Categories

Archives

Billet

The little guys of French sociology. Anonyms and pseudonyms in sociological litterature.

Billet publié le 28/06/2017

This text is a quick and dirty translation of the main arguments of le petit peuple des sociologues” (published in Genèses, 2017, n.107).

First names are often used to identify characters in books and article written by French sociologists. This is rather new. Why are French sociologists increasingly using first names? Who gets to be called by a first name?

This paper is an analysis of the argumentative styles in sociology. It is also an analysis of the consequences of anonymization. Sociologists write that they anonymize in order to protect the privacy of the people who were interviewed or observed: they use pseudonyms to anonymize. But this ethical framing hinders the analysis of the consequences of anonymization. In the last part of the article, I propose an analysis of the power relations that are intertwined with the uses of a first name. One should note that the use of first names in everyday social relations is different in France and the USA. The use of “tu” instead of “vous” and the use of first names are both a way to mark closeness and a way to mark hierarchy, depending on the reciprocity of these uses.

To explore these themes I have read the 8 main French sociological journals from 1960 to 2015 (every 5 years) and, for each issue, I have counted the number of articles that used first names to refer to the people interviewed, observed or surveyed. There are many ways to refer to someone: the name (Monsieur Dupont), the first name (Pierre), the first letter (P.), a combination of letters (P. D.), some letters or numbers (“A” for the first interviewee, or “Interviewee n.1”), a position (“the head of the bureau”, “the cousin of…”), or even dates (“Interview realized on 1/1/2000”)… but I only focused on the presence or not of a first name.

The first result is the increasing use of first names:

 

year

Number of Articles

Number of articles
with first names

Proportion (%)

1960

55

0

0

1965

76

0

0

1970

66

1

2

1975

98

2

2

1980

82

4

5

1985

111

3

3

1990

142

6

4

1995

165

9

5

2000

177

12

7

2005

155

15

10

2010

182

37

20

2015

132

44

33

Table 1: The increasing use of first names in French sociological articles

 

In 2010, 182 articles were published in the main journals. 37 articles anonymized the surveyed people with a first name: 20% of the corpus.

Why do French sociologist use first names?

  • (1) Recent sociology textbooks and manuals [I have read 53 methodology textbooks published between 1945 and 2016] recommend first names to anonymize (whereas there was no recommendation for anonymization in older sociology textbooks) but sociologist never write in their article why they chose to use first names instead of another anonymization technic. It has become a routine.
  • (2) First names are increasingly used in French society: beginning in the 1970s first names are increasingly used in professional settings and in various social settings.
  • (3) First names are useful in a narrative context, and the “narrative turn” in French sociology may have increased this use. They establish recurring characters: “Sophie” is more memorable than “interviewee n.37”. First names are also useful as a narrative technic, to differenciate characters within a sociological text : whereas “Baptiste Coulmont” or “Coulmont” would be another sociologist [such as “as Coulmont (2011) shows…”] , “Baptiste” (without a last name) would be an interviewee [“at some time during our conversation, Baptiste stated that…”], and the main author refers to herself/himself as “the sociologist”.
  • (4) Using a first name is a generational marker : “young” sociologists use first names as a routine (that is, sociologists who were “young” in the 1990 and that, increasingly, get involved in the editorial board of these journal) – to establish this, I looked at the journals : the newer the journal is (some were created in the 1950, some in the 1960, some in the 1970…), the larger is the frequency of first names. I also looked at the “prize for the young author” (prix du jeune auteur, best graduate paper): articles written by “young” sociologists use first names at a much higher frequency than articles written by other sociologists.

Who gets a first name?

Because first names are used as marker of familiarity and as marker of hierarchy, it is crucial to understand who gets a first name in the sociological literature. I looked closely at 123 articles published in 2010. 58 articles do not use any pseudonyms (purely quantitative article, purely theoretical articles, or article about historical individuals: Mao Zedong, Charles de Gaulle…). 65 articles refer to individual actors, and among those articles, 33 are using first names.

  1. Surveyed people (interviewees, people met during fieldwork…) getting first names are: “genitally mutilated migrant women”, “farm workers”, “supermarket cashier”, “students”, “women”, “homeless people”, “pupils”, “migrants”, “civil servants”, “young women”, “musicians”, “campaigner / political canvasser”. Very often, those people have very little power.
  2. Surveyed people without a first name are: “high class bourgeois”, “writers”, “supervisors”, “wine-grower”, “high ranking official in the European commission”, “head of service”, “veterinarian”, “engineer”, “manager”, “senior citizen”, “activist”… Mostly, those are people in a power position, often presented as male (or in the French grammatical male formulation: “les ingénieurs”).

In 15 articles, the authors used first names for some surveyed people, and another reference for the other surveyed people. The more power someone has, the less likely he [rarely she] is to get a first name. On the same page, the blue collar workers is assigned a first name, the manager gets “the manager”; children have a first name (“Léa”) parents get a name (“Madame Dupont, la mère de Léa” : “Mrs Dupont, mother of Léa”)

Sociologists (almost) never write that they used first names to refer to people with whom they used first names during their fieldwork. Naming is a “a staging of the methodological self” (une mise en scène de soi): the use of first names to refer to the little guys shows “whose side we are on” (we are close to the little guys, whom we refer to by a first name, we exhibit a distance with the upper class, whom we refer to by a title). But as a consequence domination always appears disembodied: domination is always performed by “managers”, “head of services”, never embodied in a “Jean-Luc”.

I'm a non-native speaker, and English grammar is often confusing. Please help me improve (you can comment, I will correct)

Envoyer un commentaire