CESSP - Centre européen de sociologie et de science politique


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mis à jour le 29 juillet 2015

Because the CESSP firmly believes in the interaction of all subfields of the social sciences, its current research programs cover a large range of topics : globalization, European construction, public policies, political parties, social stratification, social protection programs, social movements, elites, intellectuals, gender, forms of knowledge, culture, media and markets.

The European Centre for Sociology and Political Science (CESSP) is attached to University of Paris I-Panthéon-Sorbonne, the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) and the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS). The CESSP is also a member of the Fondation Maison des sciences de l’homme (FMSH). There are currently 60 full-time members (50 scholars), 40 affiliated members, 18 foreign correspondents, and 200 PHD students. The center has a large international network and is developing partnerships with other research groups around the world. It also hosts a number of visiting scholars, post-docs and foreign PHD-students.


Set up in 2010, the CESSP grew out of the merger of two former research centres, each having a strong historical identity : the Centre for European Sociology (CSE) and the Sorbonne Political Research Centre (CRPS).

The CSE, which was long directed by Pierre Bourdieu, is characterised by a relational and structural theoretical approach, which differs from both methodological individualism and interactionism. It is also distinguished by the research practices of its members, which make cumulativity possible, as well as comparison of a variety of objects (such as politics, the media, science, cultural production), through which the concepts are in turn challenged and redesigned (for example, the issue of the national borders of fields, or the European scale). Focused in the past on education and culture, these objects have indeed been gradually diversified (sociology of the state, of politics, of the media, of the economy and of work) and, starting in the 1990s, internationalised, taking into account the renewal of the social science though issues such as gender, postcolonialism and transnationalism.

Founded by Jacques Lagroye, the CRPS has developed a form of political sociology that also stands apart from both political philosophy and the analysis of election results by taking as its objects of study political institutions, politics as a profession, social movements and more recently, political parties and trade unions, the sociology of administration and of decision making, participation procedures (‘participatory democracy’), European integration, and gender in politics.

Beyond their common objects, the merger of the two former centres was also based on theoretical questions and a methodological approach, designed as inseparable. All CESSP members share a unified conception of the social sciences,which does not separate the study of discourse and practices from the institutions and agents that generate them, and combines historical sociology (a specialisation they helped to renew) with an ethnographic approach, quantitative methods (prosopography, multiple correspondence analysis and network analysis) and qualitative ones.The intersection of sociology and political science has contributed strongly to the work of constituting the social science of politics. Analysis of supranational and transnational levels, which was strongly developed in the recent period, articulates a comparative approach with the study of transfers or international exchanges, reintegrated into an analysis of the geopolitical and cultural balance of power.

The CESSP is therefore characterised by an approach that is at the same time multi-,
inter- and trans-disciplinary to globalisation, internationalisation processes, European
integration, markets, institutions, political parties, social movements, social stratification, gender, knowledge (especially in the humanities and social sciences), cultural production (literature, film and music), the media and the international circulation of symbolic goods.

Cutting across disciplines is not limited to sociology and political science ; it also involves, depending on the object of study, law, history, anthropology, economics, communication sciences, philosophy, literary studies, translation studies. An interdisciplinary dialogue that can be observed in the methods, in the collaborations and in the reception of the work conducted by the members of the CESSP.

Finally, the CESSP enjoys an international influence that has deepened in the last
years thanks to the international partnerships with universities abroad, the participation in European projects, the organisation of international conferences and the recruitment of new researchers, who have helped to expand its networks throughout the world.


The work of the CESSP focuses primarily on renewing our knowledge of the social
world and of its transformations around four themes :

1/ Going Global ? Internationalisation and Europeanisation Processes

Phenomena such as globalisation and internationalisation strategies in various fields –
education, culture, activism, etc. – and European integration are not treated as a given but as processes that are the result of the action of social agents (individuals and institutions) driven by specific interests, the particular logic of which needs to be extracted ; these processes may also be facing obstacles, inertia or conflict-generating opposition.This approach intends to underscore two interwoven aspects. On the one hand, the well-situated nature of globalisation ideologies, which present globalisation as a new and inevitable process even though it has its roots in interests converging to put it forward and define it to the benefit of certain social groups. Rather than reaffirming the globalisation prophecy, CESSP researchers intend to contextualise the globalisation discourse. On the other hand, the fact that relating to the international arena posited by globalisation encourages a whole range of strategies developed by agents for their ‘passage’ into the global and international arena, which they see as a condition for the perpetuation or restoration of their positions, and for some of them, for their social and/or political domination. This point opens a research programme on the various forms of international investment and on the means to grasp these strategies. It is important however, while taking seriously certain social actors’ internalisation of this need for internationalisation, not to think of the international arena as a clearly delineated space or ‘level’, but also to consider the salience of ‘the international’ in ordinary social routines.

This approach has been implemented in several collective surveys : on jurists in Europe, on the World Social Forum in Dakar, on advocacy, on the internationalisation of education systems, on the circulation of translations of literature and social-science books. These different surveys raise a series of methodological questions, which will be covered in a handbook of the social sciences of international phenomena in order to structure this field of research.

2 / Power- and Domination-based Relationships

Power- and domination-based relationships are generators of social inequalities, which they help to perpetuate : class inequalities (taking into account not only economic, but also cultural, social and symbolic capital), gender inequalities (apprehended not only as a variable, but through the process of ‘gender’ assignation), generation inequalities (with the need to study the forms of socialisation) and ethnic-group inequalities (made of racialisation processes) or any other form of differentiation.
Here again, these differences are not, as is too often the case, considered as a given but as the result of social relationships that should be studied as such by taking into account the structuring role of institutions (political, social, educational, cultural and religious) and the way in which individuals internalise or fight against the categorisation imposed on them, as well as the competitive struggles among social groups, professionals or other, and within them. A number of studies are thus focused on the modes of supervision of the working classes : they look at the ways domination is exercised by studying trades specialising in maintaining social or family order, in particular in institutions responsible for implementing the law (police, justice, prison). This also makes it possible to examine the issue of modes of dissemination and appropriation of the ‘security’ theme, which has become a major political issue since the early 1980s. Counter to the trend of relativising the importance of social classes to the benefit of other variables (ethnic, generational, identity or individual), the researchers attached to this line of work have put them at the core of their analysis in a context marked by growing inequalities. The mechanisms through which the differences in cultural and/or economic capital continue to draw objective boundaries in the social arena were the subject of two issues of Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales in 2011 and 2012 in order to understand the current reconstitutions in social classes : ‘Le pouvoir économique’ (economic power) and ‘Légitimités culturelles’ (cultural legitimacies). The formation and reproduction of economic, political and cultural elites are at the core of the questions on inequalities. A large-scale quantitative survey is thus conducted on the transformations of the power elites in France. As for the political elites, the CESSP was a partner of the European project INTUNE (Integrated and United ? A Quest for Citizenship in an ‘Ever Closer Europe’), funded by the European Commission under FP6. Some of the projects of this line of work are conducted in collaboration with researchers from abroad, including a partnership with Columbia University on the sociology of elites, and a project funded by the Norwegian National Research Foundation.

3/ The Economy of Symbolic Goods : Production, Circulation, Appropriation

Representations, opinions and symbolic forms are also apprehended through the process by which they are produced, disseminated and appropriated by individuals and institutions according to specific logics that cannot be reduced to rational interest. In turn, these representations, opinions and symbolic forms have social effects. They can strengthen
the established order or have an anti-establishment effect and contribute to evolutions or changes in the prevailing perception patterns. Production of consent is at the core of these processes and is the subject of special attention through procedures aimed at promoting political participation and the role of the media.
On the production side, the studies are on the current transformations of cultural industries as a result of concentration (book, press or film), and on evolutions in the division of labour, be it in artistic creation (including film) or in the media.The legal dimension is the subject of close attention through the conditions for freedom of expression or copyright.
On the circulation side, the process of legitimation, development and appropriation of symbolic goods are at the core of several studies : on classical-music audiences in the Île-de-France region, under a PICRI (Partnerships of Institutions and Citizens for Research and Innovation) contract ; on film and literature festivals (survey on the public of the Les Correspondances festival in Manosque). Studying classical-music audiences or festival audiences makes it possible to examine the ‘democratisation’ of access to culture while analysing exclusion effects. Internationalisation strategies are accordingly examined from the standpoint of development, with work on the circulation of translations of works of literature and on the investments and support policies of which they are the subject.

The international symposium ‘30 ans après La Distinction’ (30 years after Distinction), co-organised by the CESSP and the OSC (Sociological Observatory of Change), which was attended by about 200 researchers from France and from 16 other countries, made it possible to update the issues involved in cultural practices. A partnership has also been engaged with the University of Chicago on the transformations of the literary field (sixteenth to twenty-first century).

4/ Historical Sociology of Science : Modernisation, Internationalisation, Dependency

This line of work first aims to contribute to the renewal of science studies by firmly anchoring the analysis of scientific practices and their developments in their social, political and economic environment. At the same time, it aims to develop social-science studies as a field of research in its own right. Knowledge is addressed according to the same principles as opinions are : conditions of production, of circulation and of ownership (social uses of knowledge).

The European collaborative INTERnational COoperation in the SSH project,Comparative Socio-Historical Perspectives and Future Possibilities (INTERCO-SSH), conducted by the CESSP under FP7 in partnership with six institutions abroad (Cambridge University, University of Bologna, University of Graz, Erasmus University of Rotterdam, Wesley Theological College and the CONICET [national Argentine research centre]) has undertaken a large-scale comparative study in six European countries (Germany, Great Britain, France, Hungary, Italy and the Netherlands) and their relations with the United States, Latin America (Argentina and Brazil in particular) and the countries of the South (Algeria in particular).There are three perspectives : 1) the institutionalisation of the disciplines of the humanities and of social sciences in Europe since 1945 ; 2) exchanges across countries and across disciplines (exchange programmes, movement of persons, translations, international coauthorship) ; 3) the international circulation of paradigms, theories and controversies (the logics of their import, modalities oftheir reception). Particular study will be devoted to the boundaries between the social sciences, humanities, cognitive sciences and natural sciences.

The work also conducted by the CESSP on the transformations of the medical field since 1945 will make it possible to explore areas of intersection with the humanities and the social sciences, especially around knowledge on childhood. The CESSP is also actively participating in the project for an encyclopaedia of the social sciences of politics as part of the Labex TEPSIS.


The different research themes of the CESSP will feed the interdisciplinary dialog within the Labex TEPSIS [Transformations de l’État, Politisation des sociétés, Institution du social – Transformations of the State, the Politicisation of Societies, Institution of the Social] and help structure the field of ‘social science of politics’. A founding member of TEPSIS, the CESSP will contribute to its research programme by studying governance and regulation in the contexts of globalization and of European construction. How do globalization and European construction affect the functioning of the State, national identities and international relations between European countries and with other countries, namely in Africa ? Who are the actors of supranational policies ? Is there an international or a European power elite or is the power elite still defined nationally ? Where are these elites trained ? Along with the study of professionals of politics at the local, national and international or transnational levels, the CESSP will develop its research program on international social movements (for example the anti-globalization movement) and on the construction of a European public sphere.

The Labex TEPSIS opens opportunities for funding dissertations and for the recruitment of post-doctoral researchers who will support the team’s project. It offers a framework for interdisciplinary dialog and opportunities for developing regular exchanges with the other research centres affiliated with the Labex within the PRES héSam (higher learning research hub).


The CESSP is backed up by three doctoral schools : the École doctorale de sciences sociales (EHESS) ; the École doctorale de science politique (political science) of the University of Paris I-Panthéon-Sorbonne ; and, secondarily, the Sorbonne’s École doctorale d’économie (economics). In June 2012, the CESSP had 200 registered PhD students : 140 at the doctoral school of political sciences at University of Paris I-Panthéon-Sorbonne (including 6 under joint international supervision) ; 4 in that of economics ; 56 at the EHESS (including 4 under joint international supervision). PhD students are integrated into the Centre’s research programmes, they are invited to the Centre’s cross-cutting research seminar and to training workshops, they follow various seminars offered at the Sorbonne or at the EHESS.

The CESSP is also backed up by three master’s training curricula : the Sociology Department at the EHESS, the master’s degree in Political Science at the Sorbonne and the Department of Economics at the University of Paris I. The Department of Political Science offers three master’s degrees in research (Sociology and Political Institutions ; International Relations ; and African Studies) ; a fourth, on European Institutions, is currently being developed.The department also has three professional master’s specialisations (International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Development Policies ; Political and Social Communication ; and Public Affairs, with four sub-specialisations : Policy Administration / European Governance / Consultation Engineering / Political Communication and Local Organisation ; and Journalism, in collaboration with the CFJ school of journalism). Several members of the CESSP are also involved in the development of a professional ‘Head of Economic and Social Studies’ master’s degree in the Department of Economics. Although the master’s degree in Sociology of the EHESS focuses mainly on research, the students under supervision of CESSP members are also encouraged to acquire work experience (such as translation, internships in the publishing world, internships at UNESCO).