Dominique Schnapper

2002 Balzan Prize for Sociology

For her wide-ranging work analysing the different ways in which modern societies have developed, from the sociology of culture to the sociology of administration, and in particular the problems of social integration and the relationship between citizens and the State.

Dominique Schnapper’s work covers a wide-ranging social area. Her works on Italian cultural models and political behaviour, on the aesthetic ambitions and social aspirations of contemporary societies have unexpected ramifications for her research on France’s great administrative institutions, on the nature of labour itself as well as on unemployment at a time of crisis for the Fiscal State.
Since the late eighties, Dominique Schnapper has studied the problems of integration at a time of large mass migrations. To start with, she considers how such migrations are changing the meaning of integration where political conflicts have had to make way for economic activities. Nowadays, European countries are attractive in that they can offer work opportunities and welfare systems. Under these circumstances national identities fade and tend to speak only the language of private interests.
In La communauté des citoyens. Sur l’idée moderne de Nation (1994) [The Community of Citizens. On the Modern Idea of Nationality, 1998] Dominique Schnapper analyses the logic of the construction and functioning of the modern Nation, whose ambition so far has been to integrate different peoples through a systematic, hitherto unfinished process and to transcend – thanks to an abstract idea of citizenship – particular identities, whether they be religious, social or ethnic.
Our lifetime has seen the weakening of civic duty, of political and social ties and of the very idea of Nation and Democracy. This has taken place under the impetus of the globalisation of economic exchanges and the concentration of society on the production and apportioning of wealth, witnessing at the same time the steady encroaching of economics on politics.

Since the founding political project has become ethnicised, or linked to a tradition of identity, the underlying motivation of present-day democracies is merely a passion for producing and consuming. Homo oeconomicus has taken the lead over homo politicus just as private interests have taken the lead over a sense of public belonging. Neither the construction of Europe nor resistance to this very same process have created public enthusiasm about anything except economic interests. The patriotism of our democracies is only mobilised when action is needed to protect the standard of living of their inhabitants. Hostility in the face of immigration owes much of its virulence to an unwillingness to share the bounty of welfare benefits.
The tradition of European democracy, faithful to its universalistic principles, is led to profess a generalised cultural relativism which manifests itself in a refusal to pass judgment on civilisations other than European, or to affirm their intrinsic equality. This results in Europe paradoxically recognising the status of societies that allow intolerance and exclusion, the very faults Europe condemns. This paradox is the disease of modernity. Universalism and differentialism are opposites, but can at the same time support each other in their perverse game.
The modern Nation is historically indivisible from universal and rational democracy. It appeals to the rational side of human nature. A Nation demands compassion, devotion and love. A democracy does not meet these requirements. We cannot live without them or without ultimately giving some sort of meaning to our life. We must find a civilised way of being passionate. Only a civic sense of duty can reconcile these opposites and legitimise the modern Nation.
In La relation à l’autre. Au cœur de la pensée sociologique [Relationships with the Other. At the heart of sociological thought] (1998), Dominique Schnapper tries answering the following questions: how can we establish or restore social ties in societies founded on the sovereignty of the individual when religion no longer binds people among themselves and citizenship is no longer the principle of political legitimacy, the source of the social bond? Who is the Other in our societies and how can we recognise him as the Other with his otherness while at the same time seeing him as a subject having our same rights? If the principle of citizenship is at the base of the political legitimacy of modern democratic Nations as well as at the root of social ties, what are the effects and limitations on our relations to the Other?
To these questions Dominique Schnapper gives answers based on her theory of interethnic relations: a new national identity needs to be elaborated – a more open one which rejects the cultural essentialism on which community interpretations are based, or an identity which roots itself in the universalistic political principle constituting the citizenship on which social bonds are founded.

In the last book she published, La démocratie providentielle. Essai sur l’égalité contemporaine [Providential democracy. An essay on contemporary equality] (2002), Dominique Schnapper shows how the State is now present in all social sectors, benefiting all groups at their request. Since 1945 we have moved from rights-freedoms to rights-credits, from rights which release individuals from the fetters hampering their freedom of action to rights guaranteeing them material comforts, security against the uncertainties of the economic cycle, hence happiness. As a result State intervention encourages equality of conditions for its citizens and not just equality of opportunity. Such interventions are not universal, in accordance with the principle of formal equality among citizens. Their aim, instead, is to solve a plethora of individual or class cases. Formal equality gives way to real equity. Present-day egalitarianism leads to particularisation and ethnicisation. The trend towards more equality tends to transform citizens into mere holders of rights to the detriment of the republican bond. Politics turns into management and citizens are led to move away from nationality. After that, how can we live together if we are but a sum of individuals? Could a sort of European constitutional patriotism offer a remedy to such predicaments? And in any case, is there a political will to offer such a remedy?

The works of this eminent European Sociologist  always cast an eye back to the founding fathers of historical sociology. More specifically, they are direct descendants of Tocqueville. By reaffirming the primacy of the political over the economic and the social, Dominique Schnapper is less concerned with laying down a general theory of society than with promoting our understanding of Europe’s historic societies.
Study after study, book after book, Dominique Schnapper has created an original body of work opening up novel views onto historical and social studies while avoiding the hostile accusations or ideological condescension so common to the debate on the problem of integration and immigration, whether in the context of scientism or academic rhetoric.

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