How the Anthropology of France Has Changed Anthropology in France: Assessing New Directions in the Field

Essay Excerpt

It may seem a bit presumptuous to assert that the anthropology of France has changed anthropology in France, and I believe that many of my colleagues who work in distant societies in other parts of the world would not agree with this idea. Anthropology has developed largely as the study of the "other." For a long time, the obsession with alterity played an important part in the conception of anthropological work in France, as elsewhere. There is a great tradition of anthropology characterized by exotic fieldwork and the study of such topics as kinship, religion, and symbolism. For many anthropologists, what is important is the remoteness (in space or in time) of their object of study, whether it is a tribe or a marginalized urban group. In the classical paradigm what is emphasized is the distance of the object. I think it is possible to introduce another way of practicing anthropology.  (Abélès, 404)

About the Author

Marc Abélès is an alumnus of Ecole normale supérieure (Paris). He holds a ‘Doctorat de 3e cycle’ and a ‘Doctorat d’Etat’ in Anthropology. Marc Abélès first worked under Claude Lévi-Strauss’s supervision on the political practices of the Ochollo in southern Ethiopia. After joining CNRS he was a member of the Laboratoire d’Anthropologie Sociale from 1979 to 1995. Based on his work among the Ochollo, his subsequent research was devoted to political life and institutions in France and Europe. Elections, assembly practices, and political symbolics lie at the core of his work on political life in Burgundy (Quiet days in Burgundy: a study of local politics, 1991, orig. 1989), on the political rituals orchestrated by François Mitterrand (Anthropologie de l’État, 1990), the French Parliament (Un ethnologue à l’Assemblée, 2000), the misadventures of political representation (L’Echec en politique, 2005), and on European parliament (La vie quotidienne au Parlement européen, 1992). In 1993, Marc Abélès directed anthropological research within the European Commission at the latter’s request. More recently, his research has focused on founders of startup companies and philanthropists in Silicon Valley (Les Nouveaux riches. Un ethnologue dans la Silicon Valley, 2002), and on new powers and countervailing powers at play in globalisation (Politique de la survie, 2006). MA sat on the Comité national of CNRS from 1990 to 1998. He has run the LAIOS since its creation with other colleagues in 1995. He was also elected Directeur d’Etudes at Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in 2005, where he teaches anthropology of institutions. Marc Abélès was a Visiting Scholar at Brown University (1997), Stanford University (2000), and invited Professsor at New York University (2004), Boston University (2006), and Universidad de Buenos Aires (2006).

Marc Abélès’s investigations centre on three themes. Following upon his work in political anthropology on elections, he is currently preparing a book on the French presidential campaign in 2007. A second theme is devoted to new sites of global governance, especially of organisations involved in regulating global markets. His third project consists of an essay in preparation on anthropology in the face of globalisation.

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