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Territories: the illusion of identity


Directeur du CERI de 1994 à 2000, co-fondateur de la revue Politique africaine qu’il a dirigé de 1980 à 1982, Jean-François Bayart a également fondé la revue Critique Internationale qu’il a dirigé de 1998 à 2003. Depuis 1981, il est membre du conseil scientifique de African Affairs et dirige la collection Recherches internationales aux Editions Karthala qu’il a créée en 1998. Président du Fonds d’analyse des sociétés politiques fondé en 2003, spécialiste de sociologie historique comparée du politique, il travaille sur la formation de l’Etat dans le contexte de la globalisation et sur les pratiques de subjectivation politique, en particulier en Afrique sub-saharienne, en Turquie et en Iran.

The conference-debate was held on December 16th, 2019 at 6 pm, in the 1st floor meeting room at MSF (14-34 avenue Jean Jaurès 75019 Paris). It was livestreamed and translated simultaneously to English.

Can we talk about the specificities of the Middle East, Iran or the Mediterranean without reducing these territories to a culture or religion? On December 16, 2019, the CRASH team organised a conference-debate with Jean-François Bayart, a French political scientist who has devoted his work to the sociology of the State and identity illusions.

According to this researcher, the globalizing explanations that are often in vogue (for example, the necessary transition to a free market economy or democracy) do not allow us to understand international relations in their complexity.

In contrast to these standardised explanations, it is possible to take an interest in the cultural and historical specificities of different societies. The difficulty then consists in treating these "cultural areas" without falling into another form of simplification: a culturalist approach often rooted in a western-centred vision of history and religions.

Jean-François Bayart explains why territories are not objective data. He shows us the interest, in order to understand the geopolitical issues, in studying the sequence of social and historical events that give certain territories their uniqueness.

Bibliographical references related to the subject:

•    Jean-François Bayart, The State in Africa: The Politics of the Belly, Paris, Fayard, 1989 
•    Jean-François Bayart, The Illusion of Cultural Identity, Paris, Fayard, 1996
•    Jean-François Bayart, L’Islam républicain. Ankara, Téhéran, Dakar, Paris, Albin Michel 2010
•    Jean-François Bayart, « ‘Dessine-moi un Mena !’, ou l’impossible définition des ‘aires culturelles’ », Sociétés politiques comparées, 38, janvier-avril 2016http://fasopo.org/sites/default/files/varia1_n38.pdf

Table of contents

  • Presentation of the conference
  • Part 1 - Situational and relational identity is an event
  • Part 2 - Culture and identity do not explain anything
  • Part 3 - Ethnicity : primordial identity doesn’t exist
  • Part 4 - The identity : an invention of tradition  
  • Part 5 - Cultural areas 
  • Question 1 - Can geography help to define cultural areas ? 
  • Question 2 - How does Jean François Bayart situate his work in regard to that of Benedict Anderson on the theory of imaginary communities ? 
  • Question 3 - What is the relation between cultural differences and problems at work ? 
  • Question 4 -  Isn’t language a major cause of cultural differentiation ? 
  • Question 5 - What does Jean-François Bayart think about Geert Hofstede’s theory of cultural dimensions ?
  • Question 6 - Should we be interested in the trajectory of situations instead of the culture ?
  • Question 7 - Identity and universality : how to articulate universality and singularity ? 
  • Conclusion of the conference 

To cite this content :
Jean-François Bayart, Territories: the illusion of identity, 16 December 2019, URL : https://msf-crash.org/index.php/en/conferences-debates/territories-illusion-identity

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