Why and How 'To Do Science'? On the Often Ambiguous Relationship between Architecture and the Social Sciences in France in the Wake of May '68


  • Jean-Louis Violeau




Around the time of the ‘events’ of May ’68, ‘architectural research’ in France posited itself as a direct challenge to the education of the ‘Beaux-Arts’, to the school’s insulation from academic disciplines and to its common lack of a critical dimension required by any ‘scientific’ approach. In this context, the sociologists’ contribution to architecture was long awaited but soon proved to be disappointing, undoubtedly disappointing because the expectations were unreasonably high. In the early 1970s, the contributions of sociologists were perceived as a way to respond to doubts about the professional status of the architect; increasingly, sociologists discerned a desire to escape from the responsibilities and risks of the architectural project, into the sociological discourse. At the same time, following numerous disappointments, even the formerly zealous partisans of the arrival of sociologists finally returned to more skeptical positions towards the role of sociologists in architectural education. This uneasiness is marked by the silence, not to say the omerta, that veils today in France the adhesion of a number of architects of that generation to an ‘architectural postmodernism’ as it was defined during the 1970s, a moment embodied by the contribution of sociologists to the recent history of architecture. Nevertheless, it is the inheritance that makes the heir, as Pierre Bourdieu used to say.

Author Biography

Jean-Louis Violeau

Jean-Louis Violeau is a sociologist, researcher at the ACS (Architecture-Culture-Society) laboratory (CNRS UMR 7136 AUS / Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Paris-Malaquais) and a regular contributor to AMC-Le Moniteur architecture. His books include Situations construites (Sens&Tonka, 1998, 2nd ed. 2005); Quel enseignement pour l’architecture? (Editions Recherches, 1999); Entre voisins: Dispositif architectural et mixité sociale (L’Epure, 2000, with Monique Eleb); and Notre histoire. Europan à 20 ans (Archibooks, 2007). His doctoral dissertation, Les architectes et Mai 68 has been published from Editions Recherches in 2005.