Theory of mediation

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The theory of mediation, which is the principal referent of the research group of the Interdisciplinary Laboratory for Language Research (L.I.R.L.), is a theoretic model developed at Rennes (France) since the 1960' by Professor Jean Gagnepain, linguist and epistemologist. This model, whose principles Jean Gagnepain has methodically set forth in his three volume study On Meaning (Du Vouloir Dire),[1][2] covers the whole field of the human sciences. One essential feature of the theory is that it seeks to find a kind of experimental verification of its theorems in the clinic of psychopathology. For this reason, the theory presents itself as a "clinical anthropology".

The theoretic model developed by Gagnepain and his research group at Rennes has inspired the work of professors and researchers in a number of European countries and in the United States in a wide variety of disciplinary fields, among them linguistics, literature, psychology, art history, archeology, psychoanalysis, theology. Its aim is deliberately trans-disciplinary - or, as Gagnepain humorously puts it, the theory of mediation cultivates "in-discipline".

A theory of culture[edit]

This model, originally developed with respect to language, today takes for its object the entirety of what is called "the cultural", that is, the dimension that specifies human beings and distinguishes them from other living species. In other words, "the cultural" constitutes the specific order of reality in which only human beings participate. It is the cultural order that permits human beings, while remaining natural beings, to constantly transcend their natural being in abstracting themselves from it.

The theory of mediation understands the cultural order - more simply, culture - not as the totality of the essential works of a society, nor as the general state of a given civilization, but as the ensemble of properly human capacities which, absent pathological conditions, all human beings share regardless of their historical epoch or geographical setting. For the theory of mediation, culture and reason - the "rationality" which philosophers have discussed for centuries - are identical. The human sciences, understood as the theory of mediation understands them, take up in their own distinctive fashion the questions which philosophy has treated only speculatively.

A clinical anthropology[edit]

Gagnepain's work shows, on the basis of what the clinic forces us to recognize, that human reason is diffracted. In other words, rationality in human beings has several different forms which the clinic requires us to dissociate. Reason is logical, to be sure, but it is equally and just as fundamentally technical, ethnical, and ethical. There is no hierarchy among these different "planes" or "levels" of rationality that constitute psychic life.

On each of these planes or levels, human being mediate their relations to the world and others (thus the term "mediation"). Unlike the other animals, human beings are not limited to what their immediate physiological capacities allow them to grasp. They can stand back from, or take a distance from, their natural insertion in the world and can elaborate those cultural mediations that are constitutive of a properly human reality.

In Kantian terms, it is a question of passing from a description of an already constituted reason to an explanation of a constituting reason. It is a question, therefore, of accounting for that in human beings which, without their knowing it, makes them capable of posing the world - and of posing it not only in one way, by knowing it, as the traditional analysis holds, but in four different ways on the basis of four different capacities.

To be sure, human beings manifest the world in and across the words they speak : with them, they designate the world and explain it to themselves. In so doing, they realize their logical capacity. Human beings also manifest the world in and across their tools : with them, they fabricate the world and, in doing so, they realize their technical capacity. Human beings likewise manifest the world in originating their histories and societies, realizations not of their logical or their technical capacities but of their ethnic capacity. Finally, human beings manifest the world in the norms and regulations to which they submit their desires. Here is it question of their ethical capacity.

The possible autonomisation of the four planes (or levels or modes) of our rationality is revealed by the clinic. Although "normally" the four modes of our rationality function together in such a way that it is hardly possible to distinguish them, pathologically it does become possible to distinguish them, as, for example, when one mode of rationality ceases to function in an afflicted person whereas the others continue to do so. Each plane of rationality has its specific pathology. The pathology specific to the logical plane is aphasia; the pathology specific to the technical plane is atechnia ; the pathology specific to the ethnical plane is psychosis (and perversion) ; the pathology specific to the ethical plane is neurosis (and psychopathic conditions).

In other words, pathology dissociates what normally cannot be distinguished and puts into evidence processes otherwise unseen. In this way, as Freud recognized, pathology provides a veritable analysis, that is, a breakdown, of the human psyche.[3] Gagnepain therefore makes it a methodological rule "to admit or to impute to a system only those dissociations that are pathologically verifiable."


  1. ^ Jean Gagnepain Jean, Du Vouloir Dire I, Bruxelles, De Boeck, 1990
  2. ^ Jean Gagnepain Jean, Du Vouloir Dire II, Bruxelles, De Boeck, 1991
  3. ^ "On the other hand, we are familiar with the notion that pathology, by making things larger and coarser, can draw our attention to normal conditions which would otherwise have escaped us. Where it points to a breach or a rent, there may normally be an articulation present. If we throw a crystal to the floor, it breaks; but not into haphazard pieces. It comes apart along its lines of cleavage into fragments whose boundaries, though they were invisible, were predetermined by the crystal’s structure. Mental patients are split and broken structures of this same kind. [...] They have turned away from external reality, but for that very reason they know more about internal, psychical reality and can reveal a number of things to us that would otherwise be inaccessible to us." (S. Freund, New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, lecture XXXI, 1933)

External links[edit]

Bibliography and Resources[edit]

  • Gagnepain Jean (1990). Du Vouloir Dire I, Bruxelles, De Boeck. (in French)
  • Gagnepain Jean (1991). Du Vouloir Dire II, Bruxelles, De Boeck. (in French)
  • Gagnepain Jean (1994). Introductory Lessons to the Theory of Mediation (in french), Louvain, Peeters. A new corrected edition can be downloaded, under a new title, from the website of the Jean Gagnepain Institute : Eight Introductory Lessons on the Theory of Mediation (in french) (This numeric edition is now the reference edition).
  • Le Débat 2006/3 (n° 140). has published a special issue on the theory of mediation (in French).
  • Acts of the First International Colloquium of Clinical Anthropology, Anthropo-logiques 2 Louvain-La-Neuve, Peeters, 1989. (in French).
  • Brackelaire Jean-Luc (1995). La personne et la société. Principes et changements de l'identité et de la responsabilité, Bruxelles, De Boeck. (in French)
  • Dartiguenave Jean-Yves (2010). Pour une sociologie du travail social, Rennes, Presses Universitaires de Rennes. ISBN 978-2-7535-1168-2 (in French)
  • Dartiguenave Jean-Yves et Garnier Jean-François (2008). Un savoir de référence pour le travail social, Toulouse, Érès. ISBN 978-2-7492-0883-1 (in French)
  • Ewens Thomas (1997). « The Human Sciences in Question: Lonergan and Gagnepain », Method. Journal of Lonergan Studies, Volume 15, Number 1, Spring 1997. Available on LonerganResource
  • Ewens Thomas (1994). « Rethinking the Question of Quality in Arts », Arts Education Policy Review, Volume 96, Issue 2.
  • Ewens Thomas (1993). « Gramarye: or the Theory of Mediation and the Idea of the University », in Ed Block Jr. (Ed.), Ideas for the University: Proceedings of Marquette University's Mission Seminar and Conference, Milwaukee (WI), Marquette University Press, 1995. ISBN 978-0-8746-2002-3
  • Ewens Thomas (1992). « Human Sciences and Art Education: The Theory of Mediation », Design For Arts in Education, Volume 93, Issue 6 (now Arts Education Policy Review). ISSN 1063-2913 (Print), ISSN 1940-4395 (Online)
  • Guyard Hubert (2009). La plainte douloureuse, Rennes, Presses Universitaires de Rennes. ISBN 978-2-7535-0969-6 (in French).
  • Le Bot Jean-Michel (2013), The Social Bond and the Person. Toward a Clinical Sociology, English translation of a condensed and slightly modified version of a book first published in French under the title Le lien social et la personne. Pour une sociologie clinique, Rennes, Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2010. ISBN 978-2-7535-1210-8.
  • Le Bot, J.-M., De Guibert, C., Beaud, L. and Gaborieau P. (2012). Clinical Anthropology and Animal Language, English translation of a paper first published in Études Rurales, 2012/1, n° 189, p. 75-90.
  • Le Gall Didier (1998). Des apraxies aux atechnies, Bruxelles, De Boeck (in French).
  • Meurant Laurence (2008). Le regard en langue des signes – Anaphore en langue des signes française de Belgique (LSFB) : morphologie, syntaxe, énonciation, Presses universitaires de Namur et Presses universitaires de Rennes. ISBN 978-2-87037-588-4 (in French).
  • Osiurak, F., Jarry, C., & Le Gall, D. (2011). Re-examining the gesture engram hypothesis. New perspectives on apraxia of tool use. Neuropsychologia, Volume 49, Issue 3, p. 299-312. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2010.12.041
  • Osiurak, F., Jarry, C., & Le Gall, D. (2010). Grasping the affordances. Understanding the reasoning. Toward a dialectical theory of human tool use. Psychological Review, Volume 117, Issue 2, p. 517-540. DOI: 10.1037/a0019004
  • Osiurak, F., Jarry, C., Allain, P., Aubin, G., Etcharry-Bouyx, F., Richard, I., Bernard, I., & Le Gall, D. (2009). Unusual Use of objects after unilateral brain damage. The technical reasoning model. Cortex, Volume 45, Issue 6, p. 769-783. DOI: 10.1016/j.cortex.2008.06.013
  • Quentel Jean-Claude (2007). Les fondements des sciences humaines, Toulouse, Erès. ISBN 978-2-7492-0772-8 (in French).
  • Sabouraud Olivier (1995). Le langage et ses maux, Paris, Odile Jacob. ISBN 978-2-7381-0299-7 (in French)
  • Schotte Jean-Claude (1997). La raison éclatée, Bruxelles, De Boeck. ISBN 2-8041-2625-0 / FR (in French)

Further reading[edit]