In this conversation with RevDem editor Ferenc Laczó, George Steinmetz – author of the major new monograph The Colonial Origins of Modern Social Thought. French Sociology and the Overseas Empire – sketches the manifold entanglements of French sociology with the French Empire and colonialism; discusses the key ideas and innovations that have emerged in this context; dissects how indigenous scholars fared within the vast network of French institutions over time; illuminates his own approach to intellectual history he calls a historical socio-analysis of the social sciences; and reflect on how contemporary agendas of decolonization could be made more convincing and fruitful, not least by drawing on what French sociologists of colonialism have “partially and tentatively foreseen.”
George Steinmetz is a historical sociologist of states and empires with a focus on modern Germany, France, and Britain and their colonies, and a social theorist especially interested in the history and philosophy of the social sciences. He acts as the Charles Tilly Professor of Sociology at the University of Michigan.
The Colonial Origins of Modern Social Thought. French Sociology and the Overseas Empire has been published by Princeton University Press.
Table: Colonial sociologists with lectureships or professorships in universities in Greater France, 1945-1965 (The Colonial Origins of Modern Social Thought. French Sociology and the Overseas Empire, p. 186)
Images 1-2: Marcel Soret, sociological “chercheur de brousse” in the French Congo, on right in jeep owned by Institut d’etudes centrafricaines (Institute of Central African Studies), Human Sciences Department, Brazzaville, 1950-1951
Images 3-8: Some of the first Francophone sociologists from the colonized global south
In collaboration with Lucie Hunter