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The seminar: a new subject for the history of political ideas

Le séminaire : un nouvel objet pour l'histoire des idées politiques

14th conference of the Association française de science politique (AFSP) 2017 - Theme session no.74

XIVe Congrès de l'Association française de science politique (AFSP) 2017 - Section thématique n°74

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Published on Tuesday, August 02, 2016


En France, l’histoire des idées a longtemps été une branche de la science politique guère soucieuse de s’interroger sur ses méthodes. En s’inspirant des innovations proposées à l’étranger, elle a récemment consenti un effort de réflexion salutaire sur ses approches et ses objets. Un consensus s’est ainsi rapidement formé autour d’un nouveau regard n’envisageant plus les idées politiques comme flottant dans l’éther de l’abstraction, mais imposant au contraire de les réinscrire dans leur contexte d’énonciation. Si cette perspective semble dorénavant largement partagée, sa mise en œuvre apparaît cependant souvent malaisée et peu probante. Il existe pourtant un espace curieusement négligé qui permet d’associer de manière féconde les analyses interne et externe : il s’agit du séminaire, un lieu où texte et contexte sont plus qu’ailleurs imbriqués. En se concentrant sur cette pratique intellectuelle totalement ignorée dans la littérature, cette section thématique aimerait ainsi, au travers d’une démarche inductive excluant l’élaboration a priori de principes méthodologiques, contribuer à sa manière au renouvellement contemporain de l’histoire des idées politiques.



It was long believed in France that the History of Political Ideas did not have to question its methods. Taking into account the research conducted abroad in the last few decades, this discipline recently made a welcome effort to reflect on its approaches and topics. In the literature that now deals with these epistemological issues, a form of consensus seems to have been reached: since political ideas do not float freely, grasping them implies avoiding the pitfall of a purely abstract analysis, instead locating them in their specific contexts. If this project seems now widely shared, its implementation remains disappointing. There is nevertheless a neglected area where the internal and the external analysis may meet, namely the proposed research seminar where text and context are embedded. Focusing on an intellectual practice that remains curiously ignored, and following an inductive approach excluding any a priori method, this workshop would make a distinctive contribution to the contemporary renewal of the History of Political Ideas. To do so, it proposes to structure the research around three main axes.

Axis 1 – A space for the production of political ideas. 

The first way to see the seminar is as a factory of ideas. This is partly due to the specificity of the teaching it delivers. Following no programs imposed from the outside, it enables a presentation of current research. As Roland Barthes puts it, the seminar is “a work in the present time, without hindsight, without protection, without safety net: it is a production more than a product.” The seminar can thus be considered as the rehearsal of a work – or its “backstage” (Michel de Certeau) – where one can scrutinize the often-faltering movement of the author’s thought and explore its genesis through its bifurcations or wanderings. The concrete conditions under which a seminar is deployed also make it an intersubjective place for dialogue and exchange between the auctor and her lector. The author is plunged into a setting that is completely different than the solitary act of writing. She is faced with and audience that is not anonymous nor passive. More than a simple draft where the author would have recorded the sketch of her ideas, the seminar can be analysed as an experimental laboratory of thought in search of itself, simultaneously exposed to the test of discussion.

Axis 2 – A place for the transmission of political ideas. 

Secondly, the seminar can be regarded as a place where political ideas are transmitted under specific terms. In this respect, this study will offer an opportunity to test Randall Collins’s hypothesis that it is the nature of social relationships within a community, more than the content of ideas, that constitutes the relevant criterion for the distinction of the different intellectual “traditions”. Two ideal-types proposed by Collins could guide the discussion. First, the vertical transmission expresses a relationship between a charismatic “Master” and his “followers”. This dynamic fosters the constitution of the “loyalist traditions” that are centred around a heroic founder and governed by a principle of loyalty to her. Conversely, the logic of horizontal transmission is not aimed at producing disciples; instead it is a meeting place for different points of views. This dynamic explains the emergence of “impersonal traditions” based on ideas or methods that do not require the existence of any founders. These two extremes draw a continuum in which the different empirical cases could be situated.

Axis 3 – A place for the constitution of political communities. 

By adjusting the focal towards the auditors, one can finally examine the seminar as a privileged forum for socialisation that encourages the constitution of communities unified by political ideas, by methods or simply by a common allegiance to a Master. In this respect, interactions during the session seem less important than the relationships that weave before or after the seminar itself. Particular attention needs to be paid to practices and rituals in order to understand the process of social aggregation. Since the constitution of a group also involves reflexion on its relations with its “exteriority”, the logics of exclusion should be considered. The debates about “heresy” or “heterodoxy” of one or several members led to consider, not only the formation, but also the maintenance over time of a coalescence formed during a seminar.

Proposals can explore one or more of the issues above. They can focus on seminars held in France or abroad, in the university or in other institutions (EHESS, Collège de France, etc.), on the recent or distant past, and through a monographic or comparative perspective. In the latter case, the comparison may be based on the same event (Second World War, May 68, etc.) or the same situation (exile, criticism of an intellectual paradigm, institutional marginality, etc.) Some famous seminars may be of interest. For example in France: Louis Althusser, Raymond Aron, Alain Badiou, Pierre Bourdieu, Michel Crozier, Michel Foucault, Alexandre Kojève, etc. Abroad: Jürgen Habermas, Martin Heidegger, Ludwig von Mises, Toni Negri, Leo Strauss, etc. Collective seminars: Raoul Girardet/René Rémond/Jean Touchard, Kenneth Arrow/John Rawls/Amartya Sen, etc.

Submission guidelines

Deadline : 15 octobre 2016

Propositions à envoyer à : gwendal.chaton@free.fr / sebacare@gmail.com

Scientific coordination

  • Sébastien Caré, Université Rennes 1, sebacare@gmail.com
  • Gwendal Châton, Université d’Angers, gwendal.chaton@free.fr 


  • Montpellier, France (34)


  • Saturday, October 15, 2016

Attached files


  • séminaire, méthodes, histoire des idées, théorie politique


  • Gwendal Châton
    courriel : gwendalchaton [at] gmail [dot] com
  • Sébastien Caré
    courriel : sebacare [at] gmail [dot] com

Information source

  • Gwendal Châton
    courriel : gwendalchaton [at] gmail [dot] com


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« The seminar: a new subject for the history of political ideas », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Tuesday, August 02, 2016, https://calenda.org/373596

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