Luc Boltanski

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Luc Boltanski (born 4 January 1940) is a French sociologist, Professor at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences, Paris, and founder of the Groupe de Sociologie Politique et Morale, known as the leading figure in the new "pragmatic" school of French sociology.[1] His work has significantly influenced sociology, political economy and social history.


Boltanski contributed to the start of the "political and moral sociology" framework. Political and moral sociology has gradually developed as a research programme—in the sense proposed by Imre Lakatos—around a conceptual nucleus looking to construct a theory of action based on Émile Durkheim's theory of moral fact, revising the inheritance of ‘methodological structuralism’ from the point of view of dynamics and processes. The research program stresses how, in many conflicts, the characteristics of the disputants change during the course of the conflict. This work has influenced research on civic culture within and beyond French sociology.[2][3][4][5][6]

Boltanski's most recent work deals with the links between detective novels and the emergence of the nation state.[7]

On Justification[edit]

A book co-authored with Laurent Thévenot, On Justification: The Economies of Worth, 2006 (French original: 1991), argues that modern societies are not a single social order but an interweaving of multiple orders. Boltanski and Thévenot identify six "orders of worth" or "economies of worth," systematic and coherent principles of evaluation. These multiple orders (civic, market, inspired, fame, industrial, and domestic) are not associated with particular social domains but coexist in the same social space—as Boltanski and Thévenot persuasively demonstrate through a content analysis of texts used in managerial training in contemporary French corporations.

Central to On Justification is the notion of "test" to indicate forms of conflict among the actors with a variable degree of legitimacy (chap. 5). If the experiences following one another in conflict processes are legitimate, they firmly bind actors to claim the universality of their reasoning in accord with the order of worth they refer to. If, however, the agents in conflict refer to different order of worth (e.g. to that of the civic polity and to that of the industrial polity), legitimate tests are not available. But if the agents are nevertheless oriented towards a notion of the common good (which belongs to neither of the conflicting polities), an (albeit fragile) "compromise" may evolve to settle the dispute (chap. 10). The notion of workers' rights is an example of such a compromise between the industrial and the civic orders (p. 325). These compromises are always fragile because attempts to define the common good, on which the compromise rests, are bound to re-ignite the conflict (p. 278).

The New Spirit of Capitalism[edit]

The New Spirit of Capitalism, 2005 (French original: 1999), co-authored with Ève Chiapello, explores a seventh "projective city"[8] (organized around the concept of flexible networks now prominent in the conception of "the project"). While On Justification was based on an analysis of major texts of political philosophy, this book is based on a systematic analysis of managerial literature from the 1960s and 1990s and aims "to describe the 'residue', which cannot be interpreted in the language of the six existing cities" (p. 24).

The Enrichment Economy[edit]

By ‘enrichment economy’, Boltanski and Esquerre (2014, 2016) designate a development of capitalism based on tourism, luxury, art and heritage. The term ‘enrichment’ does not refer to the growth of private fortunes, but rather to the processes that increase the value of objects. Boltanski and Esquerre define value as the justification for price. Any object can be enriched, however ancient or modern it is, and the enrichment can be physical or cultural, through the use of a narrative device. At the heart of this ‘enrichment economy’ is the ‘collection form’, which makes room in the capitalist cosmos for increasing the value of things from the past and things that, though they may be recent, are treated as if they were destined to become immortal.

Selected publications[edit]

  • Boltanski, L., Thévenot, L. 1983, "Finding One's Way in Social Space : A Study based on Games", Social Science Information, 22 (4-5), p. 631-680.
  • Boltanski, L., 1987 [1982], The Making of a Class. Cadres in French Society, Cambridge (UK), Cambridge University Press.
  • Boltanski, L., 1999, Distant Suffering: Morality, Media and Politics, Cambridge (UK), Cambridge University Press.
  • Boltanski, L., Thévenot, L., 1999, "The Sociology of Critical Capacity", European Journal of Social Theory, vol. 2, n° 3, August, p. 359-378.
  • Boltanski, L., 2000, "The Legitimacy of Humanitarian Actions and Their Media Representation: the Case of France", Ethical Perspectives, vol.7, n° 1, p. 3-16.
  • Boltanski, L., Thévenot, L., 2000, "The reality of moral expectations: a sociology of situated judgment", Philosophical Explorations, vol. III, n° 1.
  • Boltanski, L., Chiapello È., Ross G., Piore M. J., Reid D., Kogut B., 2000, "Forum: Le Nouvel Esprit du capitalisme", French Politics, Culture & Society, vol. 18, n° 3, Fall.
  • Boltanski, L. 2002, "The Left After May 1968 and the Longing for Total Revolution", Thesis Eleven, 69: 1–20.
  • Boltanski, L., Chiapello (Ève), 2005 [1999],The New Spirit of Capitalism, London-New York, Verso, 2005.
  • Boltanski, L., Chiapello (Ève), 2005, "The Role of criticism in the dynamics of capitalism", in: Worlds of Capitalism: Institutions, Economics, Performance and Governance in the Era of Globalisation, Max Miller (Ed), London, Routledge.
  • Boltanski, L., Thévenot, L., 2006 [1991], On Justification. The Economies of Worth, Princeton, Princeton University Press.
  • Boltanski, L., Nuits, Lyon, ENS Editions, 2008. Note du metteur en scène, Guillaume Pfister. Première création française : avril-mai 2008 au Théâtre Kantor (Lyon) - l'Ecole Normale Supérieure Lettres et Sciences Humaines.
  • Boltanski, L., 2011 [2009], On Critique - a Sociology of Emancipation, Cambridge (UK), Polity Press.
  • Boltanski, L., 2012 [1990], Love and Justice as Competences - Three Essays on the Sociology of Action (translated by Catherine Porter), Cambridge (UK), Polity Press.
  • Boltanski, L., 2014 [2012], Mysteries and Conspiracies - Detective Stories, Spy Novels and the Making of Modern Societies (translated by Catherine Porter), Cambridge (UK), Polity Press.
  • Boltanski, L., Fraser (Nancy), Corcuff (Philippe), 2014, Domination et émancipation. Pour un renouveau de la critique sociale, Lyon, Presses Universitaires de Lyon.
  • Boltanski, L., Esquerre A., 2014, "La « collection », une forme neuve du capitalisme. La mise en valeur économique du passé et ses effets" (""Collection", a New Form of Capitalism"), Les Temps Modernes, 3/2014 (n°679), p. 5-72.
  • Boltanski, L., Esquerre A., 2016, "The Economic Life of Things", New Left Review (98) : 31-54.


  1. ^ Groupe de Sociologie Politique et Morale web site
  2. ^ Levi, Ron; Sendroiu, Ioana (December 2018). "Moral claims and redress after atrocity: Economies of worth across political cultures in the Holocaust Swiss banks litigation". Poetics. 73: 45–60. doi:10.1016/j.poetic.2018.11.006. S2CID 149467455.
  3. ^ Lichterman, Paul; Eliasoph, Nina (November 2014). "Civic Action". American Journal of Sociology. 120 (3): 798–863. doi:10.1086/679189. S2CID 145032044.
  4. ^ Shai M. Dromi; Eva Illouz (2010). "Recovering Morality: Pragmatic Sociology and Literary Studies". New Literary History. 41 (2): 351–369. doi:10.1353/nlh.2010.0004. S2CID 145475223.
  5. ^ Cohen, Andrew C.; Dromi, Shai M. (15 February 2018). "Advertising morality: maintaining moral worth in a stigmatized profession". Theory and Society. 47 (2): 175–206. doi:10.1007/s11186-018-9309-7. S2CID 255009394.
  6. ^ Dromi, Shai M.; Stabler, Samuel D. (18 February 2019). "Good on paper: sociological critique, pragmatism, and secularization theory". Theory and Society. 48 (2): 325–350. doi:10.1007/s11186-019-09341-9. S2CID 255014542.
  7. ^ cf « Une étude en noir », Tracés, n°20 et Enigmes et complots : Une enquête à propos d'enquêtes, Gallimard, 2011.
  8. ^ The French term cité has apparently been translated differently in On Justification (polity) and The New Spirit of Capitalism. (city)

Further reading[edit]