Researching Race and Racism

By Martin Bulmer; John Solomos | Go to book overview

3

Researching race and racism

French social sciences and international debates

Michel Wieviorka

I want to begin this article with an anecdote that relates to my own experience in writing and researching racism in France. In 1999, Pierre Bourdieu and Loïc Wacquant published an article in Theory, Culture and Society (Bourdieu 1999) in which, in an endnote (p. 53, 11), they referred to my book about La France raciste (Wieviorka 1992), the title of which they found 'scientifically scandalous'. They presented me as a 'French sociologist more attentive to the expectations of the field of journalism than to the complexities of social reality' (Bourdieu 1999:53). The article by Bourdieu and Wacquant was not in itself very profound, as several of those whom the same journal then invited to reply in subsequent issues did not hesitate to stress; 1 the footnote that concerned me was defamatory and revolting. The accusation made against me personally was refuted in a subsequent issue by a review of my book written by Malcolm Brown and Robert Miles, who explained how my work was 'the most significant research' on the study of racism in France and how it 'persuasively expose(s) empirically the dynamics of racism in contemporary France' (Brown and Miles 2000). The main reservation that Brown and Miles 171, expressed about my work was that they found it 'excessively pessimistic in parts'. This criticism was made in 1999 at a time when observers could believe that the Front National (a party that makes political capital out of popular racism) was on the way out. There had just been a split in this party, which had led to a serious crisis. But three years later, after the Front National candidate, Jean-Marie Le Pen, with 17 per cent of the vote, achieved a better electoral score than the socialist candidate whom he eliminated in the second round of the Presidential elections in May 2002, perhaps my critics would be willing to reconsider this reservation, which was the most serious one they made.

This attack on me, and, more specifically, the locus where it took place, hurt me profoundly. Not only did it tarnish my reputation in French - Pierre Bourdieu and his protégé had already attacked me in Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales (Bourdieu 1998), a journal written in French, and therefore addressing a public easily able to form their own opinion about the book as it had just been reissued in paperback - but also in English in a journal with an international readership, which addressed a public most of

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