Traditions and democracy
In many current debates regarding the teaching of history, public expression of religious beliefs, decisions made by the justice system and the ethical nature of medical practices, traditions are frequently invoked and often portrayed as authoritative arguments. Without always being made explicit, the question of whether, in the name of the plurality of traditions, it is legitimate to establish differentialist politics underpin these debates. Rare, however, are those that question the nature of traditions, as if they genuinely hark back to something ancient, handed down from generation to generation. Yet for over 50 years, the social sciences have critiqued such a ‘substantialist’ representation of traditions. Many works contest the idea that traditions possess intrinsic properties, including their age or continuity. Different authors have emphasised the ‘retrospective illusions’, the ‘inventions’ or the work of ‘fabrication’ necessary in forming traditions.
This research program, initiated at the Laboratoire d’Anthropologie Sociale (2004-2006) and at the Maison Française, Oxford (2007), puts forward an analysis of political uses of the notion of tradition beginning with the principals of social sciences. It notably critiques philosophical anthropology of communitarian thinkers from which different versions of multiculturalism are derived. This research is girded towards three objectives: 1) show how certain political and social issues crystallise around traditions; 2) reconsider misunderstandings resulting from philosophical analyses of the concept of tradition and their impact on public policies, and 3) establish new theoretical foundations from which the question of tradition can be defended against attacks conducted against it and respond to contemporary democratic demands.
The Urbanite Competencies
This is research undertaken within my seminary at the International College of Philosophy (date). It takes the following question of sociologist Isaac Joseph as its starting point: ‘In what conditions and in which languages can we renew, intellectually and practically with the qualities that make of a urbanite someone sensitive to shapes and events that surround him in a public space and capable, civically and socially, to regain these qualities’. Here I am looking to establish a link between philosophical approaches and the politic of the competencies of urbanites (W. Benjamin, J. Rancière, M. de Certeau, H. Lefebvre) and the new areas of research linked to the ecology of perception (J. Gibson) and distributed cognition (E. Hutchins). Ultimately the aim is to establish how urbanite develop competencies that allow them to appropriate diverse elements of the urban world to make of them instruments of knowledge and tools of action.
Towards a sensitive urbanism
This research project is lead in collaboration with the agency ‘Jacques Ferrier architects’ and was established following the conference in 2010 ‘The sensual city’. At the moment when we sought to reconcile social links and places, the flux of globalisation and the sense of space, the body of urban-dweller appeared to be the most precious capital, capable of understanding complex and heterogeneous metropolitan realities. Using the theoretical contributions of artists, architects and town-planners, my aim is to promote a sensitive urbanism that fully integrates the sensory and cognitive dimensions of space. To achieve this, not only is it important to take into consideration how the senses are used, but to understand how sensitive qualities and spatial contexts offer supports enabling urban-dwellers to participate in the transformation of metropolitan spaces.
The dynamic vision of Moholy-Nagy: architecture, city, design
Since his very first course at the Bauhaus in 1923, Moholy-Nagy developed the idea of using art to train the human sensorium that would allow the masses to reconcile themselves with the technical outlook peculiar to the urban environment. For Moholy, man is the synthesis of these functioning apparatus, the capacities of which can be infinitely perfected. The vocation of each artistic medium is thus to integrate new elements in order to dynamise and broaden the perceptive faculties of the individual. Applied to both the city and architecture, this education of vision should allow townspeople to adapt, understand and master the complex, changing, even threatening urban environment. On the other hand it should profoundly renew our experience of space, opening perception to unrecognised dimensions of a sensitive world.
The research I am presently leading hopes to render more explicit the theoretical contribution of László Moholy-Nagy for architectural, urban and industrial creation. This research program will give rise to a conference in 2010 during the City Design Biennial to be held at Saint-Etienne.