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Presentation of CEMS

Presentation of CEMS

CEMS is an EHESS research centre which, along with the CENJ (Centre d’étude des normes juridiques), LIAS (Linguistique, Anthropologique et Sociolinguistique) and LIER (Laboratoire interdisciplinaire d’études sur les réflexivités) is part of the Institut Marcel Mauss (UMR 8178 CNRS/EHESS). It is home to approximately twenty researchers and teacher-researchers.


Since its creation by Alain Touraine, CEMS has asserted itself as one of France’s leading centres for the development of conceptual, theoretical and methodological tools for sociological analysis. Under the supervision of its founder, it has set itself the task of understanding social movements from the standpoint of the political activity deployed by the actors and by specific political organisations (unions, parties, and then post-1968 movements: women, minorities, immigrants, etc.). During a later period, after the departure of A. Touraine and the creation of the CADIS, CEMS’ research moved away from this approach and tried to take account of the infra-institutional and infra-state dynamics which relate to social change, by showing how the forms of engagement and the expectations and demands expressed by citizens were changing in a largely underground manner and somewhat removed from public demonstrations of political action. In taking this direction, since the early 1980s CEMS has played an active role in the processes of innovation which have established new perspectives for sociological analysis, opening up new areas of study, introducing new issues (such as the “public space”, “limit-experiences”, the erosion of the labour society, or “gender”), experimenting with methods the validity of which was then upheld within the discipline (moral anthropology, political ethnography, ethnomethodology, the pragmatics of collective action, the theory of public spheres, the sociology of science and technology, the sociology of the media and of reception, conversational analysis, the construction of public issues).

In research of democracy (2018-2022)

The CEMS thus distinguished itself as a laboratory where investigations were conducted on the public space and its articulation with the private sphere, on social, urban and religious movements, on the formation of public problems, on the metamorphoses of the social issue and capitalism in France and Europe or « democratic transitions » in South America and Eastern Europe. While maintaining this living legacy, the CEMS reaffirms in its new project its interest in the theme of democracy and the tools for investigating, describing and analyzing it. Democracy is understood as a system of government, laws and institutions, but also as a form of collective life. Democracy enrol itself in the order of interactions, from the most discreet to the most public. Democracy is studied as a world of doubts, investigations, problematization, experimentation, individual protest, and collective mobilization. It is also a world of controversy: in the field of the environment, around the health damage caused by industrial activity; in the social field, around the widening of inequalities related to social, cultural and economic characteristics, or to the state of health of individuals and populations; in the political field, with the disaffection of traditional forms of engagement and the emergence of modes of mobilization (victims, victims, etc.) claiming expertise on the situations that affect them.


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Centre d'étude des mouvements sociaux (CEMS)

54 Boulevard Raspail 75006 Paris
Tel.: +33 (0)1 49 54 24 27
        +33 (0)1 49 54 25 95