Visions of the Social

Society as a Political Project in France, 1750-1950


An essentially contested notion, society is viewed by some as the most important level of human reality, while others deny its existence outright. Taking the example of France between the Enlightenment and the Second World War, this book recounts the debates among thinkers and scholars on the nature of the social. By way of an original analysis of the work of many key figures in the history of French thought, the author convincingly demonstrates the strength of the connection between social theories and political projects. He pays particular attention to conceptual and terminological developments, thereby shedding a new light on the history of some core concepts of the human sciences, such as "society", "culture", and "civilisation".

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Jean Terrier, Ph.D. in Social and Political Science, European University Institute (2004), is lecturer at the University of Münster. He works on the history of social and political thought and on the history of concepts, with a focus on turn-of-the-century France.
"Jean Terrier’s new book offers […] a really interesting example of a strong intellectual history." – James Livesey, in: H-France Review 12/97 (July 2012), pp. 1-2
"[a] remarkably interesting work of conceptual history ... the chapter on Durkheim ... is, in my view, a tour de force. ... Terrier’s last chapter, on Marcel Mauss, is also highly interesting and innovative." – Steven Lukes, New York University, in: European Journal of Sociology 52/3, 553-555
"Terrier’s book makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of the deep and ramified history of the concepts of society and social [...]" – Álvaro Santana Acuña, Harvard University, in: Sociologica 3 (2011) [Online]

1. The collective will. From the political to the social
“Bearing the people’s person”: Hobbes on unity through representation
“A moral and collective body of many members”: Rousseau’s unitary state
“A unique whole composed of integral parts”: national unity during the French Revolution
“Politics is to be wrought by social means”: Burke and de Maistre on the pre-eminence of the social
The natural and the social: the notion of social causality
“Determined by its character and past”: Taine’s traditionalist arguments
Between the social and the political: Esmein on national sovereignty
Sociological arguments for the ‘Rights of man’
A sociology for the Republic: Alfred Fouillée

2. Nations and their adversaries as a theme of social thought
National singularity and the community of nations: Montesquieu, Encyclopédie, Mme de Staël
The political creation of national characters: Rousseau
Increasingly distinct nations in a social age: Michelet
“A spiritual principle”: the nation according to Renan
A racial theory of national characters: Gustave Le Bon
Social thought and the figure of the enemy
Societies and nations as totalities: Emile Durkheim

3. From ‘character’ to ‘culture’. Social thought and conceptual change
‘National character’: varieties of understanding
“A continuous fermentation”: Gabriel Tarde’s social ontology
“No such thing as a collective personality”: Max Weber’s nominalist sociology
Exchange and flux: cultural forms according to Franz Boas
Society and ‘conscience collective’: Durkheim on society and morality
An object for the human sciences: the rise of the culture concept

4. ‘In us, but not of us’. The location of society according to Durkheim
The question of the material substratum
Individual and collective representations
Collective consciousness and the externality of social facts
Religion, collective ideation, and “Homo duplex”

5. The national and the transnational: Marcel Mauss
Before nations: from hordes to empires
“A sufficiently integrated society”: defining the nation
The political understanding of a social form
Excursus on a philological problem
“Everything can be shared between societies”: a sociology of international relations
The question of a human civilisation
“An entity with a thousand dimensions”: society and the category of relation

Index of Subjects
Index of Names
Students and scholars interested in the history of social and political theory, the history of the human sciences, and the history of concepts, especially in France.
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