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For an inclusive history of the humanities and social sciences

Wolf Feuerhahn et Olivier Orain
Traduction de Madeleine Velguth
p. 11-14
Cet article est une traduction de :
Pour une histoire inclusive des sciences humaines et sociales [fr]

Texte intégral

1The first issue of the Revue d’histoire des sciences humaines came out twenty years ago, in 1999. Why celebrate this young age? Twenty years is not much time in a human existence to make an assessment or draw up an inventory, even if the temporality of a periodical is different, with its changing staff and its zigzagging “line”. These twenty years are an opportunity to open avenues, attempt experiments, and take risks. The day-to-day preparation and production of a journal imposes its rhythm, even its cadences, and it seemed to us that this anniversary could give us a chance to take stock of our practices and project ourselves toward the future: What are we doing? How? And to what end? And above all, what do we hope to do?

  • 1 The Société française pour l’histoire des sciences de l’homme was founded in 1986. See Claude Blan (...)

2The history of the humanities and social sciences, established for some forty years in France,1 remains marginal in comparison with the history of science and technology in general. But paradoxically it arouses interest in a much larger community: among researchers in the humanities and social sciences as a whole, who are concerned with practicing a science that is not naïve, but reflexive. They question their choices of corpus and methodologies, their relation to economic and political constraints, the relativity of their point of view—thus its possible Eurocentric character—questions which are all at the heart of the history of the humanities and social sciences. Many therefore find in it food for thought.

  • 2 Following the example of History of Humanities (founded in 2016).
  • 3 Like Serendipities. Journal for the Sociology and History of the Social Sciences (founded in 2016)
  • 4 Following the example of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences (founded in 1965) t (...)
  • 5 The editorial published in No. 29(3) of History of the Human Sciences (2016) defends a definition (...)

3Unlike the other journals in the field (foreign, older as well as recent), we stand for an inclusive apprehension of our field of study: we do not endorse the division between “humanities”2 and “social sciences”;3 we do not favour a subset like the behavioral sciences.4 We are as interested in one field as in another and especially in the history of the divisions and partitions, as in what precedes them, subverts them, or smoothes out their specificities. We do not defend one definition of the humanities and social sciences against another.5 Everything interests us: research that affirms the specificity of this knowledge in relation to the natural sciences as much as that which stresses continuities between them.

  • 6 Revue d’anthropologie des connaissances founded in 2007; KNOW: A Journal on the Formation of Knowl (...)

4This inclusivity could lay claim to the broad span of a “history of knowledge”,6 a category currently in vogue. We appreciate the broadness of this view and the interest in scholarly actions as much as in sites of knowledge. But if the category of “knowledge” makes it possible to cast a wide net, it should not make us forget that scholars are constantly drawing borders, delimiting perimeters, distinguishing between knowledges and differentiating themselves precisely. “Scientificity”, as a claim, a source of social and institutional legitimization or as a “myth to be destroyed”, remains fully on the agenda of our journal’s contents. Work in science and technology studies also calls for putting an end to compartmentalization considered unproductive. We share their desire to show the porosities between science and society, while not forgetting that scholars often defend the impermeability and autonomy of their practice and that this defense has performative effects whose import should not be forgotten. Wanting to systematize an extensive principle of symmetry should not result in the belief in a flat social world, perfectly contiguous and homogeneous. Deciphering the effects of power, symbolic hierarchies, discontinuities and power relationships seems indispensable to us for anyone who wants a better understanding of how scientific fields are structured and evolve.

  • 7 Shortly before this editorial, an article titled “La revue : un lieu de contestation?” [The journa (...)

5The journal is twenty years old, our term in office, five, and the new series published by the éditions de la Sorbonne, four.7 The eight preceding issues are the most obvious result, made possible by authors who trusted us and were usually willing to dialogue with the committee. Five years of arbitration and support, but also of refusals and contingencies, to bring into existence a line, set out in the editorial of No. 26 and expressing a strongly felt need.

6Our historian approach should not be identified with an antiquarian love for the past. Striving to avoid “presentism”, in the sense of using current categories to apprehend the past; working to escape disciplinary tunnel vision—acting as if current configurations were replicas of frameworks that have remained as is for many decades—or the teleology that makes of the present the necessary result of what has taken place: these three critical safeguards do not connote a self-sufficient historicism. We have never eluded the fact that history is written in the present and that it has a point of view, or several of them. On the contrary it seems difficult to escape our historicity. When it is done well, this approach additionally offers a great variety of possible repertoires, from historical sociology or social and institutional history to the analysis of contents, forms, words and practices, but it also (and perhaps above all?) makes it possible to fit them into the examination of detailed situations in time and space, without necessarily imposing an explanatory hierarchy.

7Where to go now? We have little appetite for predicting the future, but wish to explore avenues. Even more, we would like, that under the term history appearing in our title a variety of non-disciplinary approaches be understood: that investigations in the sociology, anthropology, economics, and geography of the humanities and social sciences can find their place in the journal. In short, that the foci will be even more varied than they are presently.

8We would also like our investigations to lead us more frequently into less familiar spaces. Articles in the current issue foreshadow this tendency and we anticipate entire dossiers devoted to cultural areas other than those dominant in the history of the humanities and social sciences. We would also like to contribute to a history of the sciences in the democratic era that would put less emphasis on great authors or great subjects—the construction of “greatness” being itself a process open to question—and favour diversity and mass effects. It is not a matter of neglecting singularities, but we feel that they are often not resituated. Thus the “case studies” that have increased in the history of sciences over the past thirty years have quite often seen their initial goal subverted. While this practice aimed at a contextual approach to actors, it often leads to their canonization. We would also and particularly like series not to be an empty term for the dossiers and articles we publish, but the result of an operation that makes results whose significance is not autonomous commensurable, a way of publishing collections of monographs that are standard fare in the field. The history of the humanities and social sciences is collective, made up of groups, movements, alliances and styles. This is not to say that individuals are meaningless and can be considered negligible, but that it is in cooperation, antagonism, imitation and seeking new challenges that knowledge which is thoroughly social is created.

  • 8 Bertrand Müller proposed the idea and the project, putting it forward during the round table discu (...)

9To take up the challenge of the history of knowledge, why not also choose subjects that go far beyond the humanities and social sciences: compare the specificity of the investigations of the humanities and social sciences with police or administrative investigations;8 question less academic practices like town and country planning; understand the way in which tacit knowledge, incorporated into the practice of dominated or unaware minorities came to be reevaluated and made the subject of new academic specialties, notably through “studies”, this new system of knowledge production.

  • 9 With the exception of the usual columns: “Document” and “Débats, chantiers et livres” [debates, pr (...)

10To celebrate these twenty years and open the twenty years to come we have laid out two projects. On one hand, the entire editorial committee met and discussed at length the evolution and transformations of the field, but also what they would like to see happen. This resulted in a lengthy round table that we submit to the reflection of our readers. On the other hand, since the anniversary of an institution should not be reserved for insiders, we have deliberately published in this issue only articles by authors who had never been featured in the journal.9 We hope that this issue, under the auspices of collective reflection and renewal will interest and surprise you as much as it has stimulated us.

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Notes

1 The Société française pour l’histoire des sciences de l’homme was founded in 1986. See Claude Blanckaert, “L’histoire des sciences de l’homme, une culture au présent”, La revue pour l’histoire du CNRS, 15, 2006, on line: http://journals.openedition.org/histoire-cnrs/529 (consulted February 26, 2019).

2 Following the example of History of Humanities (founded in 2016).

3 Like Serendipities. Journal for the Sociology and History of the Social Sciences (founded in 2016).

4 Following the example of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences (founded in 1965) that principally focuses on knowledge in psychology, psychiatry, and psychoanalysis.

5 The editorial published in No. 29(3) of History of the Human Sciences (2016) defends a definition of the human being as a “cultural being” who requires sciences with “a methodology quite different from those of the natural sciences.”

6 Revue d’anthropologie des connaissances founded in 2007; KNOW: A Journal on the Formation of Knowledge founded in 2017.

7 Shortly before this editorial, an article titled “La revue : un lieu de contestation?” [The journal: a site of contestation] was published this spring. We wrote it for the special edition No. 18 of the journal Tracés, drawing on our practice as journal editors to propose a consideration of the exercise of power in peer-reviewed journals.

8 Bertrand Müller proposed the idea and the project, putting it forward during the round table discussion that we organized for this issue.

9 With the exception of the usual columns: “Document” and “Débats, chantiers et livres” [debates, projects and books].

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Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Wolf Feuerhahn et Olivier Orain, « For an inclusive history of the humanities and social sciences », Revue d’histoire des sciences humaines, 34 | 2019, 11-14.

Référence électronique

Wolf Feuerhahn et Olivier Orain, « For an inclusive history of the humanities and social sciences », Revue d’histoire des sciences humaines [En ligne], 34 | 2019, mis en ligne le 27 mai 2019, consulté le 21 août 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/rhsh/2943

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Auteurs

Wolf Feuerhahn

CNRS, Centre Alexandre-Koyré (UMR 8560)

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Olivier Orain

CNRS, Géographie-cités (UMR 8504)

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Droits d’auteur

Revue d’histoire des sciences humaines

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