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Sciences sociale Pacifique
Sciences sociale Pacifique

Pacific Launching of the EHESS-Canberra Branch at the ANU (March 16th-17th 2011)

Presentation EHESS

EHESS, Paris
EHESS, Marseille


The EHESS, École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) ( [a national Institute of Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences] holds a distinctive place in the French research environment. It trains doctoral students in all of the disciplines of the human and social sciences (history, anthropology, sociology, economics, geography, linguistics, psychology, demography, the cognitive sciences, political science, philosophy and mathematics).

The EHESS boasts a research strength of 47 research centres, 37 of which are departments run jointly with the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique [National Centre of Scientific Research], but it does not constitute a research establishment along classic lines. Set up in order to provide training in research through the practice of research, its activities are organised around the linkage between its research seminars, its research programmes and finally its publishing activities. At the same time it fosters interdisciplinarity and encourages the cross-fertilisation of inquiry and methodology. This conception of social science research means that the EHESS allocates a special, and central, place to culture areas, and to the active promotion of dialogue between the social sciences and the other sciences (the biological sciences especially) on the one hand, and between the social sciences and creative activities (literary or artistic) on the other.

With 300 Professors and Associate Professors, as well as 500 researchers (mainly from CNRS) currently in its research centres, 450 engineers and technicians, 3,000 enrolled students and a budget of 40 million Euros, the EHESS, equally, has a strong international orientation. It has formal associations with a vast array of universities (69 at this time including with ANU from today) throughout the world (27 countries—but for the first time in Oceania from today), while each year it is host to more than hundred invited foreign professors, and half of its students come from beyond Franceʼs borders. Its ability to attract and support scholars at the doctoral and post-doctoral levels and the number of its researchers who publish actively identify it as one of the principal research hubs for the social sciences in Europe

Historical view: 1868-2011

The EHESS emerged from the transformation, in 1975, of the Sixth Section of lʼÉcole pratique des hautes etudes (EPHE), the “economics and social sciences section”, which was founded in 1947 by Lucien Febvre, Charles Morazé and Fernand Braudel.

EPHE itself (, a national Institute of Advanced Studies for all disciplinary fields, and EHESS, the latter being now autonomous but formerly a part of EPHE, are both what is termed “Grands Etablissements” by the Ministry of Universities and Research. They are tertiary education institutions but they train only postgraduate students (EHESS has now Master and Ph.D programmes; until recently it had only Ph.D). Teaching is not tied to nationally defined programmes, it is mainly through specialized seminars, centred on the professorʼs research. EPHE has been founded in 1868 by Victor Duruy, Minister for Education in the imperial government of Napoleon III, with an explicit view to get some freedom of research from the French Universities “establishment”. To gain a sense of the context of the time: the same Victor Duruy managed for the first time to impose, not without difficulty, secularity in French primary schools and that any town of more than 500 inhabitants would provide a school for girls.

What the 1975 transformation tells us concerns more than just the evolution of a research school. The birth and the development of the EHESS constitutes a significant era in the history of the sciences in France since the end of the Second World War and, more particularly, an essential moment in the construction of the social sciences as a specific epistemological domain and as the site of interdisciplinary exchanges generated by a common subject: “LʼHomme en société”, human kind in all its social contexts.

Furthermore it is a unique development as, notably, the social sciences first clustered around the disciplinary field of history, and history in turn had itself transformed and became part of the field of the social sciences.

This dual character certainly explains the unique character of the institution, but more particularly it can inform us about the endeavour that became its distinctive vocation, one that was dual and complementary, namely the in-depth analysis of the past together with research expressly oriented to the understanding of the modern world.

Since the 1950s, the setting up of research programmes bearing on “culture areas”, at the instigation of Fernand Braudel and Clemens Heller, illustrates these major orientations very clearly. These programmes applied themselves to studying the modern world via a division based on great areas of civilisation, bypassing the classical specialisations that traditionally divided these “areas” up. A tribute paid to history according to Braudel, the programmes had, as originally conceived, to take account of the concepts of “mouvement profond” and “longue durée” (thick social evolution and analysis of socio-cultural change viewed within a long historical time depth) that constitute social reality. Fostering comparative studies in the best sense of the word, they also corresponded inherently to the major theoretical orientations that had presided at the creation of the Sixth Section of the EPHE: the multidimensionality of historical times and transformations and the dividing up of geographical spaces as the means of grasping social reality.

This model remained neither fixed nor untouchable and debate about it represented a watershed in the social sciences and a significant evolution in the history of the new Ecole des Hautes études en sciences sociales, it was a “critical turning point” for the Ecole.

There were a number of reasons for this reorientation. On the one hand major research investigations conducted world-wide across different societies and cultures were in a state of relative decline, and especially given the fact that the interdisciplinary landscape did not necessarily encourage the effective practice of interdisciplinary. On the other hand there was the progressive disappearance of the great interpretive frameworks that up until then had served to unify the themes and methodologies of research. It was necessary to rethink this model specific to the EHESS, in conjunction with the other aspect of its main aim, namely its interest in the modern world. There, too, the position of history in relation to the social sciences and as a social science served to drive a process of reconsideration and reflection.

This process resulted in a new interdisciplinary approach being put in place, one based more on the specificities and the differences of each discipline: it combined the testing of general interpretive models with a critique of the effects of the methodological watering down that interdisciplinary had tended to produce within each discipline.

The EHESS might be defined, to conclude this brief presentation, as an institution whose impetus, from the outset, has been to make what has been called—and continues to be called—the “crisis” of the human and social sciences the subject of its own reflection and the site of the renewal of the subjects of research and the fields of research of these sciences.

Adapted from:
Adapted from :


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