Sacred Revolutions: Durkheim and the Collège de Sociologie

Sacred Revolutions: Durkheim and the Collège de Sociologie

Sacred Revolutions: Durkheim and the Collège de Sociologie

Sacred Revolutions: Durkheim and the Collège de Sociologie

Excerpt

Sacred Revolutions was motivated by the question informing all my research: How does a culture or social group develop a critical perspective in regard to itself? Correlatively, what are the respective contributions of specialized discursive practices—whether literary or from the human sciences—in the production of an answer?

French intellectual history offers a virtually unique response by means of the long-standing tradition emanating from Montaigne's daring essay on cannibalism. Cultural comparisons fostered a mode of anthropological thinking that allowed thinkers from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment to circumvent censorship and address controversial issues. My contribution to this eminent tradition has been to demonstrate how it was revived and emulated in the twentieth century by the founding figures of modern French sociology and anthropology, from Emile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss to Claude Lévi-Strauss.

Meshing a moral imperative with social critique, the sociological revolution exerted a lasting influence on many major French intellectuals in the interwar period. How they refashioned the ethnographic perspective to be relevant to the social and economic turbulence of modernity is the central issue that I investigate. By following the lead provided by the dissident surrealists Michel Leiris, Roger Caillois, and— especially—Georges Bataille, it was possible to recapture a chapter in . . .

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