Reflections on the progressive institutionalization of “SHS” since 1945

Olivier Orain will speak on Thursday, March 31, 2022 as part of the Geography and Social Sciences seminar led by Marie-Vic Ozouf-Marignier and Nicolas Verdier.

EHESS-Condorcet building, Room 50,
2 cours des humanités 93300 Aubervilliers


In 2022, it seems relatively common to consider geography as a “social science”, even if such a perception fluctuates according to places, teaching institutions, and individual trajectories. The objective of my paper would be to look back at the years 1945-1986 in order to reveal a sort of chiasmus: at the time of the Liberation and the Reconstruction, very few geographers were likely to think of their discipline in this way, whereas, conversely, geography was conceived early on as one of the components of the social sciences by various intellectuals or actors in the scientific world.

By the end of the first socialist mandate, in 1986, the situation had almost been reversed: holding geography to be a “social science” had become obvious to many geographers, while the insertion of geographers into networks of social scientists was nothing less than obvious. How to think together these two processes? What can we learn from the progressive institutionalization of a “social science” group in the French academic landscape that would allow us to better understand this cross evolution?

I will organize my remarks around this problematic, starting with a preliminary reflection on the pre-1944 period, then sequencing chronologically the mutations of both the “social sciences” and geography over the period studied. I will rely both on a history of institutions and on period documents.