Michel Maffesoli

Michel Maffesoli

Michel Maffesoli (born 14 November 1944 in Graissessac, Hérault) is a French sociologist.

He is a former pupil of Gilbert Durand and Julien Freund, and an emeritus professor at Paris Descartes University. His work touches upon the issue of community links and the prevalence of "the imaginary" in the everyday life of contemporary societies, through which he contributes to the postmodern paradigm.

Michel Maffesoli has been a member of the Institut Universitaire de France since September 2008, following a controversial nomination.

More generally, he has been the subject of several controversies, both scientific and professional, the most widely known of which concerns his supervision of the PhD dissertation of astrologer Élizabeth Teissier.

Professional activities

In 1972, Michel Maffesoli was co-director the ESU urban sociology research team in Grenoble. He developed a reflection on space which he continued in his work on nomadism (Du Nomadisme, Vagabondages initiatiques, La Table ronde, 1997). His work was influenced by Pierre Sansot and Jean Duvignaud, who were members of his PhD board in 1978. Maffesoli gave space a founding importance in social linkage and in the expression of subjectivity.

In 1978, Michel Maffesoli became the teaching assistant of Julien Freund, a conservative political theorist and follower of Vilfredo Pareto, while he as lecturing in Strasbourg. Freund offered him to host the Institute of Polemology, which shows in his later works, under the themes of the "founding conflict" (La violence fondatrice, 1978), the "conflictual society" (PhD dissertation, 1981), and the use of the myth of Dionysus as "regenerating disorder" (L’Ombre de Dionysos, 1982).

In 1982, he founded with Georges Balandier the Centre d'études sur l'actuel et le quotidien (CEAQ), a research laboratory in the humanities and social sciences at the Paris Descartes University, where he led a doctoral seminar until his retiring in 2012.

Maffesoli Michel was awarded the Grand Prix des Sciences de l'Académie française in 1992 for La transfiguration du politique.

Michel Maffesoli is the director of the Cahiers Européens de l'imaginaire and Sociétés journals, as well as a member of the editorial board of Space and Culture and Sociologia Internationalis.

Michel Maffesoli called to vote for Nicolas Sarkozy in the French presidential election of 2012.,[1] which he later denied.[2]

Michel Maffesoli is sometimes associated with freemasonry, although there is no way to prove that he ever was a member of it.[3][4]

Reception within the scientific community

Within the scientific community of French sociologists, the scientificity of Maffesoli's works is often questioned, especially since the furore concerning the thesis of Elizabeth Teissier "has created great controversy within the community [of French sociologists and beyond], and has led many sociologists to intervene in order to challenge the legitimacy".[5] On this issue, Maffesoli presented arguments on his methods, in particular through a new edition of his epistemological book, La connaissance ordinaire, in 2007. An opposition currently exists between Maffesoli's positions on "sensitive thinking" and supporters of a sociology embedded in the criteria of systematic and transparent scientificity. The conference "Raisons et Sociétés", held at the Sorbonne in 2002 following the Teissier controversy to debate the broader issue of methodologies in human sciences identified differences between the various sociological traditions relating to this case.

Other controversies have led to challenges to Maffesoli's institutional position: the scientific community protested against his appointment to the board of the CNRS and against his appointment at the Institut Universitaire de France. On the other hand, Maffesoli's theories have been the subject of counter-inquiries, such as survey by Laurent Tessier on free parties in France and England.[6]

Maffesoli's work has achieved acclaim from authors including Serge Moscovici, Edgar Morin, Patrick Tacussel, Philippe-Joseph Salazar or Patrick Watier who regularly cite him. His influence can also be seen in various foreign journals. It is probably his book Le Temps des tribus (1988, 1991), translated into nine languages, which made his notoriety outside France. Universities in Brazil, Korea and Italy request him for conferences. He has received a chair that was named after him in Brazil, and a honoris causa doctorate from the University of Bucharest.

His reception outside France is ambivalent. In a 1997 article in the Sociological Review, sociologist David Evans concluded that Maffesoli's theories were not a positive sociological paradigm, criticising his work "incoherent" and "biased".[7] The accounts of books written by foreign sociologists were less forthright, but sometimes stressed that Maffesoli's approach was subjective and had a lack of reflexivity. One sociologist even stated that Maffesoli's sociology was a "sociology of club".[8]


Élizabeth Teissier controversy

Maffesoli came to the attention of the general public in April 2001 when he defended the thesis of Élizabeth Teissier about the ambivalence of the social reception of astrology, highly contentious theory that he directed and whose jury was chaired by Serge Moscovici at the Paris Descartes University.[9]

The attribution of a doctorate to Teissier "created great controversy in the [scientific] community, and led many sociologists to intervene to challenge the legitimacy". The thesis immediately aroused criticism in the field of French sociology, particularly that published by Le Monde by Christian Baudelot and Roger Establet on 17 April 2001,[10] and the petition of 30 April 2001 for the President of the Paris V University, and signed by 300 social scientists.[11] Many critical comments were published in the national daily press,[12] along with less radical comments.[13] Beyond sociology, four French Nobel Prize winners (Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, Jean-Marie Lehn, Jean Dausset and Pierre-Gilles de Gennes) also protested against the title of "doctor" awarded to Élizabeth Teissier in a protest letter addressed to the then Minister of Education, Jack Lang.[14]

The scientific, philosophical and sociological aspects of Teissier's thesis were studied by a group of scientists from several disciplines,[15] including members of the Collège de France. The thesis was analyzed in detail by a group of astrophysicists and astronomers (Jean-Claude Pecker, Jean Audouze, Denis Savoie), a group of sociologists (Bernard Lahire, Philippe Cibois and Dominique Desjeux), a philosopher (Jacques Bouveresse), and by specialists of pseudo-science (Henri Broch and Jean-Paul Krivine).[16] From this analysis, it appeared that the thesis was not valid from any viewpoint (sociological, astrophysical, or epistemological).[17]

In an email of 23 April 2001 addressed to many sociologists, Michel Maffesoli acknowledged that the thesis included some "slippages". His email minimized the importance of these errors and denounced a fierceness against Élizabeth Teissier and him.[18]

After this controversy, two symposia were held to discuss the thesis's content and validity :

This controversy was sometimes caricatured as an opposition between positivism and phenomenology. However, criticism of Michel Maffesoli came from both research schools, though positivist critics received more publicity.[21]

Appointment to the board of the CNRS

Maffesoli's appointment to the board of Directors of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique caused an outcry in the scientific community.[22] The decree of 5 October 2005 by which the appointment was established stated that the appointment was justified "because of [his] scientific and technological competence".[23]

A petition entitled "Un conseil d'administration du CNRS doublement inacceptable!" was launched after Maffesoli's appointment.[24] The petitioners protested both against the non-respect for parity and the appointment of Michel Maffesoli, deemed as disrespectful of "the need for scientific credibility of the board".[25]

From October 2005 to February 2007, the petition received over 3,000 signatures, including these of Christian Baudelot, Stéphane Beaud, François de Singly, Jean-Louis Fabiani, Bernard Lahire, Louis Pinto, Alain Trautmann, Loïc Wacquant and Florence Weber. Ironically, and as an effect of the petition having two goals, it remains absolutely unclear whether the petitioners signed against Michel Maffesoli's appointment, or against the non-respect for parity.

Appointment to the Conseil National des Universités

In late 2007, when Michel Maffesoli was appointed to the Conseil National des Universités (CNU), section 19 (Sociology, Demography), the Association des Sociologues Enseignants du Supérieur (ASES) and the Association Française de Sociologie (AFS) protested against this decision,[26] as well as many other social scientists.[27]

In addition, in June 2002 and after the Teissier controversy, Michel Maffesoli himself proposed to delete the CNU, which he deemed "unnecessary".[28] However, he participated in the work of the section 19 of the CNU, including the controversial self-promotion of its own members in June 2009.

Appointment to the Institut Universitaire de France

Maffesoli was one of the persons appointed to the Institut Universitaire de France by a decree issued by the Ministère de l'Enseignement supérieur et de la Recherche, Valérie Pécresse, in August 2008. This decree was the subject of a controversy over the appointment of people not selected by juries from the institute, including Michel Maffesoli. According to economist Élie Cohen, president of the jury, Michel Maffesoli "would be never accepted by the jury even if there were more places".[29]

Sociétés hoax

Manuel Quinon and Arnaud Saint-Martin, two sociologists who were students of Michel Maffesoli in the early 2000s, have taken inspiration from the Sokal hoax to demonstrate the lack of intellectual rigour in Maffesoli's work, as well as the absence of any serious peer review in one of the two journals that he directs.

Using a false identity, they submitted an intentionally inept and absurd article on the "Autolib'", a small rentable car in Paris, to the Sociétés journal. The article was deliberately incoherent and plastered with liberal quotes and references to Maffesoli and other postmodern thinkers. The article was duly "reviewed" by two people, before being accepted and published in Sociétés without any substantial editing.

The authors of the hoax published an article explaining their aims and methods in March 2015.[30][31][32] The hoax article was then quickly withdrawn from the publishing platform on which it appeared.

The English-language blogs Crooked Timber and Retraction Watch have reported on the hoax.[33][34]



  1. Le Lab/Europe 1, "18 intellectuels et artistes signent une tribune pour défendre Nicolas Sarkozy", 4 May 2012 (archived on this blog).
  2. Interview by Emmanuel Tugny, 28 August 2012 (now removed).
  3. Fabien Bertrand, Regards croisés sur la franc-maçonnerie : profanes, initiés, représentations et intersubjectivités, PhD dissertation, University of Bordeaux, 2009, p. 15.
  4. " Le trésor caché de Michel Maffesoli ", Hiram.be. Le blog maçonnique, 13 March 2015.
  5. Serge Paugam, La pratique de la sociologie, Paris, PUF, 2008, p. 117 ; cf. Gérald Houdeville, Le métier de sociologue en France depuis 1945. Renaissance d'une discipline, Rennes, Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2007, p. 261-302 (ch. 7, "La sociologie mise en cause"), and Bernard Lahire, "Une astrologue sur la planète des sociologues ou comment devenir docteur en sociologie sans posséder le métier de sociologue ?", in L'esprit sociologique, Paris, La Découverte, 2007, p. 351-387.
  6. L. Tessier, Musiques et fêtes techno : l’exception franco-britannique des free parties", Revue française de sociologie, vol. 44, n°1, pp. 63-91, 2003.
  7. David Evans, "Michel Maffesoli's Sociology of Modernity and Postmodernity: An Introduction and Critical Assessment", Sociological Review, vol. 45, n°2, pp. 220-243, 1997.
  8. Account by Jason Ryan MacLean in the journal Critical Sociology, vol. 26, n°12, p. 166-170 : "Maffesoli attempts to hide behind a thin veneer of scholarly objectivity, but his own political predilections shine through nonetheless. But more problematic than this patent inconsistency is Maffesoli's failure to be self-reflexive in a manner that might have helped him better understand how his own social and political position informs his reading of the "signs of the times" (…) Of course, the idea that one can, from the lofty perch afforded by the Sorbonne, capture and capitulate our "epoch" is on its face absurd. (Armchair sociology is not an unfair characterization of MaVesoli's approach to social analysis.)".
  9. For the full history, see Daniel Filâtre, "Affaire Teissier : historique", Lettre de l'ASES, 30 December 2001.
  10. Christian Baudelot, Roger Establet, "La sociologie sous une mauvaise étoile", Le Monde, 17 April 2001.
  11. Text, "Liste des signatures de la pétition", and Daniel Filâtre, "Affaire Teissier : historique", op. cit..
  12. Alain Bourdin, "La sociologie, l'antithèse de Teissier", Libération, 19 April 2001; Articles published by the AFIS : part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4.
  13. Alain Touraine, "De quoi Élizabeth Teissier est-elle coupable ?", Le Monde, 22 May 2001.
  14. Hervé Morin, "La thèse d'Elizabeth Teissier ravive la fracture au sein de la sociologie", Le Monde, 4 May 2001.
  15. Bernard Lahire, Philippe Cibois, Dominique Desjeux, Jean Audouze, Henri Broch, Jean-Paul Krivine, Jean-Claude Pecker and Jacques Bouveresse, "Analyse de la thèse de Madame Elizabeth Teissier", April 2001.
  16. Analysis by Henri Broch, 2001 ; "Analyse de la thèse de Madame Elizabeth Teissier", 6 August 2001.
  17. "Analyse de la thèse de Madame Elizabeth Teissier". Bernard Lahire, Philippe Cibois, Dominique Desjeux, Jean Audouze, Henri Broch, Jean-Paul Krivine, Jean-Claude Pecker and Jacques Bouveresse. 6. Retrieved 2008-01-06. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  18. Bernard Lahire, "Comment devenir docteur en sociologie sans posséder le métier de sociologue ?", Revue Européenne de Sciences Sociales, vol. XL, n°122, pp.42-65, 2002 : "En toute honnêteté, lequel d'entre nous, directeur de thèse n'a pas laissé passer de tels "dérapages" ? (…) Il ne faudrait pas que cette thèse serve de prétexte à un nouveau règlement de compte contre une des diverses manières d'envisager la sociologie. (…) Est ce que cette thèse n'est pas un simple prétexte pour marginaliser un courant sociologique, et disons le crûment, pour faire une chasse à l'homme, en la matière contre moi-même ?"
  19. Hervé Morin, "La sociologie au miroir de la thèse d'Elizabeth Teissier", Le Monde, 15 mai 2001.
  20. D. Filâtre, "Affaire Teissier : historique", op. cit..
  21. E.g. : Pierre Tripier, "Le hasard, la publicité et la sociologie ou Pitié pour Husserl !" (4 May 2001) : "J'admire le courage de M. Maffesoli car je suppose qu'il est suffisamment bon tacticien pour savoir que ce qui lui ouvrirait les portes de la renommée médiatique lui sculpterait en même temps l'image sublime du bouc émissaire. Et, s'il est dans la disposition d'esprit que je suppose, c'est au volume de vente de ses livres (c'est pas cher, c'est nouveau, mais c'est abondant) qu'il mesurera les résultats de son action.".
  22. Association française pour l'information scientifique, "Le directeur de thèse d’Elizabeth Teissier nommé administrateur du CNRS", 9 November 2005
  23. Decree of 5 October 2005 about the appointement to the administration board of the Centre national de la recherche scientifique
  24. "Un conseil d’administration du CNRS doublement inacceptable !", liens-socio, 19 October 2005
  25. "Un conseil d'administration du CNRS doublement inacceptable !", op. cit. : ": … il est pour le moins étonnant de voir nommer comme représentant des disciplines " Homme et Société " Michel Maffesoli, un universitaire bien connu pour ses prises de position anti-rationalistes et anti-scientifiques. Pourquoi nommer quelqu’un qui a suscité, il y a peu, la réprobation de l'ensemble de la communauté scientifique en commettant une grave faute : l'attribution du titre de docteur en sociologie à une astrologue, Elizabeth Teissier, dont la thèse faisait l'apologie de l'astrologie ?"
  26. Source : AFS, "Feuille d'Info Rapide", 3 December 2007 : "La communauté des sociologues par le biais de ses institutions représentatives (AFS, ASES) déplore qu'un tiers des nominations effectuées par le Ministère à la 19e section du CNU (sociologie, démographie) ait été employé au profit d'une seule école de pensée ; elle demande au CNU d'être particulièrement vigilant pour les qualifications et de s'assurer que les candidats aient fait la démonstration d'une maitrise du lien entre problématisation théorique et mise en oeuvre d'un corpus systématisé de données empiriques."
  27. Mauvais thème astral à l’université", Libération, 6 October 2008 ; Sylvestre Huet, "Affaire Maffesoli et Institut universitaire de France, l'astrologie à l'origine", 6 October 2008 ; "Michel Maffesoli à l’Institut universitaire de France : une nomination controversée", liens-socio, 9 October 2008 ; Denis Colombi, "Le vrai problème de Michel M.", 9 October 2008 ; Baptiste Coulmont, "Le noyautage", 12 October 2008.
  28. Michel Maffesoli, "Quelques considérations sur la grippe aviaire", m@gm@, April–June 2002.
  29. Sylvestre Huet, "L’économiste Elie Cohen " scandalisé "", Libération, 27 October 2008.
  30. Sylvestre Huet, " Michel Maffesoli visé par un canular ", blog {Sciences²}, 10 March 2015.
  31. Baptiste Coulmont, "L’Autolib’, révélatrice de la sociologie postmoderne", Le Monde, 9 March 2015.
  32. "[Benoît Floc'h http://www.lemonde.fr/education/article/2015/03/10/la-revue-societes-piegee-par-deux-sociologues_4590914_1473685.html Deux sociologues piègent une revue pour dénoncer la " junk science "]", Le Monde, 10 March 2015.
  33. Baptiste Coulmont, "Car(te) blanche, Crooked Timber, 9 March 2015.
  34. Ivan Oransky, "So-kalled research: French sociology journal retracts hoax article", Retraction Watch, 12 March 2015.

Further reading

External links

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