Raymond BOUDON

Raymond BOUDON

BOUDON Raymond

Professeur des Universités

Raymond Boudon (January 27, 1934–April 10, 2013) is one France’s best internationally-known sociologists and is considered one of the most important sociologists of the past fifty years. A member of the Institut de France cultural institution, he had previously spent most of his career at the University of Paris-Sorbonne (1978–2002). He founded the Groupe d’étude des méthodes de l’analyse sociologique (Study Group on Methods of Sociological Analysis) in 1971 and directed it until 1999. He also directed the prestigious journal Année sociologique until 2002. Many of his abundant works have been translated into English, with some also translated into other languages. He was a member of many of the most prestigious academies in countries that harbor a strong scientific tradition.

Tributes to Raymond Boudon

by Pierre Demeulenaere

Raymond Boudon’s work essentially relates to three areas upon which his contributions left an important mark:

Through his work Education, Opportunity, and Social Inequality (1974), internationally regarded as a classic of twentieth-century social science, Raymond Boudon earned a reputation as an exceptional analyst of social mechanisms that lead to the reinforcement of inequalities in the context of educational choices. His analyses left aside any internalization of class culture or any domination strategy of one group over another, to show how the choices of the actors, starting in different social situations, lead to different trajectories. Depending on the starting social position, the advantages of engaging in advanced study are thus different; this means that some more easily choose this path than others; those who choose short studies thus give way to those who have the possibility of pursuing longer studies, so that initial inequalities are reinforced. This analysis benefited from its simplicity and explanatory fruitfulness. It insisted on the logic of individuals’ choices in their initial situation and on their consequences at a macrosocial level. This work still inspires major trends in the social sciences today, such as analytical sociology, through the importance of using mechanisms as a central strategy for explaining social phenomena. It illustrated Boudon’s style from the outset: one of clarity, simplicity, and analytical rigor, refraining from excessive lyricism or reliance on obscure and grandiose concepts.

Boudon then turned toward a more general theorization of what, following others, he called methodological individualism. He insisted on two things: first, social phenomena must be explained on the basis of individual decisions intervening in a social framework. There are no “social forces” in action, directly. Secondly, he insisted on the importance of understanding the logic behind the decisions of the actors responsible for social life. This obviously does not mean that the actors are located in a social vacuum. On the contrary, it is on the basis of their positions and particular situations, taking into account their beliefs and values, that they act and evolve. However, the concept of rationality is then essential in order to grasp how their choices are made. Boudon made extensive reference to the principle of rationality as used by economists, who associate it with an optimization of individual utility. Without renouncing the consideration of the importance of this model, Boudon nonetheless pointed to its limits at the same time as recommending its expansion: in a way, he was one of its most precise critics. He insisted in particular on the notions of cognitive rationality and axiological rationality. The central idea of his work, contrary to a long tradition in the social sciences and, in a way, reconnecting with the philosophy of the Enlightenment, is to insist on the capacity of rationality to determine relevant choices in matters of beliefs as well as in terms of choice of values. On this basis, these concepts of extended and renewed rationality can explain actors’ choices in contexts of limited information, or in their particular historical or social positions, which can lead them to adopt false beliefs for good reasons, and to change their moral commitments. Boudon was interested in the logic of the evolution of moral choices, taking into account the evolution of choices in relation to changes in social context and information. Though he did not deny the existence of irrationality or the unconscious, he thought that they could only be theorized from a rational point of view, and that the latter therefore had methodological primacy. He did not believe that irrationality or emotions were ultimately responsible for cognitive or moral judgments, viewing it as necessary to refer to a theory of rationality in order to have a (precisely “rational”) basis of knowledge as well as of social evaluations. Although he was interested in cognitive psychology and its developments, and often referred to its findings, he accepted neither a radical irrationalist version of it, nor a tendency toward exteriority in relation to the variation of social positions.

This led Boudon to a third major dimension of his theoretical contribution: a reflection on normative commitments and their justification. Here, he strongly opposed culturalism and recent versions of sociology insisting on the primacy of group or class membership over universalist moral commitments that may be valid for any human individual, in social situations that are favorable or with adapted information. He opposed these two tendencies on two different levels, that are nevertheless connected and interdependent. From an explanatory point of view, in the realm of values, one can only explain many individual behaviors by referring to a sense of justice that transcends individual interest or cultural affiliations. Thus, the justification of democracy, the abolition of slavery, the overcoming of situations of exploitation, the condemnation of female circumcision, the abolition of the death penalty, and the recognition of the rights of homosexuals can only be explained by reference to systems of good reasons endorsed by actors in circumstances of adequate information. This is why this explanatory point of view is rooted in a normative one, making it possible to ground the reference to these good reasons endorsed by the actors. Raymond Boudon was in fact also a theorist of political liberalism: his idea was that any theory of individual freedom or emancipation required recourse to principles of rationality, and that this rationality could be present in an ordinary way, for all the actors, and serve as the foundation of their freedom. It is thus a fundamentally democratic theory.

Raymond Boudon was a kind and cheerful man, perhaps a little shy, and a hard worker. He seemed to be perfectly free from any form of resentment. A man of convictions, he essentially had two of them. The first is that scientific knowledge of the social world is possible; the second is that there are solid foundations for building a just world. These two beliefs were in fact part and parcel of his commitment to rationality.

Paris, April 12, 2013

Selection of books

Audio Archives

2007 – Raymond Boudon, face to face with himself

The academician Raymond Boudon, a renowned sociologist, appears alongside Raymond Aron and Alexis de Tocqueville in the Dictionnaire des sciences humaines (Dictionary of Human Sciences). Here, he comments on the entry about himself. (January 4, 2007)

2012 – Inauguration of the Raymond Boudon Archives

in attendance of Barthélémy Jobert, President of Paris-Sorbonne University; Alain Mangeol, Paris A Regional Delegate of the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS, French National Center for Scientific Research); and François Hartog, President of the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS, School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences), November 2012

Raymond Boudon interviewed by Brigitte Mazon, Director of Archives at EHESS Paris (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales) (School of Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences), January 27, 2012

Brigitte Mazon: I would like to question you, Raymond Boudon the man, about educational and research institutions. You have had a career as a researcher and as a professor. I would like to know how you, as an individual, have adapted to institutions, how they have shaped you, how you might have identified with those that welcomed you, or how you perhaps resisted at times. What was the meaning of your individual action within these institutions? I would like you to speak chronologically, beginning with your thesis, the choice of subject, its supervision, the ritual of its defense.

Raymond Boudon: Two figures played a big role at the start of my career: Jean Stoetzel and Paul Lazarsfeld, who is undoubtedly the contemporary sociologist that I have most admired in my life. I studied philosophy. I wavered a lot between science and philosophy. Since one must, of course, make a choice, I turned toward literary studies and was admitted to preparatory classes at Louis-le-Grand. Philosophy, history, and geography were the only human sciences recognized at the time. I very quickly became dissatisfied with philosophy. Philosophers in those times tended to be concerned only with the history of philosophy. Little by little, I began to perceive sociology to be quite like philosophy, but a philosophy that was interested in the modern world, the concrete world, which was not the case of philosophy at that time.

BM: Did you take classes at the Sorbonne University in Paris?

RB: Yes, I took classes at the Sorbonne, but Georges Gurvitch failed me twice during my bachelor’s. He had a theory of what he called the “deep levels of social reality.” The difficulty was that he was constantly discovering new levels. I was always missing a level.

BM: Did Gurvitch hold sway over sociology at the time?

RB: He had the only chair of sociology at the Sorbonne and managed the only collection of sociology books at the Presses Universitaires de France (University Press of France), the Bibliothèque de sociologie contemporaine (Library of Contemporary Sociology). He also presided over the only successful journal of sociology during this period, the Cahiers internationaux de sociologie (International Journals of Sociology). He reigned over French sociology like a despot.

BM: Then there was Tourain’s famous defense, with Gurvitch on the jury. Were you there?

RB: Yes. I was surprised and shocked by the theatrics of the jury members’ interventions, including that of Stoetzel, whom I admired. Stoezel held a chair of social psychology at the Sorbonne, which had been created for him. He once said to me, “I’d rather lose my wallet than lose my lecture notes.” He was very rigorous in his classes, always very well documented, like his class on the historical sociology of clothing.

BM: So were you attracted to something very concrete, even though your thesis was very abstract?

RB: I came to the subject of my thesis through certain byways. I had wavered for a time between economics and sociology and had, for this reason, sought to improve my skills in mathematics. I was a bit like Buridan’s ass, who couldn’t choose between two stacks of hay. I confided my wavering to Raymond Aron, who had supervised my Diplôme d’Études Supérieures (DES, the stage after the bachelor’s degree in those days). His reply had been: “There are a lot of economists, so you should do sociology instead. It’s not as crowded.” I followed his advice, and when it came to defining a thesis subject I turned to Paul Lazarsfeld, who, knowing my background, suggested that I assess the contributions of mathematics to sociology.

BM: So it was Raymond Aron who influenced your choice? Even though Gurvitch reigned over academic sociology, it was Aron who had the financial means, thanks to the Ford Foundation. He set up the surveys of the European Sociology Center.

RB: Exactly. And I found myself directly involved there. One day, Pierre Bourdieu called me to say that Raymond Aron had money from the Ford Foundation to do a study on miners in the north, in Ostricourt. Bourdieu told me that he was not interested and asked me if I wanted to be responsible for it. I saw it as an opportunity to enter the world of research. I felt great satisfaction in undertaking a field survey and discovering the integration mechanisms of miners of Polish origin into French society. There were three of us researchers in the field. We stayed with local residents. Among the three of us was Anni Horine, now known as Mrs. Borzeix.

BM: We know Anni Borzeix—she is donating her archives to us. I picked up the report yesterday at the library: “Ostricourt: préenquête” (Ostricourt: pre-survey).

RB: The third person was Henri Majewski, who died soon after in a car accident.

BM: And Bourdieu, who was in Lille at the time, did not want to participate.

RB: No, he had other plans.

BM: He was coming back from Algeria… Was Bourdieu a little older than you?

RB: Yes, I was born in 1934, and I believe he was born in 1930. He was an assistant to Raymond Aron at the time.

BM: Your first position afterwards was in Bordeaux, is that right?

RB: Yes. I replaced François Bourricaud there, initially on a temporary basis. He had been invited to Harvard by Talcott Parsons, with whom he was very close. Then he was chosen for a position at Nanterre. I applied to be his successor, following Stoetzel’s advice. It was the time when three people called the shots in sociology: Aron, Stoetzel, and Gurvitch. They hated each other cordially. I remember one day when, as a young professor, I chaired a thesis jury, and I had Aron on my right and Stoetzel on my left. While Aron was speaking, Stoetzel leaned toward me and whispered: “That’s ideology.” While Stoetzel was speaking, Aron said to me softly: “Here he goes again.” Stoetzel was simultaneously an academic, a businessman, and a decision-maker. He headed the Institut français d’opinion publique (French Institute of Public Opinion), which he founded, as well as working at the Sorbonne, and holding several positions of responsibility in national and international bodies dedicated to developing the human sciences. He didn’t have time to read theses, and justified himself by declaring that any thesis, being the work of an apprentice, was necessarily bad, and at each defense he gave same boilerplate speech that included the phrase “A thesis must be a model”. Rumor has it that he always maintained a poor opinion of his own thesis on the theory of opinions, which is nonetheless still worth reading.

BM: Did Aron take the time to read theses?

RB: He read them very quickly. The thing is that there were only three of them to sit on all the juries. In the following years, things changed. More teachers were recruited, and more and more students were attracted to sociology. I remember that a colleague at the Sorbonne supervised a hundred theses in the 1960s, and was proud of it!

BM: Who did you defend your thesis to?

RB: To Stoetzel. It was on the mathematical analysis of social facts. According to Stoetzel, it is a bad thesis, but I learned a lot while preparing it.

BM: It allowed you to be appointed to the Sorbonne at a very young age.

RB: Yes, I was thirty-three. Aron hazed me by making me responsible for the first-year courses. I taught in the large Censier auditorium while being broadcasted into other auditoriums.

BM: Ex cathedra lectures…

RB: Yes, I quickly understood that the exercise mainly consisted of not stumbling over words.

BM: Was that in 1967?

RB: Yes, until 1968, when everything stopped. I had always greatly admired Flaubert, and ’68 quickly reminded me of Frédéric Moreau and the Mexican worker in his novel Sentimental Education who, during an “AG” (short for the French “assemblée générale,” or general assembly)—as they said in ’68—suggests granting diplomas by universal suffrage. I had the feeling that I was watching the institutions be fundamentally destroyed. My experience at the University of Freiburg and at Columbia made me realize that universities are the product of a long history. I thought it was dangerous to destroy an institution with such a long history.

BM: And at that time, Bourdieu had just written The Craft of Sociology which you had your hands on, I imagine, and Touraine was in Nanterre alongside Cohn-Bendit.

RB: Cohn-Bendit was a student of mine. Alain Touraine had asked me to teach a methodology course. I had the reputation of having a monopoly on knowledge in that area. Cohn-Bendit gave me the impression, through his questions, of being a composed and intelligent student.

BM: Touraine told us about this. Goulven collected the archives for the Centre d’analyse et d’intervention sociologiques (Center for Sociological Analysis and Intervention)… What about Bourdieu, and the publication of The Craft of Sociology?

RB: I found at the time that Bourdieu was a rather nice person. But very early on I viewed him as not having a scientific mind. My teacher Paul Lazarsfeld began his career in Vienna with a thesis on Mercury’s perihelion, based on the theory of relativity. He came to the social sciences afterwards, but he retained from his scientific training a relentless rigor, mixed with a legendary Viennese Jewish humor. Lazarsfeld was a man of rigorous research, of mathematics applied to the social sciences. He was a formidable thesis supervisor. He had an American friend rewrite his thesis three times, before finally refusing him the opportunity to defend it.

BM: Was that unfair, in your opinion?

RB: The thesis was somewhat confused. Paul Lazarsfeld was probably a little more rigorous than usual, because he had to demonstrate his worth to his American colleagues. He had had a difficult start to his career in the United States. As for me, I adopted the values that Lazarsfeld had put into my head. So I immediately felt distanced from Bourdieu when I noticed that he retained the correlation coefficients that suited him, and neglected the others.

BM: But was he conducting studies?

RB: Yes, he conducted studies, which had the appearance, but not the reality, of being scientific.

BM: When Raymond Aron parted ways with him, he was very fair with the money from the Ford Foundation, which he left for Bourdieu to conduct the business studies that he had no desire to conduct himself. Bourdieu did those studies. And he had a whole team with him.

RB: He always had a sense of organization and a lot of talent, albeit literary rather than scientific. Riding the structuralist wave, he staunchly defended the thesis that social structures have a determining effect on individual behavior. Bourdieu’s Homo sociologicus is a zombie manipulated by habitus, a kind of virus that, if we follow Bourdieu’s analyses, is imposed by social structures.

Goulven Le Brech (BM’s associate): Did the two of you have any exchanges?

RB: Not much. He probably felt like he lived in a different world from mine and vice versa.

BM: In his Sketch for a Self-Analysis, Bourdieu obviously goes back to his social origins. May I take the liberty of asking for yours?

RB: My father started off as a stockkeeper at Printemps (a French department store chain), then he gradually rose in rank and ended up responsible for a large sector of purchasing. He had somewhat exceptional musical talents and would have liked to become a musician. He played the oboe superbly—his favorite instrument—but also dabbled quite well in the cello. During his military service, during the occupation of the Rhineland, he was assigned to a symphony orchestra. He himself was a Parisian, and his parents were both Bretons. There were a lot of books in my parents’ home. It was there that I read Flaubert, in the Pléiade series. When it came to music, my father discouraged me with his stringency. I am very much a music lover, but not a musician. The cultural capital was not passed on. So I was surprised that, in a review of Sociology as Science—a brief intellectual autobiography—some pen pusher reproached me for disregarding the dogma of social determinism.

BM: Let’s come back to the Sorbonne, after 1968.

RB: After the division of the Sorbonne, I was part of Paris V. Never short of ideas, Stoetzel wanted to create a “sociotron” there, which, in his mind, was the social science equivalent of the physicists’ cyclotron. He figured that by teaming up with the medical doctors, we would have money. He was deluding himself. A few years later, François Bourricaud and I had the impression that sociology at Paris V was deteriorating. There had been a lot of recruitment. As the department included Africanists, General de Gaulle had pushed for the reclassification of senior officials returning from Africa, who knew the areas they came from well, but were uneducated in social sciences. We therefore decided to take advantage of Alice Saunier-Seïté’s decision (who was Minister of Higher Education at the time) to remove the requirement of official permission to transfer. The philosophers at Paris IV then welcomed us with open arms. Maurice Clavelin, who is certainly one of our best science historians, chaired the Department of Philosophy. However, he wanted to expand its activities by introducing sociology. The problem was that there weren’t many students at the beginning. But gradually, advanced students appeared, who were seeking a doctorate in philosophy with a minor in sociology. Then a DEA (now equivalent to second year of a Master’s in France) in sociology was created, attended by around ten, then twenty students. One of the things that I take pride in is that out of the hundred or so students I will have had in total before I retire, not a single one has been left behind.

BM: Did you have Philippe Besnard as a student?

RB: No, but as a colleague. He was at the CNRS. I was on his thesis jury—it was a thesis on anomie. He had an occasionally dark sense of humor. He successfully launched the sociology of first names. He was an upright man, guided by the scientific spirit.

BM: You have known and met a lot of people. Do you have somewhere you can “retreat” to when you need to write?

RB: Yes, I have a retreat, but not just for writing. I used to really love gardening. Originally, my wife and I bought an old meadow where we had a small half-timbered Norman house built. We planted many trees there ourselves, including a magnificent tulip tree. They are now thirty years old and quite tall. I discovered over time that a tree can die like a man, not a slow death, but quite abruptly. One day when I foolishly wanted to cut down a tree that was still alive and well, the axe landed on my foot. I ended up bedridden for a month. In our Norman hideaway, I was far from spending all my time writing. Like in Paris, I wrote very early in the morning, between 5 and 10 a.m.

BM: Where do your computer skills come from?

RB: From my son. He runs an investment fund in the renewable energy sector. He graduated from one of the “écoles normales,” one of France’s elite academic institutions, and obtained an agrégation (a competitive exam for civil service in education) in physics and chemistry. While he was still a teenager, he told my mother that he had always wanted to be a businessman.

BM: Were you tempted by the Collège de France?

RB: One day, I went to see Aron on Rue de Tournon to propose the publication of an article in the European Journal of Sociology. To my surprise, he then asked me out of the blue, “Do you want to join the Collège de France? If so, it will be as my successor or Lichnerowitz’s.” But when the time came, he made a deal with Bourdieu. So I gave up my candidacy and was actually relieved: I was used to speaking to students, and could not see myself lecturing in front of public audiences passing through.

BM: Lucien Febvre, who was a professor at the Collège de France, spoke the following words during the inauguration of the sixth section of the École Pratique des Hautes Etudes. I would like to know what you think: “Sociology is not for us a series of studies on the present time. Sociology is at the base of a new humanism. By shedding light on the analogies presented by various human societies seized at the same stage of their cultural development, it constitutes the archives of humanity that our children will need in order to stably build, upon the roots of our fragmentary civilizations, the coherent edifice of a human civilization.”

RB: This text does a good job of summing up the essence of sociology, the basic method of which is indeed comparativism. Montesquieu clearly saw this, Tocqueville practiced it, Durkheim didn’t do anything else, neither did Weber.

BM: And neither do you.

RB: Indeed. I’ve applied comparativism in my work on inequalities and social mobility, as well as in my subsequent research in the sociology of collective beliefs, sociology of values, and political sociology. I’ve also tried to show that it explains the power of Tocqueville, Durkheim, and Weber’s analyses.

BM: What is interesting is the expression “the archives of humanity.” It is what we, as archivists, collect, along with the archives of sociologists and these studies, that leave a mark. And this notion of “fragmentary civilization”…

RB: I recently came across a maxim from La Rochefoucauld that I hadn’t spotted until now. It is a superb invitation to comparativism: “There is an infinite number of behaviors which seem ridiculous to us, but for which the hidden reasons are most often abundant and solid.” Durkheim applies this maxim in his explanation of rain rituals, for example. Those who believe in their effectiveness are not victims of a primitive mythical mentality. They have reasons to believe what they believe in.

BM: I see that we still have a lot to talk about.

Raymond Boudon interviewed by Brigitte Mazon, Director of Archives at EHESS Paris (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales) (School of Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences), February 13, 2012

Brigitte Mazon: During our first interview, we talked about important moments in your career and you told us about some fateful encounters that you had, such as with Paul Lazarsfeld, Raymond Aron, Jean Stoetzel, and others. You also told us a little about Pierre Bourdieu, about what separates you from his way of doing sociology. Since then, I’ve read the book of interviews produced by Robert Leroux, to which Annie Devinant also contributed, and in it I found the answers to the essential biographical and scientific questions that an informed sociologist was able to ask you. The book is very enlightening, and it seems useless to me to repeat such a thorough set of questions. So today I would like to conduct this interview as an archivist. My first question relates to your experience of reading intellectual correspondence at a young age. During your DES (Master’s equivalent), which you did on the recommendation of Jean Hyppolite who was director of the École normale supérieure of Paris (ENS) at that time, he suggested that you look at Hegel’s correspondence which had just been published in German. What memories do you have of this work?

Raymond Boudon: I was looking for a thesis subject for the DES. I then went to see Hyppolite, the director of the ENS, who said to me with his legendary lisp: “Hegel’s correspondence has just come out, why don’t you go stick your nose in it?” I accepted, because I had a certain attraction to Hegel. Most importantly, Hyppolite’s advice was accompanied by the promise of a scholarship to spend time at a German university. I opted for the University of Freiburg and began to decipher Hegel’s correspondence, which allowed me to perfect my somewhat rudimentary German. But as I read Hegel, I moved further and further away from him. In the end, the greatest effect of my time with Hegel was that I became convinced of Kant’s greatness. That is why Kant is one of the few philosophers that I frequently mention. He is our contemporary, much more than Hegel. Going back to my DES, it was a one-year program. Hegel’s Briefwechsel left me quite disappointed. It contains a host of documents relating to everyday life, including receipts for underwear. In fact, it seemed to me that the only interesting thing was the letters bearing witness to Hegel’s efforts to advance his academic career. But to get much out of them, I would have had to go digging around the archives of the universities where Hegel had taught… a task that was impossible within the time limits set for writing a DES thesis and which, moreover, hardly interested me. So I ended up deciding to treat that thesis as a silly, mean academic exercise. Changing subjects completely, I decided to discuss Hegel’s Christianity in Berlin. I had the impression that Hegel was, on a deep level, very much a conformist, and that in Berlin he had behaved like a courtier. I finally got top marks, like everyone else. I don’t believe there is a single copy of my thesis left. In any case, I didn’t consider it useful to keep any.

BM: What about in your archives?

RB: I don’t think you would find it there. That thesis was a purely academic exercise.

BM: So this correspondence did not fascinate you as such, but Hegel’s network of relations might have interested someone, perhaps a historian of philosophy?

RB: Maybe, but that didn’t interest me and I didn’t have the time to take my research on Hegel in that direction.

BM: It seems that what interested you was Hegel’s thought, not really the man.

RB: I saw him as a rather unfriendly character, who moaned a lot. In Berlin, he complained about the success of his colleague Schopenhauer and sought an explanation for his own lack of success with the students: it’s because he needed to blow his nose every five minutes. I experienced a growing disinterest in Hegel and a growing interest in Kant. Contrary to what Hegel thought, one cannot, according to Kant, know everything. I also deeply disliked Hegel’s idea that things are what they are because they cannot be otherwise, as stated in his famous phrase: “The real is rational and the rational is real.”

BM: Immanuel Kant certainly did not have much to say regarding his daily life, which was, as is well known, very monotonous.

RB: Some books have recently been published about his life…

BM: And there was Daniel Kehlmann’s recent novel about Kant and the mathematician Gauss. My reason for asking you this question was more related to intellectual correspondence and to ask if you have had any intellectual correspondence with friends.

RB: No. You may find a few letters from Lazarsfeld in the archives, or perhaps a few letters from Merton. You might find a letter where Merton wrote to Lazarsfeld that when he was reading my writings, he felt like I had been listening in on their conversations at Columbia. Lazarsfeld thought I would be happy to have it, and sent it to me. Otherwise there is, strictly speaking, no correspondence in my archives. There are undoubtedly a few notes, rather than letters, from Lazarsfeld. As for Merton, he regularly sent me his offprints. I’ve had a lot of intellectual contact with both of them, but in the form of oral conversations of which there is no written record. Lazarsfeld spent two years as a visiting professor at the Sorbonne, on Stoetzel’s initiative. We had lunch together twice a week. He ordered kidneys every time.

BM: What about when he was in the United States? Did you write to each other then?

RB: Very little.

BM: Are there, perhaps, letters from you in Lazarsfeld’s files?

RB: Perhaps. But he only wrote to me when he wanted to invite me to a scientific meeting.

BM: So, you don’t feel like you’ve been a letter writer?

RB: Not at all. I mainly had oral conversations, with several people. François Bourricaud telephoned me once or twice a week for many years. He always called me at 8 a.m., and we usually talked from 8 to 9 a.m. We never wrote to each other. He lived a stone’s throw from my house, on Rue des Martyrs. We had dinner together about once a month.

BM: So your intellectual exchanges were oral, not written.

RB: My conversations with Bourricaud, Lazarsfeld, and a certain number of other people such as Henri Mendras or François Chazel, had the effect of leading me to further develop certain ideas and certain texts and to correct others. When I wrote something and got a comment from them, I always took it into consideration. Often, it was an opportunity for me to revisit a text and try to further develop it, or even to write a new version of it.

BM: I have the impression that you have a great ability to listen. Before we began recording, I had the opportunity to tell you some anecdotes about my life as an archivist and I was struck by how you listened.

RB: I am very sensitive to what others say. A small critical remark in a report is sometimes enough to prompt me to take up a question again. That’s actually the engine that always set me in motion. I never wrote to present, but rather to clarify. When I felt like I was misunderstood, it would restart the engine. That’s why my articles seem like Russian dolls that fit into each other.

BM: You also annotated your manuscripts in the margin, and there are annotations in your articles to improve them and clarify them even more… Will we be able to have these documents?

RB: I’m not sure. The computer only leaves the final versions intact. Jacqueline Lécuyer, with whom I sorted through my papers, had asked me long before the move from 54 Boulevard Raspail for permission to keep a manuscript that I had corrected by hand: a truly indecipherable text.

BM: The largest volume of your archives was kept at GEMAS, at 54 Boulevard Raspail. This group, that you founded in 1971 and which then became a joint unit of the CNRS and Paris IV: what need did it meet, what was its mission, and how were scientific and professional relationships built there?

RB: What best sums up my intentions is the title that we gave, together with Bourricaud, to the series established in 1977 at Presses Universitaires de France: Une autre sociologie (A Different Sociology).

BM: Everyone spent time at Rue Cardinet, with Gurvitch…

RB: I managed the Centre d’études sociologiques (Center for Sociological Studies) on Rue Cardinet. I tried to start some projects there. It was a complete failure. At that time (1968–1970), all heads of research centers were obliged to spend their days in union discussions. I quickly felt like I was wasting my time. The only scientific initiative that I attempted to carry out at Rue Cardinet was to create what I called a department of secondary analyses. My idea was to take the survey data on a particular subject and analyze it in depth, whereas the surveyors are content to publish some data and put the rest of the survey information—often very rich—away in a drawer. This project never really took shape. So I didn’t stay long at the Centre d’études sociologiques: until 1971, I believe. It was then that I created GEMAS by training a few researchers who seemed to share a scientific ethos with me. They followed me on a voluntary basis. At the beginning, GEMAS didn’t have more than five or six researchers and one research assistant , Jacqueline.

BM: Where did you land, physically?

RB: At the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme (MSH) (House for Human Sciences).

BM: Straightaway at the MSH in 1971? It had just sprung up and opened its doors.

RB: I owe a lot to Pierre Bauchet, who at the time was the Head of Human Sciences at the CNRS. He quickly realized that the CESS was unmanageable. He was the one who appointed me to head it, he and Monbeig. Monbeig was a great friend of Stoetzel. Bauchet facilitated the creation of GEMAS, which involved a lot of negotiation…

BM: With Fernand Braudel?

RB: With Fernand Braudel.

BM: GEMAS is one of the groups that settled into the MSH premises.

RB: The group then made significant progress, as can be seen in the newsletter Nouvelles du GEMASS (GEMASS News; GEMAS acquired its additional “S” following its merger with the CESS, under Olivier Galland). Originally, I started out with the vague impression that a good part of contemporary French sociology had abandoned the scientific inspiration of the great classics. It was often confined to small, local surveys—the kind journalists do just as well, if not better. In addition, in the 1970s there appeared an ideological sociology aimed at defending certain causes: a compassionate sociology. I was also very taken aback to see the success of thinkers like Foucault. I had studied Schumpeter’s History of Economic Analysis, a hefty 1400-page book. However, Foucault’s remarks on the economy in The Order of Things appeared to me to demonstrate, more than anything, his own ignorance. In those years, I had a negative feeling about all kinds of publications in social science. My idea was therefore to preserve a sort of niche in which what I perceived as the great classical tradition—that inaugurated by Durkheim and Weber— would be continued. I tried to facilitate the funding of quantitative research at GEMASS. GEMASS is also a place where, with the Sociologies series (Presses universitaires de France), French sociology opened up to the outside world. I myself translated one of Georg Simmel’s great books and had others of his works translated. It was in fact GEMASS that launched Simmel on the French market. Previously, he was known solely for his incisive texts on microsociology, but his great books—his Philosophy of Money or The Problems of the Philosophy of History, for example—remained inaccessible in French. GEMASS put Pareto back on the market, publishing a volume on Pareto derived from a conference. Generally speaking, having lived in the United States and in Germany, I had the impression that French sociology remained a bit inward-looking. It was the time when Presses Universitaires de France (University Press of France) supported us, although it cost them dearly. We were also strongly supported by Pierre Angoulvent, who is no longer with us. An excellent article originally published in Commentaire by Simon Langlois, professor at Laval University in Quebec, presents the catalog of La Collection bleue (The Blue Series), named after the cover’s color. We published more than a hundred texts in this series. Langlois’s article gives a very good idea of the philosophy behind the series. It was published in English in the Festschrift that my friends gave me for my seventy-fifth birthday.

BM: Do you have the feeling, in this niche, of having acted as a team leader?

RB: No. I have always been convinced that you only do well what you yourself feel from the bottom of your heart. So everyone in the group did exactly what they wanted.

BM: You must have still been a manager though; there were in fact managers for the financing of studies, weren’t there?

RB: It was only under Mohamed Cherkaoui, who admirably managed GEMASS and had a very strong sense of organization, that the research began to grow. Previously, the group had prematurely embarked on research projects which were not really successful.

BM: Do you think we’ll find them in any of these forty moving boxes?

RB: There will certainly be some remains of a survey financed by the Délégation Générale à la Recherche Scientifique et Technique (DGRST, General Delegation for Scientific and Technical Research) on the perception of inequalities, or more precisely on the difference between real and perceived inequalities. The questionnaire was too large and too ambitious. A pile of results emerged that we didn’t manage to tackle, so in the end the project was limited to a set of hasty reports justifying our work to the DGRST. As in the case of the Ostricourt study, we didn’t go beyond the report stage. Those reports must be in the archives. But I actually never lost sight of the project. I relaunched it five years ago with funding from the Cino Del Duca Foundation, obtained through the Académie des sciences morales et politiques (Academy of Moral and Political Sciences). We applied for financing from the Foundation for a large quantitative survey on the same issue, the perception of inequalities. This time it worked out well. Galland and Forsé lead the study effectively. They published a first book based on the study in 2011, with the publisher Armand Colin, and they will release two more. The Academy is ecstatic, because this study allows it to reconnect with an old tradition that had somewhat disappeared since Villermé. The directions in which we aimed to steer research at GEMASS are ultimately: the history of the social sciences, the opening up of France to great sociological literature from abroad, quantitative studies, and the epistemology of social science. GEMASS has put together a number of seminars on this subject. A seminar on relativism, organized at the Sorbonne together with Maurice Clavelin, attracted a lot of attention. It took place at a time when Bruno Latour was pushing constructivism in the direction of radical relativism.

BM: I have the impression that in this niche at GEMASS, as you tell it, there was a great freedom and a common inspiration at the same time, but no hierarchical structure. But with enough technicians and engineers to keep the machine running, because seminars must be organized, quantitative data must be collected…

RB: Annie Devinant provided extremely precious help. I’m not going to tell you about her, because that will make her blush. Jacqueline Lécuyer was also extremely effective in the early years. She occupied a very modest level in the administrative hierarchy, but she was very effective. She was very keen for the team to function well. At the beginning, there was indeed a very small number of technical staff.

BM: You were located at the MSH on the fourth floor. I want to ask you about your neighborhood, since the building was geographically based at 54 Boulevard Raspail. At the same time as you, the people from the Centre d’analyse et de mathématique sociales (CAMS, Center for Social and Mathematical Analysis) arrived—the analysis and social mathematics group founded by Georges-Théodule Guilbaud. You were interested in mathematics: was it the movement of Guilbaud, Barbut…?

RB: On this point, I have to go back a little bit in time. I had known Guilbaud when he worked with François Perroux, within the framework of the Institut des Sciences Mathématiques et Économiques Appliquées (Institute of Applied Economics), which published the journal Économie appliquée (Applied Economics). I was enthralled by Guilbaud’s article on the Condorcet paradox, and have always been convinced that he deserved the Nobel Prize. It was the American Kenneth Arrow who got it, on the same subject. But Guilbaud had said the same thing as Arrow, in very simple terms, based on mathematical tables.

BM: Did you take his classes?

RB: No. I told myself when I was wavering between sociology and economics that I should deepen my basic knowledge in math, and so I took Barbut’s courses at the Henri Poincaré Institute. I tried to take the exam for his course, but had to resign myself to handing in a blank copy. After that, I kept in touch personally with Barbut. It was he who presented me with the insignia of the Legion of Honor.

BM: Ah, the man of medals, Marc Barbut…

RB: He wanted to find a cross fitted with a ribbon for me in his stocks. I preferred to provide him with the object. The presentation took place on Avenue Trudaine, at a dinner for six people: with Marc Barbut and his wife, and Bernard Valade and his wife. I maintained a close friendship with Barbut, because I admired his courage in 1968. He was willing to face an assembly of 300 people and denounce the demagogic speeches that were being given there. He had a strong scientific ethos and great personal courage. As for my relations with CAMS, I hardly had any, because as I told you the last time, my thesis had led me to the conclusion that mathematics has limited relevance in sociology. I think, for example, that game theory can be of great interest, particularly for political theory or decision analysis. But I did not believe that mathematics could really shake up social science. As for statistical techniques, they only interested me as a user.

BM: So that’s for CAMS… I’m thinking about the layout of the premises and imagining you arriving there on the fourth floor, with CAMS on the second floor. On the same floor as you in another corridor a little further on, there was the center directed by Pierre Bourdieu, the Centre de sociologie de l’éducation, which became the Centre de sociologie européenne. You must have met members of this center on the same floor. What was your daily contact like?

RB: It was almost non-existent in fact, because I was hardly viewed as a saint in those other offices on the fourth floor.

BM: Were the chance encounters unpleasant?

RB: No, but there were often remarks emanating from the corner of the corridor that were unpleasant, embedded in the footnotes of a book or an article, rather than in the text itself.

BM: So it was not a cordial relationship.

RB: I felt very quickly that the best relationship was the absence of one, as we had such different views on sociology. Moreover, Bourdieu had perceived my book Education, Opportunity, and Social Inequality as being above all a declaration of war against him, when I had only included a few lines about him in the book.

BM: A little higher up in the same building there was the Laboratoire de sociologie industrielle (Industrial Sociology Laboratory) founded by Alain Touraine in 1958.

RB: Alain Touraine did me a great service at the start of my career. I was coming back from the United States and we were in dire need of money, my wife and I; the Ford Foundation had awarded me a scholarship, but, as my wife can tell you, we were having trouble making it to the end of each month in New York. At the end of each month, we travelled up and down Broadway by foot because we could no longer afford the subway. Upon my return from the United States, Touraine, who had led a study on workers with an agricultural background together with Orietta Ragazzi, had a pile of tables that he didn’t quite know what to do with, as that wasn’t one of his skills. When he offered me the project of extracting the essential marrow from his tables for a thousand francs, I immediately accepted. It rescued me financially and gave me the opportunity to try to decipher the information contained in a stack of tables. I didn’t have to bother collecting data, as I already had a fresh body of data that I could focus on analyzing. In the end, it was I who wrote his book on workers of an agricultural background, as he unambiguously acknowledges in a note. I’ve maintained a close friendship with Touraine for another reason. When my wife was faced with serious health problems, I asked him for a favor which he kindly did for me, as he was connected to medical circles through his father. We have always maintained friendly relations, despite the differences that separate us intellectually. There is a prophetic side to Touraine that is completely beyond me. But I have always seen him as deeply intellectually honest. I always find it a pleasure to meet with him, such as recently, at the release of the Festschrift honoring Pierre Birnbaum. We are both friends with Pierre Birnbaum. We sat next to each other.

BM: And did you ever meet Fernand Braudel?

RB: I never met him, mainly because he lived in the stratosphere. I only crossed paths with him once. He would have liked me to participate in a seminar on seventeenth-century social mobility, but I had other projects in the works. The only time I spoke to him was with Chevènement, who was then Minister of National Education, when he toured the MSH with Braudel. We talked for five minutes. I had a less distant relationship with François Furet. He wanted me to emigrate from the Sorbonne to the EHESS. However, I was happy at the Sorbonne. Furthermore, I found the EHESS general assemblies a bit concerning. Furet understood my refusal very well.

BM: Did you work on Tocqueville with Furet?

RB: I really liked what he wrote about Tocqueville and Cochin. in the Sociologies series we published Cochin. I shared the European Amalfi Prize for Sociology and Social Sciences with Furet. I was very happy about it.

BM: Let’s get back to our visit to 54 Boulevard Raspail. We mentioned the centers and laboratories located close to GEMASS geographically, but there is also the entire intellectual and media environment in Paris and in France generally. This is a question you answer in other books, but maybe you can summarize here: how did you chart your course through various intellectual trends? I have in mind here what you’ve said about postmodernity in the social sciences and the forms of political correctness— how do you pay no heed to what you call “novelty academicism”?

RB: I felt at odds with most of the movements that emerged in France in the 1970s, such as with structuralism on which I wrote one of my doctoral theses. Lévi-Strauss hardly appreciated it. Despite this, he later saw to it that I was awarded a Grand Prize from the Académie française (French Academy). I saw this as proof of his magnanimity. For the occasion, he wrote in the remarks presented with the prize a paragraph that was not only full of praise for me, but that also demonstrated great lucidity, in my opinion. When I was invited to chair the Claude Lévi-Strauss Prize for Human Sciences created by the Minister of Higher Education Valérie Pécresse, a prize placed under the responsibility of the Académie des sciences morales et politiques (Academy of Moral and Political Sciences), I didn’t hesitate for a second. My many trips abroad had encouraged me to distance myself from Parisian trends. I’ve lived in the United States several times, first as a student at Columbia for a year, then in 1972 as a fellow at the Palo Alto center in California for another year. I was invited to spend a semester at several universities, including Harvard in 1973, Chicago in 1986, Indiana University, New York University, Stockholm University, the University of Geneva, and the University of Trento. In accordance with my vision of the scientific ethos, I felt that I belonged to the international sociological community. The idea that a scientific discipline could be very much characterized nationally evoked in my mind the sad memory of Jewish physics or Lysenkoism. So I was frankly hostile to what has since been called French Theory. The preface to the English translation of one of my books was not mistaken: Raymond Boudon is “unfrench”. I felt that I belonged mainly to an international milieu. When the European Academy of Sociology was created, I was invited to be its first president. Until quite recently, it mainly included Swedes, Norwegians, Dutch, Germans, and only three French people. I also had a lot of friends in the United States. By contrast, I didn’t feel in common with the stars of French Theory. Intellectually, I had the impression of being a bit of an immigrant in France. But I never imagined myself living outside of the country, because of France’s incomparable art of living.

BM: Yes, changing fashions… So, it’s ultimately through your internationalism that you also master English and German so well.

RB: My German is rusty, but I used to speak it well. My wife thought I was German when I met her. My German got rusty because she always spoke German with my son whereas I spoke French with him, as the psychologists told us that the same person should always speak the same language to a child. So I hardly had the opportunity to speak German anymore. I understand it very well, and if I spent three months in Germany I would undoubtedly speak it again fluently.

BM: Coming back to the archives, we have not yet opened the forty or so boxes that contain them since their move from 54 Boulevard Raspail to Avenue de France. What do you think they contain?

RB: They certainly contain mainly elements of everyday life, in other words, everything that makes up the life of a teacher and researcher: probably thesis reports, evaluations of applications, letters of recommendation, administrative documents, loan applications, etc. Perhaps some more original things too. The Swedish government asked me a few years ago to advise them on how to deepen democracy. I declined this flattering proposal because it seemed to me to surpass my competencies. But most of the archives are undoubtedly composed of the routine life of a researcher, a professor, a thesis director, and a laboratory manager. I don’t think that it’s uninteresting, though, because if one day a historian were to write the history of social science in the second half of the twentieth century, it could be of use.

BM: We’ll come and see you to tell you what we find, as we have every intention of talking about it again. Do you think that there are any unfinished texts or projects that you would like to come back to?

RB: No.

BM: Have you essentially completed everything you have undertaken?

RB: Yes.

BM: That’s exceptional!

RB: As I mentioned to you earlier, I generally consider unfinished what I wrote at a certain point in time, and I’ve always tried to clarify things in later writings.

BM: So that means no unfinished projects.

RB: Exactly.

Annie Devinant: Actually, there is an unfinished project, the one that the Germans proposed, which was a compilation of selected texts from your work.

RB: Yes, that’s true. They had come up with the project to publish my chosen works in six volumes. Jürgen Friedrichs, the one in charge of this project, presented it to us over a lunch where Annie was present.

AD: The project came from de Gruyter.

RB: I should have stopped them, but I was too narcissistic. I should have suggested that Friedrichs aim for one volume, maybe two. As the task was excessive, Jürgen Friedrichs—an important figure in German sociology, since he’s the editor-in-chief of the Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie (Cologne Journal for Sociology and Social Psychology) and also now the Secretary General of the European Academy of Sociology—might have had some doubts about the project’s viability, but we didn’t notice it during our lunch, neither Annie nor myself. In the end, the project fell through, and Jürgen Friedrichs apologized ten years later because it had remained on his heart. The project must have been blocked on de Gruyter’s side, I suppose. Every time I met him at the European Academy of Sociology, I felt that he was annoyed with me. Last year, I wrote to him to say that I could not attend the Academy session in October due to health reasons. I wrote to him in German, which perhaps freed him from his discomfort with me: at any rate, he took the opportunity offered by my message to tell me how much this de Gruyter affair had weighed on him.

BM: You donated your archives to the EHESS through its archives service, as a precursor for a future social science archives center. What does this donation mean to you?

RB: I have always considered the history of social science to be an important and demanding discipline. The works of social science historians often seem to me to be too historiographical in character. For example, I haven’t read anything really informative about structuralism. The work on this subject focuses mainly on the debates and polemics that structuralism has aroused. I am going to show some disproportionate vanity here, if you will allow me: I have the weakness of finding the few pages that I wrote on structuralism in Croire et savoir more instructive than many other texts. I try to retrace the evolution of structuralist ideas and explain why structuralism worked so well, before becoming a disappointment and practically vanishing into thin air. Everyone knows that the history of structuralism begins in Prague with the structural phonology of Troubetzkoy and Jakobson. But why did their ideas spread like wildfire through all of the human sciences? What phonology, and the anthropology of societies without writing, have in common is the lack of access to any historical traces. We do not know where phonemes come from. We can only see that they are elementary systems of sounds allowing the most diverse messages to be transmitted, that they are composed of a small number of elements and that those of German are not those of French or Russian. Hence the brilliant idea of Troubetzkoy and Jakobson to see in the phonemes of a particular language economical and reliable solutions to the problem of the transmission of spoken messages. One can understand why this appealed to Lévi-Strauss: he was in the same situation. How to explain the prevailing rules regarding matters of kinship in societies without writing, in the absence of any trace of their genesis? In those days, there was the impression that with structuralism, a Copernican revolution had shaken up the human sciences. But this led to abuses, as soon as it was attempted to apply it to disciplines which were in no way confronted with the absence of traces, such as the history of ideas or sociology. The methodological structuralism of Jakobson or Lévi-Strauss then transformed into a metaphysical structuralism: that which Foucault brilliantly illustrated in The Order of Things or Bourdieu in all of his writings. François Dosse has read everything about structuralism, but he in no way explains either its success or its decline. The history of the social sciences is a very important discipline, because the social sciences have an ambiguous relationship to knowledge. Yet they are based on simpler foundations than the natural sciences, in the sense that the ultimate causes of social phenomena, the reasons which inspire individuals to act and believe, represent an ultimate “atom,” as Max Weber wrote, whereas in the natural sciences, researchers have difficulty in knowing if they have indeed reached the bottom. Biologists look at what’s going on in the cell, the chemical reactions inside the cell, but they can always go a little deeper.

BM: The infinitesimal.

RB: For physicists, it’s the same: they always have to try to go down another level. We sociologists have the advantage that we can focus on what engages people’s minds: the reasons that push them to do what they do and to believe what they believe.

BM: As long as sociologists aren’t plunged into studying the unconscious.

RB: As long as one denies the relevance of the unconscious for sociology, as is my case. But that does not lead to easy solutions, because any social phenomenon is the result of the countless causes embodied in the reasons of the individuals who produced it. The profound originality of sociology in relation to history is that it limits itself, when it is illuminating, to subjects where it’s possible to reach the level of “atoms,”—that is, the reasons of individuals—such as when Durkheim explains why suicide rates are lower among Catholics than Protestants. Cherkaoui often mentions another example where Durkheim goes down to the “atomic” level: suicide rates are lower among the divorced than among the widowed, and the difference is all the stronger as divorce is more frequent in a society. Durkheim explains this macroscopic fact by hypothesizing that, when divorce is very common, people experience their marriage as fragile. That’s why they are less affected than widowers by the dissolution of the couple. This is where the originality of sociology lies: when it sets out well-defined phenomena as its object, it can produce explanations that are as convincing as those of the natural sciences. Max Weber also always aims to explain very precise phenomena: why did Christ return to Jerusalem on a donkey? Why didn’t the Sadducees believe in the immortality of the soul, while the Pharisees did? Weber’s sociology, like Durkheim’s, turns its back on the great explanatory machines that attempt to put the world into a bottle.

BM: So in the archives there will not just be Raymond Boudon, but a Raymond Boudon who is part of a history and leaves marks on this history.

RB: If I included the volumes of selected sociology texts that Sage asked me to devise with Cherkaoui, it was because the choice of texts is driven by the way I see sociology. This is why I put these volumes in the archives.

BM: That’s why it’s interesting. They aren’t just random library books, but a collection that you organized and conceived yourself.

RB: Based on a very precise representation of sociology.

BM: Because in an archival holding, we don’t normally take whole collections of books or libraries. However, volumes organized around an idea, with a clear direction like you gave to this collection, absolutely belong in a holding, as well as all the offprints.

RB: That’s why I thought about giving them to you: they’re not just books, they’re also truly archives.

BM: They’re organized by you, they’re archives indeed.

RB: The choice of texts in the Sage volumes would probably be disapproved of by some. There is undoubtedly only a very small overlap between the author index of these volumes and those of current sociology textbooks. I chose, for example, a text by Vierkandt. No one reads him anymore, but he had a brilliant intuition: an innovation is rarely a break, but rather takes the form of an addition or a correction. Consider the history of the bicycle. People first used their feet to move the contraption, then the crankset was invented, then the chain, etc. Vierkandt’s idea is that we must conceive of innovation, not in terms of rupture, but rather incrementally. You will also find texts by economists like Olson or Schelling in the Sage volumes. They are generally ignored by sociologists because they fall within a discipline that many of them consider as suspect.

BM: Just one last, small question: do you not mind at all that your archives will be kept at the EHESS, an establishment with which you only had contact from afar?

RB: The main thing is that it be passed on to the historians of tomorrow. I find that the social sciences have had an eventful and fascinating history over the past fifty years.

Goulven Le Brech: You said that you often write to improve or supplement what you wrote previously. It reminds me of a comparison I once made between the life cycle of archives and the work of a researcher. Archives are composed of current, semicurrent, or definitively archived records. One can draw a parallel with the work of researchers. François Jacob distinguishes between night science and day science.

RB: Night science refers to the first manuscripts that you never see, or the first versions, prior to publication. When I write an article, I always start off well in advance. Will the time machines that are computers ever make it possible to recover the history of a text?

GLB: The question I wanted to ask you is, do you think your archives contain reusable data? When you say that your archives will be of use to historians of the human sciences, do you also think that your archives can be viewed as containing data that can be reused by other sociologists, or are they, for you, the culmination of something completely personal?

RB: I believe that they will be mainly of use to historians of the human sciences. In addition, sociologists can find in them a way to better understand what I call “sociology as science,” following the title I gave to one of my books: a conception of sociology that underlies all the great works that have emerged, starting with those of Max Weber and Durkheim. More generally, several documents from the archives, including the Boudon-Cherkaoui volumes of which we spoke, could inspire much more solid sociology textbooks than those currently on the market. They most often give an impression of eclecticism and vagueness, present sociological theories as opinions, fuel relativism, do not constitute a solid training tool for students, and ultimately destroy sociology itself. However, as the great works have shown us, the discipline harbors a very real capacity to improve our understanding of social phenomena and consequently to form more enlightened citizens. Like any discipline, sociology is multifaceted, but it has a hard core, the objective of which is to produce solid explanations of social phenomena.

BM: And when you work on your texts like that, do you print them out and reread them on paper, or do you work on a computer?

RB: I work on them for a very long time on the computer, then I print them out five or six times, then I go back to the computer, sometimes two to three times, until I feel like everything has been said.

BM: Who is the first person to read your texts?

RB: My wife, then Annie.

BM: Does your wife read everything?

RB: Yes, she’s ruthless. She hunts down metaphors that don’t work, and various elements of writing style. I keep any text secret until she’s looked at it. She takes a long time to read, as she only reads in the early hours of the morning. Dubious metaphors, poorly articulated ideas, bad or missing transitions must all be corrected. She puts a line in pencil in front of the passages that don’t pass muster. She reads twenty pages a day, no more. Sometimes I protest, but later on I realize that she isn’t wrong. I take her objections into account 90 percent of the time. Her legal training has made her very attentive to details, the accuracy of words, the connections between arguments, etc. And that helps me a lot: sometimes one has a transition in mind, but doesn’t write it down. The reader then has the impression that there’s a jump. Transitions are fundamental, but avoiding easy transitions is often a difficult art. The media get away with jumping from one subject to another in a somewhat comical fashion.

BM: If you had a text annotated by your wife, it would be good to think about putting it in the archives.

AD: Can I ask you a question? When I was reading over your texts, was your wife your first reader?

RB: Yes, always.

AD: So I was the second. You always accepted my critiques and comments with ease. You said you didn’t have a time machine. I’m a bit of a time machine, since I’ve kept a large part of your texts that I annotated as a second reading, and there are a lot of things in the margins. Are you willing to pass them on? There are intermediate versions there.

RB: I don’t see any problem with that. When I think I have an idea, I often express it in four or five successive versions. I got that from my mentor, Lazarsfeld. Changes from one version to another are often the result of objections. An example: the text that Dominique Reynié had published in the form of a brochure from the Fondation pour l’innovation politique (Foundation for Political Innovation), which was then republished in a book (Les Valeurs partagées, PUF, 2012) was a new version of a response to the Academy on the question, “What does it mean to give power to the people?”. I was originally terrorized by the choice of this topic. What a question! But my thoughts on the subject gradually settled down. That can be seen very well in the successive versions of the text, up to the one published in Croire et savoir. Weber saw in the famous “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” an affirmation of the value of the distinction of powers, and in the epistle to the Galatians he saw the origin of the notion of the dignity of all, the keystone of democracy. I was scolded by an Italian colleague, who told me to reread the texts of Saint Paul. So I did, and answered him by adding one or two pages. As soon as a criticism appears to me to be justified, I take it seriously.

BM: No author’s pride?

RB: No, well, yes… Sometimes, it will put me in a bad mood to begin with. When you’ve spent hours thinking about a subject and you’re told “that doesn’t work,” you’re not very happy. But the bad mood never lasts. What puts me in a mood are wordy objections, or objections showing bad faith or bias. Annie Devinant and my wife never gave me wordy criticism.

AD: The objections also aimed to make the text as understandable as possible for the widest possible audience, because you have never written just for sociologists, or with a particular vocabulary. There’s never any jargon.

RB: Indeed, I run away from jargon like the plague. It’s often merely a smoke screen. What also fascinates me, regarding intellectual life, is the time it takes to manage to say very simple things. Sometimes years.

AD: I have the impression that you work in stages. I perceive the sequence of your articles as a series of steps, going deeper in each article, then at certain points, a new idea appears and another article is begun.

RB: Sometimes the next step is endogenous, sometimes exogenous. It’s exogenous when I’m given a prompt like “What does it mean to give power to the people?”. I then have to go back to the basics. This has happened to me several times. That’s why I’ve benefited a lot from the prompts that have been given to me for conferences. Some of them asked questions that forced me onto unfamiliar terrain. This was the case—to go back to that—with the prompt from the (French) Academy, “What does it mean to give power to the people?”. In the wake of that, I wrote several articles on questions of political theory motivated by endogenous reflections.

BM: It is not an easy task to be a member of the Academy…

RB: No! The members of the Academy are demanding. What is particularly interesting about this institution is its great diversity. There are figures who have had a great political career, others a great industrial career, others a great intellectual career. What I also like about this institution is that it works on the basis of seniority: an excellent way to avoid conflicts. An academician becomes vice-president when the time has come, depending on their date of election. The following year they become president. I am president of the Morals and Sociology section, simply because I am the oldest in the section. Every Monday the president must bring in a speaker and have a potential replacement speaker ready. The Academy awards numerous prizes, which are always cherished by the laureates.

BM: Are the lectures read?

RB: Generally speaking, yes.

AD: Did you keep your notes?

RB: No. Like a schoolchild, once the year is over, I’ve always thrown everything away.

AD: In the archives, there are some notes that I took from one of your classes. It’s a shame that there’s nothing else left over from your lessons…

RB: Allow me, if you don’t mind, a word of conclusion. In general, I avoid recorded interviews. I still mumble a lot in them, so turning what I say verbatim into a readable text takes a lot of work. That’s why I prefer to have written questions, so that I can provide well-articulated answers. However, I’ve really enjoyed our interview. It has given me the opportunity to say things that I would probably never have written, for example on the role of my wife, Annie, or Jacqueline, on the repetitive aspect of my writing, on my relations with other sociologists, on my resistance to intellectual movements which seemed to me to aim for the unexpected and the novel more than the just and the true, on my deep debt toward certain people, on the reasons behind my reverence for Weber and Durkheim. Thanks to the questions from Brigitte, Annie, and Goulven, I’ve been able to go a little further than in those texts of mine that I would describe as semi-autobiographical, such as my interviews with Robert Leroux or Sociology as Science. Several commentators have criticized me for the reservation visible in these texts. Our interview has allowed me to dare to be a little more indiscreet about my journey.


Note 1 : GEMAS (Groupe d’étude des méthodes de l’analyse sociologique), became GEMASS (Groupe d’étude des méthodes de l’analyse sociologique de la Sorbonne) after merging with the Centre d’études sociologiques de la Sorbonne (CESS) in 2010.

Note 2 : MSH (Maison de sciences de l’homme), has since become the FMSH (Fondation maison des sciences de l’homme)

Interview published in Commentaire, under y-the title “Ma traversée dans le monde scientifique”

“Ma traversée dans le monde scientifique (I)”, Commentaire, n° 142, été 2013

“Ma traversée dans le monde scientifique (II)”, Commentaire, n° 143, automne 2013

































Recent publications by Raymond BOUDON

<i>A che serve la sociologia?</i>, Lecce, Pensa, 2012, traduction de <i>La Sociolgie comme science</i>, Paris, La Découverte, coll. "Repères", 2010

Raymond BOUDON, A che serve la sociologia?, Lecce, Pensa, 2012, traduction de La Sociolgie comme science, Paris, La Découverte, coll. "Repères", 2010, , 2013

"Quand la science officialise le faux", <i> Revue des deux mondes</i>, fév 2013, p. 95-107,  dossier "Pourquoi sommes-nous si crédules?"

Raymond BOUDON, "Quand la science officialise le faux", Revue des deux mondes, fév 2013, p. 95-107, dossier "Pourquoi sommes-nous si crédules?", , 2013

"L'introuvable patrie", in Colonel Stéphane Chalmin (dir.), <i>Gagner une guerre aujourd'hui</i>, Paris, <i>Economica</i>, p.163-168

Raymond BOUDON, "L'introuvable patrie", in Colonel Stéphane Chalmin (dir.), Gagner une guerre aujourd'hui, Paris, Economica, p.163-168, , 2013

"Aux racines de la bonne sociologie", <i>Nouvelles perspectives en sciences sociales</i>, vol. 8, n°1, p. 119-160

Raymond BOUDON, "Aux racines de la bonne sociologie", Nouvelles perspectives en sciences sociales, vol. 8, n°1, p. 119-160, , 2013

<i>Sociology as Science. An Intellectual Autobiography. By Raymond Boudon</i>, translation by Peter Hamilton of R. Boudon,<i>La sociologie comme science</i>, Paris, La Découverte, collection "Repères", 2010, The Bardwell Press, avril 2013

Raymond BOUDON, Sociology as Science. An Intellectual Autobiography. By Raymond Boudon, translation by Peter Hamilton of R. Boudon,La sociologie comme science, Paris, La Découverte, collection "Repères", 2010, The Bardwell Press, avril 2013, , 2013

"La compétence morale du peuple", in Dominique Reynié (dir.), <i>Valeurs partagées, face au bouleversement des valeurs, la recherche d'un nouveau consensus</i>, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 2012, p.1-33

Raymond BOUDON, "La compétence morale du peuple", in Dominique Reynié (dir.), Valeurs partagées, face au bouleversement des valeurs, la recherche d'un nouveau consensus, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 2012, p.1-33, , 2012

"Au delà du kantisme et de l'utilitarisme", Préface à Brigitte Feuillet-Liger et Philippe Portier (dir.), <i>Droit, Ethique et religion: de l'âge théologique à l'âge bioéthique</i>, Bruxelles, Bruylant, 2012, p. 9-15

Raymond BOUDON, "Au delà du kantisme et de l'utilitarisme", Préface à Brigitte Feuillet-Liger et Philippe Portier (dir.), Droit, Ethique et religion: de l'âge théologique à l'âge bioéthique, Bruxelles, Bruylant, 2012, p. 9-15, , 2012

<i>Les méthodes en sociologie</i>, R. Boudon et R. Fillieule, Paris, PUF, coll. "Quadrige", 13e édition mise à jour

Raymond BOUDON, Les méthodes en sociologie, R. Boudon et R. Fillieule, Paris, PUF, coll. "Quadrige", 13e édition mise à jour, , 2012

<i>Croire et savoir : penser le politique, le moral et le religieux</i>, Paris, PUF, coll. "Quadrige"

Raymond BOUDON, Croire et savoir : penser le politique, le moral et le religieux, Paris, PUF, coll. "Quadrige", , 2012

"Analytical Sociology and the Explanation of Beliefs", Revue européenne des sciences sociales/ European Journal of Social Sciences, n°50-2, 2012, p. 7-34

Raymond BOUDON, "Analytical Sociology and the Explanation of Beliefs", Revue européenne des sciences sociales/ European Journal of Social Sciences, n°50-2, 2012, p. 7-34, , 2012

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All publications by Raymond BOUDON