RIVOAL Isabelle

Regional fields

the Near-East

Thematic fields

religious minorities and the state, social organisation and forms of leadership, construction of politics, categories of young people, social change and uncertainty


Druze, Lebanon, Joumblatt, religious minority

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Walid Joumblatt visiting with Druze clerics,
Moukhtara, Chouf, Lebanon, 2002 (photo I. Rivoal)

Isabelle Rioval has a degree in political science and a PhD in social and historical anthropology from the EHESS (l’École des hautes études en sciences sociales / School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences). She joined the CNRS in 2001 and has been a member of the LESC since then. She has been the Deputy director of the MAE (the Institute for Archeaology and Ethnology, René-Ginouvès) since 2012.

Her first work dealt with the Druze community in Israel, whose identity she has studied through an elucidation of a its social organisation. The ethnography focuses on the social manifestations of a secret religion in a society that makes a sharp distinction between a worldly order and a religious order. This research allowed her to show that this minority population had a particular way of fitting into the state of Israel, while forming a single religious community linked to other Druze components in Syria and Lebanon.

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Women leaving the Moukhtara Palace,
Chouf, Lebanon, 2002 (photo I. Rivoal)

Isabelle Rivoal continued her elucidation of relations between minorities and states with a study of the Lebanese Druze community. Two aspects of the Druze community’s place in Lebanon crystallised the ethnographic investigation. The first concerns the importance of the relationship to leadership in the Lebanese organisation, and the difficulty of the analysis lies in providing a sociological analysis of a society in which all of the social dynamics seem to get exhausted in the political dimension. Isabelle Rivoal is developing a phenomenology of the political aspect of day-to-day Druze life in Chouf, in order to understand this Lebanese “political passion”. The second aspect concerns how a particular kind of leadership is exercised in society by showing that Lebanon is a society that must be understood not only through communities in opposition within state space, but also in terms of its polarised political arena. She develops this view through an ethnographic analysis of the Joumblatt political family, which has been dominant in Chouf since the 19th century. Isabelle Rivoal has been studying the Joumblatt leadership not only from the perspective of domination or patron-client relations, but also by detailing how the various categories identified by the ethnography (accomplished men representing the lineage dimension, women in their day-to-day lives, young people, emigrants, political rivals) are defined by their relationship to the leader. This approach led Isabelle Rivoal to more precisely question the “young people” category in the context of a National Research Agency project, and to examine Lebanese expatriates in Sydney (she was an associated researcher in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Sydney in 2008).

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The Joumblatt family palace in Moukhtara,
Chouf, Lebanon, 2002 (photo I. Rivoal)

With LESC colleagues, Isabelle Rivoal took part in a think tank exploring social change, which set out to document how actors view change. In other words, it attempted to see how changes in society affected subjectivities and how change is perceived. In this context, Isabelle Rioval is developing a study on resistance to change as manifested in a majority segment of the population of Chouf, Lebanon. With Anne de Sales, she completed a National Research Agency project on micro-observations of metamorphoses, in their social and individual dimensions.
 With Monica Heintz, she coordinates a research program on morality and cognition.
 She is also responsible for coordinating the next conference of the European Association for Social Anthropologists (EASA) which will take place at the University of Paris West Nanterre La Défense from 10 to 13 July 2012.

Principal publications

  • 2012, Les Fêtes religieuses druzes: cheminement spirituel et solidarité communautaire, in T-M Courau and H. de La Hougue (eds), Rites, fêtes et célébrations de l’humanité (Paris, Bayard): 415–426 [HAL].
  • 2012, Intimité, mise en scène et distance dans la relation politique au Liban, in F. Mermier and S. Mervin (eds), Leaders et partisans au Liban (Paris/Beyrouth, Karthala/IFPO/IISMM): 139–165.
  • 2011, Las invención de las primarias. Conflictos en tourno a la designación de un candidato en una aldea árabe de Israel, in V. M. Franco Pellotier, D. Dehouve and A. Hémond (eds), Formas de voto, prácticas de las asambleas y toma de decisiones. Un acercamiento comparativo (Mexico, Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social): 469–483.
  • 2010, Minorité religieuse, in R. Azria and D. Hervieu-Léger (eds), Dictionnaire des faits religieux (Paris, PUF): 718–725 [HAL].
  • 2009, Ascétisme et communauté: l’ermitage d’al-Bayyâda dans l’organisation religieuse druze, in A. Herrou and G. Krauskopff (eds), Moines et moniales de par le monde: la vie monastique au miroir de la parenté (Paris, L’Harmattan): 51–66.
  • 2009 eds (with F. Fogel), La relation ethnographique, terrains et textes. Mélanges offerts à Raymond Jamous [special issue], Ateliers du LESC, 33 http://ateliers.revues.org/8162.
  • 2009, Un huis clos ethnographique ou l’impossible enquête chez un ancien milicien libanais, Ateliers du LESC, 33 http://ateliers.revues.org/8217 [special issue: F. Fogel and I. Rivoal (eds), La relation ethnographique, terrains et textes. Mélanges offerts à Raymond Jamous].
  • 2000, Les Maîtres du secret. Ordre mondain et ordre religieux dans la communauté druze israélienne (Paris, Éditions de l’EHESS).


Publications available at the Éric-de-Dampierre library


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Mis à jour le 18 October 2016

Chargée de recherche, CNRS, habilitée à diriger des recherches
[Associate Research Professor CNRS, accredited to direct research]
Deputy director of the Institute for Archeaology and Ethnology, René-Ginouvès