On the sociological level, LIER’s project consists in an empirical comparative study of the social forms of reflexivity. The latter refer to social processes where, to varying degrees, individuals are led to (re)turn to themselves and to the situations in which they are involved. This approach differs from conceptions where reflexivity derives from a voluntary effort of introspection and even self-criticism. It highlights the configurations and devices that sometimes encourage or increase, sometimes inhibit or diminish actors’ reflexivity. It also focuses on how the forms of reflexivity vary according to the spheres of action and the functional divisions of social organization.
This approach will be systematically developed on three levels of analysis. First, the “reflexive action” level, where it is assumed that a social action always involves a certain degree of reflexivity, which we must take into account when we describe a social action. Second, the “reflexive configuration” level, which analyzes how certain devices and institutions affect the forms of reflexivity, either promoting or restricting them. Third, the “reflexive society” level, which analyzes what society as such, in its sociological definition, owes to reflexive phenomena. This last level of analysis requires LIER sociologists to position themselves with respect to social science, which is a particular form of reflexivity, historically constituted.
The conceptuality of social science
The “reflexive society” level of analysis is also where sociology meets philosophy. Indeed, in its philosophical dimension, LIER’s project assumes that modernity is characterized by forms of reflexivity to which social science is pivotal. This entails examining how the modern notion of society may affect a group’s self-concept.
This philosophy of social science therefore aims to grasp what sociological knowledge does. In other terms, sociological knowledge is conceived as a driving force of modernity, which it helps both diagnose and influence. Every investigative technique, observation tool, or concept produced by social science is a way in which society perceives itself and expresses the transformations it longs for. In this sense, the philosophy of science social is inherently political. Indeed, as sociology produces empirical knowledge, it replaces the abstract theory of sovereignty, whose function was precisely to form such knowledge. Thus, the conception of politics shifts from a legal-political approach to a socio-historical one.
The presence of philosophers within LIER, a mainly sociological research center, is quite innovative. Recognizing philosophy as a discipline and a collective research practice, alongside sociology and soon history, is indicative of both the determination to overcome an antagonistic vision of the relation between disciplines and the belief that they will emerge from this all the stronger.
d'études sur les réflexivités - Fonds Yan Thomas
Directeur: Cyril Lemieux
Directrice adjointe : Julia Christ
A629 - 54 Boulevard Raspail 75006 Paris
Tel : 33 (0) 1 49 54 20 61
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