On the history of the connection between Francophone Sociology (AISLF) and ISA (June 21, 2012)

by Edward A. Tiryakian, Professor Emeritus, Duke University, USA

In Global Dialogue 2.4, AISLF president André Petitat and Professor Jennifer Platt provide factual data about one of the most vigorous national organization of sociologists linked to ISA. As an American sociologist with life membership in both (I joined AISLF in 1965, and ISA in 1974), I’d like to offer a few remarks based on personal experience and observations.

In the reconstruction of French sociology after WWII, Georges Gurvitch was the charismatic intellectual leader, holding Durkheim’s chair at the Sorbonne, much like Parsons at Harvard. Gurvitch, who had spent WWII in New York, quickly felt that the theoretical/philosophical/qualitative tradition of continental sociology risked being submerged from the attraction of empirical/quantitative research coming from the States. As Petitat and Platt state, this provoked Gurvitch and Henri Janne in Belgium to organize an international association that would not be an American fiefdom. They found important allies in Quebec universities, such as Guy Rocher at Montreal. However, unlike sociologists from Europe, the Canadiens (later called Québécois) were seeking autonomy from Anglo-Canada dominance, not from American sociology (Rocher wrote one of the best expositions of Parsonian sociology). While at Harvard, I met a sociologist, Phillip Bosserman, who had done his dissertation under Gurvitch, and through him learned about AISLF. I went in 1965 to the congress of AISLF and elected to membership, as is the custom, with support from Gurvitch and one of his top students, Georges Balandier. In 1971, during a tumultuous business meeting, I found myself elected to the executive committee as belonging neither to the French, Belgian, Swiss or Canadian group – each of which had at least one seat on the executive committee; the “others” with me were the president-elect from Tunisia,, and one from Egypt, one from Mali, and one from Vietnam. I have never felt any anti-American sentiment, being reelected at successive congresses, capped with being elected president to a four-year term in 1988.

Living up to its name, the association has strengthened the internationalization of its executive committee and of its membership, with over 50 countries among its 1800 members (but only 7 American members). Elected members at the 2008 congress in Istanbul, besides those from the traditional countries, were a Moroccan, a Greek, an Italian, a Turkish, a Tunisian, a Portuguese, and a Congolese sociologist.

The internationalization of sociology has benefited over the years not only at congress time, but also by AILSF sponsoring colloquia or mini reunions in different sites in Europe, Asia, Africa (I organized one in Louisiana in the 1980s). In the 1980s and 1990s, when Renaud Sainsaulieu was president, AISLF helped to organized colloquia in Eastern Europe, namely Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, helping the renaissance of sociology in countries where it had lapsed during the communist regime. Given a shortage of funds and personnel, AISLF provided an important stimulus in those and in “Third World “ countries. Thus, AISLF has been on the same wave length as ISA in the globalization of sociology.

There are some observable differences between AISLF, ISA, and ASA congresses that I have noticed over the years. All three are of course meetings of professionals, committed to scientific integrity. ASA is highly structured at both its general sessions and at its section sessions. Papers are screened before acceptance, so the quality is uniformly good. ISA is very inclusive and because of its large size, its meetings are scattered over several buildings; the more serious work is done by research committees which may have their own, smaller meetings. AISLF, under the leadership of Christian Lalive d’Epinay when he was president (1985-88), borrowed many organizational ideas from ASA and ISA, which helped to modernize the structures of AISLF and increase its membership among younger sociologists.

Still, there has remained in AISLF a strong Gemeinschafliche ambience of fellowship and conviviality, which contrasts with the more business-like ASA atmosphere. Regardless, all the settings and their cultural variety are good for sociologists to meet one another. I have enjoyed my unofficial role as a “missing link” between ISA and AISLf, as I look forward to attending the AISLF congress in Riad, Morocco next month and the ISA congress in Yokohama next year.

Global Express, United States

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