Abstract

Since the eighties, social history in France, as in many other countries, slipped from a macro-social to a micro-social viewpoint. Today, questions about the evolution of social history are becoming more radical still: the reduction of the objects has often led to the disappearance of their social dimension. The definition of social history as such has lost its coherence, whether because French social history has opted for prospects borrowed from other national historiographies (for example social history of politics, social history of the State, gender history), or because social history has been contested by other types of history which denied the primary role of social factors: history of representations, cultural history, anthropological history.It is too easy to interpret these evolutions as a "crisis" or a critical turning point. In fact a critical evaluation of recent works shows more a great fecondity of new approaches and new themes: portraits of groups forgotten by standard works (professions, outsiders, aristocracies, and so on), investigations on social relations until now neglected (gender, generations, private life), cross-fertilization of social history with ethnological, cultural, political, linguistic approaches. Competing paradigms borrowed from different social sciences or dividing sociology lead to an impossibility of synthesis as dreamed by Labrousse or Braudel. Nevertheless, it is possible to imagine new ways of cumulating all this analytical new stuff as different inquiries show on mobilities, polemics on gender history in France, proposals of a cultural history of society (R. Chartier), of a socio-history (G. Noiriel), or of a comparative social history (C. Charle). The main issue is to forget the unquestioned framework of traditional periodization or national scale to invent new prospects adapted to the specificity of the chosen theme organizing this global synthesis. The enduring reflection over the crises of nation and phenomena of memories, dominant in French recent scholarship—which has emulated similar researches in neighboring countries—might be also used as a preliminary travail du deuil, to challenge disciplinary borders and the national unconscious which are the eternal and principal brakes on historical imagination, today and yesterday.

Additional Information

ISSN
1527-1897
Print ISSN
0022-4529
Pages
pp. 57-68
Launched on MUSE
2003-09-05
Open Access
No
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