Research Project

    Theoretical Approach

    Research on the Police
    Research on Justice
    Research on Prisons
    Research on Social Work
    Research on the Mental Health System

General Presentation

Consubstantial to the founding project of social sciences, moral issues have long been eclipsed in sociological and even more anthropological research, to the point that the very entry is absent in most dictionaries and encyclopaedias of these disciplines. During the past two decades however, several scientific programs have attempted to explore them from distinct and sometimes opposite perspectives: sociology of ethics (in a hermeneutic vein) and moral sociology (in a pragmatist tradition); ethnography of moralities (interested in local specificities and cultural variations) and anthropology of ethical subjectivities (studying individual reflexivity on moral issues); cognitive and evolutionary approaches in conversation with experimental psychology and moral philosophy (focusing on general principles and universal grammars); studies on the ethics of care and the philosophies of recognition also contributed to this new field.

Despite their important contributions to our understanding of moral issues, these programs generally isolate them from their historical formation and political dimensions. Yet, the way we apprehend and debate moral issues is inscribed in our history and interferes with our way of making policies: the government of the poor and of children, of deviance or of sexuality are illustrations of it, just as isthe recent display of a compassionate rhetoric and humanitarian rationale in the administration of the social question and international conflicts. The program “Towards a Critical Moral Anthropology” attempts to discuss the theoretical issues raised by this approach - referring in particular to the redefined concept of moral economy - and to analyze them empirically through five fieldworks concerning institutions which deal with immigrants and minorities in France – the police, justice, prison, social work and mental health system.