The aim of my scientific activity is to identify the way social sciences, and especially political science, can take the question of the body, and the violence against it, into account. To this aim, I have worked on the sensibilities to the death penalty “spectacle” in France, and its final “de-publicization”, and also on the intolerance to violent televised broadcast images. The peculiar position of the condemned’s body led me to use the notion of “biopower” (Michel Foucault), as political interest to biological dimension of individuals, and to suggest the notion of “thanatopower” to designate a power that inflicts or manages the death. My project for the IUF pursues on this topic of the commitment to the capital punishment in its juridical, political and social dimensions. In order to contribute to this research, I’m involved in the Thematic network “Political administration of body and populations”, that I also co-run, in the French Association of Sociology, and also in the Section “Body and Politics” that I run in the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme Paris-Nord.
Hiding the Guillotine. Public executions in France, 1870-1939
(La guillotine au secret. Les exécutions publiques en France, 1870-1939, Paris, Belin, coll. « Socio-histoires », 2011, 317 p.)
Translation in English in progress
The abolition of death penalty in France in 1981 has overshadowed for a long time another major phenomenon: the suppression of public executions in 1939, what we referred to as a “de-publicizing process”. Since the Revolution, the capital punishment was a ritual of violence, which can draw thousands of spectators. A weird street ceremony, performed by night, where one can find bourgeois and passers-by who want to see the guillotine, the executioner, and more or less famous criminals. There were a lot of occasions because, during the 3rd Republic more than 560 executions took place in various cities, including Paris. What was the nature of this bloody spectacle? On what grounds was it eventually relegated inside prison? Could we say, with Norbert Elias, that it was taken in the civilization process?
Using judicial and police-related archives, the diaries of the well-known executioner Deibler, old newspapers, and various source materials of this period, which was haunted by crime, this book analyzes the contestation of public executions. Using also the skills and tools of political science, anthropology, and cultural history, it shows that the cloaking of death penalty is due to the action of multiple movements: the action of elites, including journalists, chocked by violence and blood, identifying themselves with the torture victim, impact of the imprisonment, or reluctance of the authorities to organize an execution, while they can simply communicate on it in the press. The book reveals the mechanisms of the civilization of death penalty.
How the executions were made intolerable. Public executions and sensibilities police
(La fabrique d’un intolérable. Exécutions publiques et police des sensibilités, Vingtième siècle, 123, 2014)
Through the phenomenon of the disappearance of public executions throughout the Third Republic, this paper explores the hypothesis that what seems in appearance to belong to the somatic space is actually a way of questioning the social system. In order to analyze how the human body affects politics, and this particular punitive technology of physically eliminating criminals, this work questions the ways in which sensibilities were used, and their specificities. It shows how they have been used and the “police” (as control) that weighed on them. These expectations played subtly with what was possible to feel when facing such a spectacle, and which prescribed the “good manners”, or polite way, of looking at it. It was notably via these means that the bloody ritual of the public execution became progressively considered intolerable. Finally, this paper shows that the changes that came about were less concerned with the execution itself than with how it was seen and experienced.
Political spectacle and participation. Between required mediatization and ideal of citizenship
(avec Paula Cossart, « Spectacle politique et participation. Entre médiatisation nécessaire et idéal de la citoyenneté », Sociétés et représentations, « Le spectaculaire à l’œuvre », 31, avril 2011, p. 137-156)
Dramatics is inherent to political activity. Power is always “staged”, “dramatized” and relies on the permanent manipulation of images and symbols. While the idea that political power must be exposed is well known, its dramatisation is often considered unjustified. It would indeed denote an impoverishment of political participation, a show, striving to produce emotion rather than politicization. The aim of this paper is to study the tension between the need for political visibility and the phobia of the spectacular, and to see how to overcome the latter, in order to prove that the dramatization of political power is an aspect of the democratic dialogue. First, we analyse the criticism of the spectacular as a kind of deviation of the citizen debate leading to a de-politicization of citizens, but stressing that in spite of this view, several authors insist on the necessity of going beyond a logo-centric vision of participation, and more generally on moderating the refusal of the spectacular in political participation. Dramatization may also be a factor of politicization, a way of enlarging public space towards those who are pushed to the fringes by the conception of participation as purely deliberative, or it can be a tool of citizen counter-power. Then we show that if one only considers the functions of political dramatization, one is prevented from seeing to what extent it is necessary for the authorities. The politicization or de-politicization effects of dramatization can thus be understood as mere by-products of political communication. Such a “staging” of politics, even if it is opposed to the ideal of a reasonable citizenship, which distrusts emotionality and sensationalism, stands out as a place and a means for dialog between groups, and between the State and the population, within a democratic society.
Political logic of conspiracy theory
(« Logiques politiques du conspirationnisme », Sociologie et sociétés [Montréal], vol. XLII, 2, Automne 2010, p. 265-289)
Conspiracy theory, which claims that the course of history is determined by the secret action of a small group of men bent on world domination, has been widely circulated since the late 18th century. Representing a modern form of the idea of a secularized Providence, this theory, whose persuasive rhetoric employs modes of apparently scientific deduction, is essentially a political discourse. The spreading of such theories of a global conspiracy can therefore be analyzed from the perspective of political sociology, in looking especially at the ways that the theories are used, the actors that voice them and their aims in terms of mobilization. Conspiracy theory thus appears as much a cognitive resource as a means of politicization. Today, at the beginning of the 21st century, whether conspiracy theory attempts to deny the “official version” of the September 11 attacks or warns against France’s national vaccination campaign to combat the H1N1 virus, which it sees as a means of achieving “biopower”, its primary aim is to influence the political agenda.
From biopower to thanatopower
(« Du biopouvoir au thanatopouvoir », Quaderni, 62, « Le thanatopouvoir : politiques de la mort », Hiver 2006-2007, p. 5-15.)
Death is partially natural, it’s above all political. The use of this formula signifies that the life of individuals, their biological body, are taken within “biopolitical” mechanisms (Michel Foucault). Today, the word “biopower” is overused, and wrongly understood as a killing power. The aim of this paper is to criticize Giorgio Agamben’s theories of the State, the totalitarianism, and his conception of history, and to put forward the alternative notion of “thanatopower”, in order to designate technologies of power which take care of the body in its mortal condition. In our modern societies, the State is forced to find legislative solutions to the mortality of individuals. Because this mortality is at stake in numerous phenomenons (euthanasia, brain dead persons, organ donation, destination of ashes of dead bodies, etc.). This specific power doesn’t want to let die anymore. The notion of thanatopower allows us to explore the way modern power take the death into account.
Depublicization process of executions in the Third Republic France
(« Le processus de dépublicisation des exécutions dans la France de la IIIe République », Frontières [Montréal], « Enjeux politiques et mort », vol. 19, 1, Automne 2006, p. 49-54.)
The progressive cloaking of the public executions in France circa 19th-20th century, to their performance behind prison walls, is a phenomenon which informs us upon the very nature of the civilization process. The “depublicization” of the executionnary ritual goes through the reduction of its pomp, of its duration, and its capture by prison sphere. Entangled in the hygienic politics of the streets, guillotine seems giving a “dirty” death which leads to violence and should be moved out of sight. This “formalization” reveals both the withdrawal by the power of a political technology now seen as inefficient, and the rise of sensibilities hostile to bloodshed in the public sphere.
► Professional career
-Since 2014 : Professor at Sciences Po Lyon
– Since 2007. Assistant professor at Sciences Po Grenoble.
– November 2006-May 2007. Collaboration to : Stéphane Baciocchi, Isabelle Backouche, Pascal Cristofoli, Olivier Godechot, Delphine Naudier, Christian Topalov, with the collaboration of Fabien Cardoni, Twenty Years of elections at the School of high studies in social sciences (EHESS), EHESS, Paris, 2008, 119 p.
– 2003-2005. Assistant lecturer at the Political Science Department of the University Paris 1 – Sorbonne
– 1998-2002. Provisional lecturer at the Political Science Department of the University Paris 1 – Sorbonne
– 1997-1998. Tutor in Law studies and Political sociology at the Political Science Department of the University Paris 1 – Sorbonne
► Academic activities and editorial boards membership
– Elected at the Administration Council of the French Association of Political Science (since 2012)
– Member of the editorial board of Quaderni (since 2002). In charge of the book reviews section.
– Co-responsible with Paula Cossart of the book review chronicle “Historical Approaches of Politics”, in the French Review of Political Science (Revue française de science politique), since 2010.
– Member of the editorial board for social sciences of Presses Universitaires de la Méditerranée edition (Université Montpellier 3), since 2007.
– 2002-February 2005, member of the editorial board of Labyrinthe.
► Media (choice)
– Radio : France Bleu Isère, Bleu Isère Matin, invited by Nicolas Crozier on the topic of rumors. 17 May 2011 ; Europe 1, Au cœur de l’Histoire, run by Franck Ferrand. Topic: “Guillotine, the red widow”. 11 april 2011 ; France-Culture, Les Lundis de l’Histoire, run by Michelle Perrot. Topic: “Blood and Violence (France, 19th century)”. Live from the Book fair. 21 March 2011 ; France-Info, chronicle The right of the false, by Franck Cognard, 21 July and 4 August 2010 ; France-Culture, La Fabrique de l’Histoire, run Emmanuel Laurentin. Topic : “Story of the death penalty”. 5 April 2007 ; Fréquence Protestante. Broadcast of Claudine Castelnau. 23 October 2006 ; Radio Aligre, Recherches en cours, run by Jean-Marc Galan, David Dumoulin et Guillaume Dumesnil. Topic: “Public executions in France: archives and interpretations”. May 2006 ; France-Culture. Pot-au-Feu, run by Jean Lebrun. 2 May 2002 ; France-Culture. Première édition, run by Pierre Assouline. 2002.
– Newspapers (interviews) : Corinne Bensimon, “In front of the mygale spider”, Libération, Grand Angle, 5 October 2011 ; Angela Bolis, “9/11, why so much rumors?”, lemonde.fr, 9 September 2011 ; Phosphore, “Fear on the city”, March 2003 ; L’Express, “Internet, rumor mills?”, by Gilbert Charles and Gildas des Roseaux. 16 April 2002 ; Libération, “Rumors spread on the web”, by Florent Latrive. 12 October 2001.