“But, as specialization is introduced into scientific work, each scholar becomes more and more enclosed, not only in a particular science, but in a special order of problems.” (Durkheim 1960 : 356)
The specialization of research into orders of problems considered as specific has been a major trend in the structuring of social science throughout the twentieth century—in particular after 1945. Several transformations have led to a growing division of scientific labour: morphological changes (the increasing number of scholars and applicants for research jobs), institutional changes (the structuring of higher education with courses and degrees, the development and rising numbers of universities and research bodies) and the professionalization of social science (with rationalized procedures for recruitment and evaluation), including sociology (Houdeville 2007). As Bernard Lahire puts it, there has been a “double process of dispersal” in research: first, a “disciplinary division” has introduced an arbitrary fragmentation of the social world into subjects supposedly pertaining to law, psychology, economics, education, etc., and second, a “sub-disciplinary division,” which has heightened divisions by introducing multiple specialities (Lahire 2012: § 6). Types of specialization are themselves varied, as a cursory examination of titles of French-language academic journals in the humanities and social science suggests: they can be based on historical periods (Médiévales, Dix-huitième siècle, Revue d’histoire du xixe siècle, Vingtième Siècle. Revue d’histoire, etc.), geographical areas (Cahiers d’études africaines, Cahiers d’Outre-Mer, Cahiers du monde russe, Rives méditerranéennes, etc.), theoretical schools (Actuel Marx, La Clinique lacanienne, Le Journal de l’école de Paris du management, Rue Descartes, etc.), objects of study (Revue d’économie du développement, Cahiers du genre, Revue française de socio-économie, Cahiers internationaux de psychologie sociale, etc.) or themes (Archives de sciences sociales des religions, Histoire de l’éducation, Retraite et société, Sociologie du travail, etc.). Among these different forms of “sub-disciplinary division,” the division into themes seems to be most common in sociology. It is indeed displayed in the internal organization of a variety of national and international groups of scholars in sociology, which are divided into dozens of “réseaux thématiques” (AFS1), “comités de recherche” (AISLF2), “comités de investigación” (FES3), “grupos de trabajo” (ALAS4), “research networks” (ESA5), “study groups” (BSA6), “research committees” (ISA7) and “sections” (ASA8), which predominantly9 pertain to a specific theme, such as the sociology of family, of the media, of the environment, of sports, of health, etc.
The sociology of art and culture is one of the many offshoots of this division of scientific labour. Retracing its genesis and, by doing so, shedding light on its process of autonomization, if not “disciplinarization” (Gingras 1991: 43), brings us back to the early days of the history of French sociology, in 1900, when an “aesthetic sociology” column was introduced in the miscellany (“Divers”) section of L’Année sociologique (Sebbah 2005: 550). The sociology of art and culture is now well established in France and beyond, in venues such as the AFS (RT14 “Sociologie des arts et de la culture”), the AISLF (CR18 “Sociologie de l’Art et de la Culture”), the FES (CI18 “Sociología de la Cultura y de las Artes”), the ALAS (GT30 “Sociología del Arte y la Cultura”), the ESA (divided into RN2 “Sociology of the Arts” and RN7 “Sociology of Culture10”), the BSA (“Sociology of the Arts Study Group,” without any group explicitly devoted to research on culture), the ISA (RC37 “Sociology of Arts,” which explicitly includes research on culture) and the ASA (where the “Sociology of Culture” section includes the sociology of art). It also has its own journals (Sociologie de l’Art-OPuS in France, American Journal of Cultural Sociology in the USA, Cultural Sociology in the UK, Poetics in the Netherlands, Studi Culturali in Italy, etc.11), its own handbooks (including Heinich 2001; Alexander 2003; Béra & Lamy 2003; Fleury 2006; Péquignot 2009; Stewart 2013; Détrez 2014; Ravet 2015; Rodríguez Morató & Santana Acuña 2017), its scientific events, its diplomas (master’s degrees in cultural mediation or management, which include courses on the sociology of culture), its staff (dedicated faculty positions, specialized research groups in laboratories, etc.), which all contribute to “shaping a social identity” (Gingras 1991: 43) of sociologist of art and culture. From this perspective, the sociology of art and culture might appear to be a subfield within the academic field, with its own agents, venues, institutions and possibly, as for any space of power, its own resources and principles of hierarchization (Bourdieu 1984). The assumption that such a “subfield” exists, whether it is seen as a positive or negative thing, nevertheless deserves to be questioned.
Building on Durkheim’s contention that “the unity of science is lost as scientific labor becomes specialized” (Durkheim 1960 : xxii), we may consider whether the sociology of art and culture could be the outcome of an “abnormal form” of division of scientific labour. This dossier is not intended to give a definitive answer to this question, but it helps addressing it by documenting cases where existing institutional boundaries between disciplines and within sociology itself are challenged. Our concern here is not to establish a working definition of the sociology of art and culture, let alone to justify the partition of scientific labour along inter- and intradisciplinary divisions, but to show that the boundary of a social space “is not an actual line drawn in reality, materialized by a gulf or a barrier. [It] is the object of a struggle” (Bourdieu 2013: 18). Boundaries between disciplines and specialities are far from natural or set in stone: they are the product of a history and of arbitrary decisions, and can be shifted at any time—at least partially. The challenge of such an epistemological undertaking resides in the fact that questioning these boundaries, in itself, means combating them, and thus taking a stance—when such stances and the interests that inform them must precisely be analysed.
Over the past thirty years, there has been much reflexive consideration on the sociology of art and culture, its history and its uses. In a way, this dossier makes sense as an extension of the reflection that began with the first international conference on the sociology of art held in Marseilles in 1985 (Moulin 1999) and was pursued further in events such as the first AFS congress of Villetaneuse in 2004 (Girel 2006), the international conference held in Grenoble in 2005 (Le Quéau 2007) and the AFS’s second congress hosted in Bordeaux in 2006 (Girel & Proust 2007)12. Yet, these scientific events and the ensuing publications were intended to “construct the sociological speciality” (Moulin 1999: xv) and to help make the sociology of art (“and culture” after 2004, according to Bruno Péquignot, in Girel 2006: 11) a “segment of the discipline” or a “regional sociology” (Moulin 1999: xi-xiii). Likewise, authors of handbooks and synthesis papers on the speciality use a variety of terms to refer to this subset of sociological studies: “domain” (Péquignot 2005: 326; Heinich 2001: 5), “sub-discipline” (Péquignot 2005: 326), “discipline” (Heinich 2001: 3 and 7) or a “discipline in its own right” (Heinich 2001: 109). In other words, what was at stake for the organizers of these events was in part to draw the boundaries that would allow to bring together an array of fairly diverse studies on artists, intermediaries, audiences, reception, cultural policies, etc., and have them exist as a disciplinary subfield.
This very autonomization process, which its actors have seldom considered, was the subject of the conference held at the Sorbonne in November 2014: “La ‘sociologie des arts et de la culture’ et ses frontières. Esquisse pour une auto-analyse,” organized by members of AFS thematic network 14, of thematic network 27 on the “Sociology of intellectuals and expertise” and of the Association pour le développement de l’histoire culturelle (ADHC). Two members of the scientific board for that conference put this dossier together and all contributions are based on presentations made there13. For the conference, participants had been asked to consider the sociology of art and culture under the twofold perspective of the “boundaries that delineate and run across the speciality14,” meaning both external boundaries (the sociology of art and culture within sociology and social science) and internal ones (in particular between the sociology of art, which focuses on artistic production and labour, and the sociology of culture, which emphasizes the consumption and reception of artworks)15. While both of these avenues of research complement each other, for this dossier we have elected to focus on a thus far under-examined issue: namely, that of the transgression of the external boundaries of the sociology of art and culture—whereas the transgression of internal boundaries has recently been the subject of a few publications16.
Poster for the 2014 conference on the (internal and external) disciplinary boundaries of the sociology of art and culture
Source: AFS thematic network 14.
There are arguably two types of such external boundaries, which raise different methodological and epistemological questions. First, in a somewhat classical sociology of science approach, disciplinary boundaries and the conditions of interdisciplinarity can be questioned (see for instance Larivière & Gingras 2014 and issue 210 of Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, including Prud’homme & Gingras 2015). It is indeed generally acknowledged that some disciplinary divisions are based on academic or political rationales more than epistemological necessity17. Is not sociology of art and culture vs cultural history, art history and literary studies an example of this? Furthermore, as Pierre Bourdieu, Jean-Claude Chamboredon and Jean-Claude Passeron noted:
Scientific research is in fact organized around constructed objects that no longer have anything in common with the units divided up by naïve perception. [...] More generally, empiricist epistemology conceives the relations between neighbouring sciences—psychology and sociology, for example—as border conflicts, because it sees the scientific division of labour as a real division of reality. (Bourdieu, Chamboredon, Passeron 1991: 33)
This is why some sociologists, like Norbert Elias and Pierre Bourdieu, set their thought system in a space that tends to—at least partially—break free of the arbitrary yet routine divisions established in and by academic institutions, which often place artificial limitations on the construction of objects of research. They encourage scholars to practice “in-discipline” (Charpentier & Dubois 2005) in both senses of the word, meaning, first, they should not remain confined to a single discipline but draw on all potentially useful sources of knowledge (whether they come from sociology, history, psychology, political science, philosophy, the education sciences, etc.) and, second, dare to transgress established boundaries.
Despite appearances, this effort to break free from institutional frameworks has little in common with bureaucratic calls to practice interdisciplinarity (Fabiani 2012, 2013; Heilbron & Gingras 2015), which are driven by research policies and new funding opportunities (Pélisse 2018)—a form of heteronomization of the scientific field whereby research is put at the service of practical interests, generally economic in nature (Prud’homme & Gingras 2015), and which tend to produce only a “cosmetic interdisciplinarity” (Sperber 2003). Indeed, despite widely repeated calls to transgress disciplinary boundaries, interdisciplinarity currently remains “quite a limited practice” (Heilbron & Bokobza 2015: 121) and a discourse that is prescriptive rather than descriptive, pertaining to an academic field that is still evidently structured by disciplinary divisions. Ultimately, academic disciplines do not only produce knowledge, they also produce ways of doing research: ways of asking questions, of constructing objects, of processing materials of inquiry, of producing evidence, etc., which makes it difficult to practice interdisciplinarity. In this sense, the “system of disciplines” (Boutier, Passeron, Revel 2006) also has heuristic virtues, and most importantly incremental ones: science’s division into disciplines enables cumulativity, corroboration and refutability of research findings, which are the conditions of their scientificity (Popper 1959 ).
Accordingly, promoting “in-discipline” does not mean calling for the end of disciplines, as some incantatory discourses on “transdisciplinarity” seem to do (Nicolescu 1996; Nowotny et al. 2001)—rather, it means acknowledging both the existence of these disciplinary limits and the fact that they may hinder our understanding of the social world. It also means considering whether transgressing these limits—if only partially or occasionally—is relevant and, if so, pondering how this might be done.
A complementary approach consists in questioning intradisciplinary boundaries and the restriction of research questions to a “special order of problems,” in the words of Durkheim. Although this happens all too rarely, this line of questioning does come up in scholarship in a variety of sociological specialities. In the sociology of work for instance, the best-established area of sociological research in France, scholars have recently emphasized the value of calling into question external boundaries—with history, law, anthropology, economics, ergonomics, etc. (Erbès-Seguin 2010)—as well as internal ones. It is impossible to study work comprehensively without “breaking down the barriers of the sociology of work” (Avril et al. 2010: 9-10)—i.e., without connecting especially with the sociology of family, the sociology of leisure, the sociology of gender and social classes, etc. Likewise, while the authors of the early French handbooks on the sociology of art and/or culture seldom considered the boundaries between sociological specialities, Christine Détrez raises the issue in very clear terms in the introduction of her recent synthesis:
While limitations between research questions and themes are arbitrary, the embedding of various fields of sociology is manifest in the sociology of culture. How do we set the limit between the scope granted to the sociology of culture, and draw boundaries with, say, the sociology of art? The sociology of work and occupations? The sociology of artworks? The sociology of cultural policies? The sociology of audiences? The sociology of leisure? The sociology of the media and communication, of consumption or reception, not to mention all those studies pertaining to a given subset of the sociology of culture, for instance on the sociology of reading, television, etc.? (Détrez 2014: 8)
Yet, such calls to break down barriers remain fairly infrequent: under the double effect of a kind of routinization in the formulation of research questions and of the logics of professionalization18, scholars tend to position themselves more or less deliberately and formally in a given speciality (or at the intersection of several specialities).
These inter- and intradisciplinary boundaries should be questioned at two levels: on the one hand, empirically, by studying sociologists in a given speciality and their conservative or transgressive practices with respect to (intra)disciplinary borders; on the other hand, reflexively, with studies situated at the intersection of several theoretical approaches. These two dimensions are inextricably linked: while the reflexive approach is conducive to highlighting the heuristic character of intra and interdisciplinary transgressions, the sociological and historical (or even socio-historical) approaches document the conditions of possibility of these transgressions. It is only at the cost of a better understanding of the rationales at work in (intra)disciplinary closure that the most transgressive and perhaps the most relevant future boundary crossings will take place.
This is why each article in this dossier contains autobiographical elements, sometimes featured in boxes (Samuel Coavoux, Rémi Deslyper), in which the authors reflect on the conditions that made their own transgressions possible. This modest effort of self-analysis shows that these questions are not abstract: they actually arise in the course of practicing research, from the construction of the object to the implementation of a research protocol and of methodological tools and to the interpretation of findings.
Hermes, “god of boundaries” (Siebert 2001)
Source: photo by David Cohen, taken at the Hermes Villa (Austria), 2018.
This dossier adopts an original approach in three ways. First, it brings together papers addressing boundaries which are both intradisciplinary and interdisciplinary. The first contributors were encouraged to “take [research specialities] as an object, meaning investigating the division of academic labour, its foundations and its forms of institutionalization and to question both boundaries between areas of knowledge and their internal differentiations19” (Heilbron & Gingras 2015: 9). Géraldine Bois and Adrien Thibault, who are respectively affiliated with the disciplines of sociology and political science, have done this by researching the papers on art and culture given at the Association française de sociologie’s annual congresses, and their distribution in the institution’s “thematic networks,” while looking at the speakers’ backgrounds (including their disciplinary affiliations). Likewise, Lucile Dumont, who is registered in sociology at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales, retraces the changing disciplinary affiliations of literature as an object of research, from sociology to literary theories, at the École des hautes études (EPHE/EHESS).
Secondly, other contributions included here are situated at the crossroads of a sociological speciality and of other disciplines, thus questioning in the same breath intradisciplinary and interdisciplinary boundaries, not partaking in a sociology of sociology approach, but drawing on various fieldworks on art and culture. In her interview with Séverine Sofio, the historian Julie Verlaine shows how, in her own research on art galleries in France between 1945 and the late 1960s (Verlaine 2013), she drew on the pioneering work of the sociologist Raymonde Moulin to develop “mixed methods,” borrowing from (cultural) history and sociology (of art). In his study on reading practices of children’s books, Stéphane Bonnéry, a researcher in the education sciences, proposes a dialogue not only between the sociology of culture and the sociology of education20, but also with the education sciences, the history of literature, literary studies, etc.
Thirdly, yet other papers draw both on the sociology of art and on other specialities. Unlike a recent issue of Genèses (2016/2), which proposed a dialogue between the sociology of art, the sociology of craft and the sociology of sports by juxtaposing specialized papers, this dossier includes empirical studies that cannot be reduced to a single speciality. Yet, as in that issue, the transgressions showcased here remain somewhat unusual. Indeed, while art and culture are often addressed in thematic networks devoted to the sociology of intellectuals and the sociology of work at the Association française de sociologie’s congresses, as Géraldine Bois and Adrien Thibault show, they are found far less often in networks devoted to the sociology of sports, political sociology and the sociology of education. Samuel Coavoux, a researcher in sociology, follows up on Pierre Bourdieu’s call to reintegrate the sociology of culture into the sociology of lifestyles. Here he retraces and rekindles the circulation of the concept of “competence” between the sociology of culture and political science, fostering dialogue between the two disciplines. Lastly, Rémi Deslyper, who holds a PhD in sociology and is a lecturer in the education sciences, points to the value of drawing on sociology of education studies in the course of investigating a fieldwork that might be assumed to pertain to the sociology of art—guitarists in musiques actuelles (modern/new music). His recourse to the concept of “school form” (Vincent 1980, 1994), circulating largely between sociology and the education sciences, places his approach at the crossroads of disciplines and specialities that seldom intersect when dealing with objects like artistic and cultural practices.
Together, these five articles and this interview raise key questions for the sociology of art and culture: that of the “pernicious effects of an exaggerated specialism” (Comte 1988 : 16) and of the risk of atrophy of the “generalist side” (Caillé 2011) of sociology as a discipline, if not the pertinence of a “real division of reality” (Bourdieu et al. 1991: 33) as a principle of division of scientific labour. Be they interdisciplinary or intradisciplinary, the external boundaries examined in this dossier are ultimately limits in two ways: they may be either too porous or too airtight, and ignoring them and failing to reflect on them might very well be detrimental to science.