Research areas

Research within Héritages is organized in three main areas:
Area 1: Collective inventiveness and creativity of knowledge

This area of cross-disciplinary research focuses on epistemology and the construction of the concepts, knowledge and practices at work in the dynamics of cultural production and the institution and establishment of cultures. The research area uses a resolutely interdisciplinary approach, involving researchers in anthropology, history, geography, arts and area studies, questioning the ways in which humans and their institutions shape their environments, whether inhabited, cultivated, industrial or supposedly natural, and give meaning to what surrounds them in France and elsewhere. Thinking about the world through the resources they identify, collect, use, recycle and interpret, social beings create a common culture. This “collective inventiveness” reflects plural dynamics which are an integral part of identities in the sense that individuals and groups can define themselves through the expression of an “I am” and/or a “we are”. They thus give birth to the idea of Community, or at least make the presence thereof felt. This birth can be encouraged, or even used as an instrument, by references to a common past and by making it a part of memory and heritage. By writing and rewriting the past, academics, in particular historians, but also politicians and, since the “heritage turning point”, other actors (associations, communities, etc.) have plural and multi-scalar forms of cultural valorisation and malleable collective kinds of belongingness. Area 1 researchers therefore aim to be attentive to the great diversity of moments, discourses and places favourable to the emergence of new common spheres and human reflexivity. In the footsteps of Michel de Certeau, the question is “to bring to light the clandestine forms taken by the dispersed, tactical, and makeshift creativity of groups or individuals” (De Certeau Michel, 1980, L’invention du quotidien – 1. arts de faire, p. XL, English edition: The Practice of Everyday Life, 1984,, in order to gain access to the mechanics of transformation/reformation of cultures.

This inventiveness involves the way in which humans view the things around them in order to bring order into their world. It presupposes the development of knowledge in the broadest sense - reflexive practices such as ritual establishment of order, in close connection with the experiences to which it gives rise. It promotes the growth of knowledge, popular and academic, recognized or disputed. In other words, it generates a reflexive creativity, which deserves to be analysed. From this point of view, the emergence of a discourse on alterity, of the knowledge of differences and of the making explicit of that which constitutes the uniqueness of each culture and the legitimacy accorded to this knowledge, constitutes a crucial issue insofar as the tensions, claims and conflicts to which the expression of these discourses gives rise also reveal political and infra-political dynamics. “Making known”, in the dual sense of producing new ways of thinking about the world and of being able to express knowledge, involves discoveries, the ability to give meaning to experiences, whether or not they are codified, and thus enables the deciphering of connections formed with the physical environment, itself perceived and felt.

This collective inventiveness is understood through three principal lines:

  • Environmental cultures
The term “environmental culture” is something of an oxymoron, since it amounts to saying that there are cultures that are characterized by an environmental or even natural attribute. The standpoint underlying this term is aimed at reversing the focus of analysis of cultural objects, which tends to view the culturalization of nature as a sign of the establishment of a broader way of looking that encompasses new objects, in favour of an approach that considers culture as a result of human beings’ way of looking at their environment. It is therefore not only a question of considering nature as an object subjected to cultural treatment, but of considering the complex process of the establishment and institution of culture as being actively involved in the awareness of a material, natural or manufactured reality, in the manner of the approach suggested by eco-poetry in literature.

Moreover, religious and political discourse and implementation, which ordinarily represent a major dimension of a people’s culture, have often invested nature with a moral dimension, which is not always positive. The participatory mechanisms of joint creation and labelling and the rhetoric of crisis, sustainable development and transition introduced more recently into public cultural policies may be other forms of this. Turning attention to the place given to the categories of the plant, the animal and, more broadly, the biological in processes of symbolic valorization and cultural representations, also enables the exploration of these sociocultural dynamics. Cultural expressions of the living, an eco-poetics of relations with the earth and the habitable horizon, such as archipelagian literature, constitute prime fields for understanding the new modes of presence in the world in the Anthropocene age. Researchers in the field approach these through analysis of ways in which natural resources are taken into account, processes of making the environment a part of Culture (rituals, tourism, heritage etc.) and processes of cultural legitimation of power (religious and political).
  • Open sciences and collective intelligences
Established places of Culture are also places of inventory, conservation, mediation and dissemination of scientific knowledge. From the European cabinets of curiosities to the development of museums and archives, the discovery and establishment of arts and cultures was favourable to the founding of collections. Viewed as one of the conditions for the development of academic knowledge, collections are also an expression of individual and collective commitment, which it is important to question with regard to institutionalization and sharing thereof.

While the very forms of so-called “ethnographic” or “naturalist” collection are being transformed and extending beyond the scientific sphere, open science projects are providing wider access to collections and to the contents of scientific databases. The Bérose International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology, the experience of the Réveillées, a platform for the promotion of multimedia ethno-musicological archives, and the CCC, Community of Researchers on Communities (Communauté des Chercheurs sur la Communauté), an international and interdisciplinary network (researchers, artists and private individuals), provide examples of interfaces and encounters between science and civil society, both professional and amateur. Part of the focus of these projects, like that of the journal, is exploring new modes of “making known”, in the dual sense of production and dissemination of knowledge, at the point of intersection between several media, widening and internationalizing the range of people involved.

On the other hand, the scale of dissemination of knowledge in a digital society henceforth includes contributions from individuals and groups of the utmost diversity, invited to contribute to what are referred to as participatory or citizen science projects. Alongside or on the fringes of scientific protocols, other collectors use ethnographic tools to promote the growth of creations favourable to the emergence of new modes of knowledge development and information sharing. The encounters between associations, artists, amateurs and scientists to which they give rise lead us to examine the “collective intelligences” whose growth they promote and their influence not only on the sciences, but also on the social, political and economic spheres etc.
  • Epistemologies and collective creativities
Thinking about alterities means constructing differences and has always raised questions with regard to the administration of peoples. Since antiquity, history has provided numerous examples: from Herodotus’s travels to erudite curiosity about the sciences of government, including colonial government, and the pursuit of missionary and religious reforms. The discourse of differences can be developed in different contexts: through the debates that animate literary, artistic and scientific circles discovering prehistoric or so-called primitive arts, and the calling into question of the epistemological foundations of disciplines with the discovery of the ethnographic materials of the entire world. Redefinition of the foundations of differences and their criteria is also a feature of breaks with pre-existing political, social and even civilizational states of affairs.

For thinking about differences also means thinking about that which is common. In the Anthropocene era, the shaping of alterities tends to go beyond the question of humans. Mesology thus aims to take into account the idea that an environment only exists through the definition of a subjectivity that observes its presence. On this basis, its constituent entities, whether living or not, present themselves to be thought about as alterities, prompting us to reconsider the position taken by area studies or by an anthropology defined as a science of alterity.

A plurality of scholarly traditions have explored the idea of differences, the intellectual filiations in which they are expressed are often neglected; their respective histories, their focus, and the international and interdisciplinary circulations that have influenced them are also multiple. In the face of the emergence and claims of new ontologies for thinking about the differences between humans and non-humans, identification of the conditions of impetus towards knowledge of what constitutes the “other, the “primitive”, the “wild”, the “foreign”, the “new” or the “authentic” questions these traditions.
Area 2: Experiences, practices, actors in the cultural and literary fields
  • Transformations brought about in the heritage field: shift from the value of heritage based upon traditional criteria (age, authenticity, exceptionality etc.) to social value, associated with the taking of intangible heritage into account. There is also a move towards globalized cultural justice and a more general reorientation of its value, and its place in the contemporary world. For example: the eminently political dimension of heritage, the rise of community expertise and the recognition of heritage as an instrument of memorial reparation... These transformations deserve attention, to be explored to their full extent, questioned and analysed.
    • An example of this approach already in progress: the Emotions/Mobilizations working group (GT Emobi, Groupe de travail Émotions/mobilisations) on Notre-Dame de Paris. The group analyses the polyphony of discourses and mobilizations, their orchestration and confrontations, and their dynamics and paralysis. Its cultural perspective, which is very inclusive, also encompasses the artistic and literary dimensions. The working group (GT) is led to work both on the great texts of literature and the way they have been reinterpreted after the Notre Dame fire, and with contemporary artists.
  • Creation and writing (literature, creative writing, and non-literary practices), in their connection with heritage, in four areas:
    • "Traditional” ways of becoming, processes of creation and legitimation, rewritings, circulation and hybridization of aesthetic models, communities;
    • Phenomena of exclusion from the heritage field (ethnic minorities, exclusion of certain creators, editorial policies);
    • Connections between scientific and literary writing. Their history in the heritage field, their future and the issues they raise in research-creation. These reflections are in particular at the heart of the international research project emerging at CYU, “Creative writing in training courses: epistemological issues and research methodology (ECF)”;
    • Writing of history and memories, places and spaces, updating of historical heritages. These approaches incorporate a comparative dimension.
  • Heritages and creations in circulation. These will be analysed in two principal ways:
    • The problem of differentiated circulations, so-called creative economies, the study and publication of authors’ unpublished writings, the construction of mapping circulation spaces (the importance in this field of the Research Institute for Contemporary Literature in the Maghreb (Observatoire des littératures contemporaines au Maghreb), research on the corpus of francophone literatures, one of the characteristics of CYU, and non-francophone literatures: British, American, Latin American and Japanese);
    • Particular emphasis will be placed on analysis of the tensions, in the material, social and political domains, affecting this field. Particular attention will be given to the phenomena of destruction of heritage and valorization. Analysis of the inherent contradictions of the transnational dimension and contemporary globalization. Commercial and tourist dimension. Connection between the academic world and cultural institutions. Analysis of valorization mechanisms.
Area 3: Knowledge and modes of transmission

This area of research aims to unite the researchers it brings together around several principal lines which, within a transdisciplinary perspective, combine anthropology, archaeology and history, and are based upon multiple partnerships with museum institutions (the Musée d’Archéologie Nationale (National Archaeological Museum), the Musée de l’Armée (Army Museum), the Musée de Cluny (Cluny Museum) etc.).

  • The first of these principal lines is constructed around the dynamics of archaeology, the process of transformation into heritage, the institutionalisation of cultural goods and of their valorization in particular through questions concerning museology and the establishment of collections. Focusing in particular on heritage sites with a memorial dimension (castle sites, cathedrals, cities, ruins, etc.), reflection on the valorization of cultural property is reinforced by the involvement of several researchers from the site-school of the Gallo-Roman site of Genainville. The development of the work conducted is also promoted by the existence of a Chair of Excellence in protohistory and archaeology. Moreover, exploration of the forms of the process of transformation into heritage leads to questions about both patrimonial emotions and forms of mediation (performances, exhibitions, reconstructions etc.).
  • In association with these first domains, a second principal line is built around the connection between heritage, territory, and the construction of identities and memories. This involves questioning the appropriation and reappropriation of the past, particularly through the issues of memory and heritage associated with borders.
  • A third principal line constructed around war and heritage is closely connected with the first two through common questions and objects: it is a matter of questioning heritage connected with the material aspects of war, through objects (armour, weapons, images, etc.) and sites (military architecture, ruins, etc.), as well as the intangible aspects thereof (memories, traumas, exile, captivity, etc.).