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Scientific project

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Albania, 2008 (photo E. Pistrick)

Anthropology, as a discipline, has undergone many changes in recent years. As the LESC adapts to these changes, it continues to draw on its historic principles: first, a broad, comparative perspective and, second, an emphasis on long-term fieldwork that in turn contributes to theoretical discussions.

Thanks to its comparative perspective and its broad inventory of cultures and societies, the LESC is developing critical knowledge about what characteristics all humans share. One such characteristic – though it is not unique to humans – is the ability to organize themselves into societies, and to form mental representations of themselves in society. It is this ability that warrants a broad, comparative perspective. This perspective is bolstered by the size and flexibility of the Laboratory; the large number of researchers facilitates innovation and the exploration of new themes.

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Dogon country, Mali, 2006 (photo S. Soriano)

Since its foundation, the LESC has stressed long-term fieldwork, which includes learning the local language(s) and, if possible, returning to the field repeatedly; the materials collected over years, if not decades, serve to build theory. The importance given to fieldwork and to the production and preservation of ethnographic material and data – a top priority of the Éric-de-Dampierre Library – goes hand in hand with an emphasis on remote locations. The local is not ignored, but a detour via the Other enriches the comparative exercise.

In its quest for rigorous ethnographic description and interpretive models drawn from comparative sociology and social anthropology, the LESC places great importance on analysing forms of social organization and on interpreting systems of representation found on all five continents. Ethnographic methods are becoming more diverse, and now include tools from interactionist sociography, quantitative methods, and experimental models inspired by the cognitive sciences. Still, institutions of all types remain a central concern of the LESC.

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Mexico, 2011 (photo I. J. Cano Castellanos)

A high priority is given to mastering local languages, whether they have a standard writing system or not. Within the LESC, there has long been a fertile dialogue between ethnology and linguistics, in particular ethnolinguistics, and including recent developments in linguistic pragmatics and the cognitive sciences. The EREA, in particular, is interested in these fields; and the ethnomusicologists of the CREM favour a cognitive approach.

History has long been a central concern of LESC researchers: the comparative exercise starts with contemporary materials, but examines them in a historical dimension, including the context in which they were collected. Diachronic comparison can reveal structural changes and continuity, and also the means of transmission or rupture that organize the perpetuation and the transformations of societies and cultures.

Interdisciplinary dialogue is intensifying and opening new areas of study on the edges of established knowledge. The LESC is participating in this movement by forging crossdisciplinary research topics with geography, political science, psychology, and life sciences, and is opening new fields of study that interface with the history of science, the anthropology of art and technology, museography, and even robotics.

The LESC is working to transform anthropological knowledge and redefine anthropology’s intellectual sphere, and, furthermore, hopes to contribute to ongoing epistemological inquiry and research in the discipline.

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Mis à jour le 26 January 2017

Philippe ERIKSON

Baptiste BUOB
Direction adjointe

Sous-direction (EREA)

Sous-direction (CREM)

Catherine BEAUMONT


Frédéric DUBOIS
Bibliothèque - Archives

Sandrine SORIANO

UMR 7186 – LESC
Maison Archéologie & Ethnologie René-Ginouvès
21, allée de l’université
92023 Nanterre cedex
tél. 33 (0)1 46 69 25 90