The Sociological Review Annual Lecture 2016

The Great Divide: Sociology, Anthropology, and Race in France since Lévi-Strauss

Keynote: Professor Éric Fassin (Université Paris-8)

Discussants: Professor Gurminder K Bhambra (University of Warwick, UK and Linnaeus University, Sweden) and Dr Imogen Tyler (Lancaster University)

Professor Éric Fassin will bring together the disciplines of anthropology and sociology to demonstrate how the boundaries that were drawn around them were part of an academic struggle for power in which the term ‘race’ and the politics of decolonization were central to the war of disciplinary position.

Claude Lévi-Strauss published the Elementary Structures of Kinship in 1949 as a sociologist. Only in 1950 was he to appropriate the term “anthropology” in his introduction to the posthumous edited volume of essays by Marcel Mauss, entitled Sociologie et anthropologie.

The French sociological tradition did not distinguish between the two disciplines; on the contrary, Émile Durkheim and his heirs distanced themselves from an “anthropology” that was associated with race during the first half of the century. In order to reclaim this label, and thus institute himself as the founding father of French anthropology, Lévi-Strauss could not merely rely on American cultural anthropology; he had to erase the racial legacy of the French tradition.

This was accomplished in his 1952 UNESCO pamphlet “Race and History”. It was a powerful move in the wake of World War Two, especially from one who had to flee Nazi persecutions against Jews. But this was also the eve of decolonization – at a time when Georges Balandier analyzed the “colonial situation” as a sociologist, while Michel Leiris and Aimé Césaire denounced the politics of race in the French empire.

Today’s French work on race has to revisit this great divide of the 1950s, not only between anthropology and sociology, but also between the social sciences and race.

About Éric Fassin: After teaching in the United States from 1987 to 1994 (at Brandeis University and New York University), and at the École normale supérieure in Paris from 1994 to 2012, Éric Fassin is now a professor of sociology in the Political Science Department and co-chair of the Gender Studies Department at Paris 8 University. He is a founding member of the new Laboratoire d’études de genre et de sexualité – Research Center on Gender and Sexuality Studies (LEGS, CNRS / Paris 8 / Paris 10).

His work focuses on contemporary sexual and racial politics, including immigration issues, in France, in Europe, and in the United States – often in a comparative perspective. He is frequently involved in the French public debates on issues his work addresses – from samesex marriage and gender parity to the politics and policies of immigration and race, but also on the evolution of the left.

Although this event is free to attend, attendance at this event requires reservation. To reserve a place, please email Jenny Thatcher (

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