Archives de la catégorie : 'In English'

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

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:



Number of Articles

Number of articles
with first names

Proportion (%)

















































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”.

At the Top of the Bill

I’m very happy to see the publication in English of the article I wrote on the networks of black evangelicals in Paris.
At the Top of the Bill : A Structural Analysis of Claims to Charisma
[available on]


Here is the introduction :

Two prophets are in a boat … Do they try to push one another into the water, each believing in the exceptional nature of his own charisma ? Or do they decide that the sum of their two charismas is a collective charisma from which they could both benefit ? In short, is there anything other than conflict between bearers of charisma ? A “Key Idea” (Geertz [1986] 2012) of Weberian sociology, the concept of charisma sees the prophet, and more broadly the bearer of charisma, as an exceptional individual, or more precisely as the individual in whom those “charismatically dominated” recognize extraordinary qualities (Weber [1921-1922] 1971 : 320-9). It is the “face to face” relationship between charismatic man and his followers or adepts that is involved in the typological study. In the pure type, the charismatic man holds no institutional legitimacy—legal, bureaucratic—nor a legitimacy inherited from tradition : his charisma is personal. In this context, two prophets in the same boat would necessarily be in a situation of conflict.

But there is at least one everyday world populated by prophets, charismatic individuals in a relationship not just of competition but also, as we shall see, of collaboration. The Pentecostalist and evangelical “African” churches installed in the Paris area, of which there several hundred today, demonstrate the possible coexistence of “prophets” who have not monopolized the manipulation of charisma. These assemblies are not easy for sociologists to observe, but the advertising they use to promote some of their activities is an instructive source for investigating the actual forms of the manipulation of charisma.

Château-Rouge, in Paris (18th arrondissement), a hundred metres north of Barbès-Rochechouart metro station, is a working class “African” quarter ; a residential but especially a shopping area. The multitude of posters for “crusades,” “prophets” and “miracles,” posters featuring almost entirely black pastors, are striking for the passerby. In an area bounded by a few streets, religious advertising similar to Figure 1 cover blank walls and the barriers around building sites.


Androgynous names in the USA

Very often, boys have boys’ names and girls, girls’ names. But sometimes, the same name (Leslie, Dana, Sammie, Alva, Lou…) is given to boys and to girls. Those “androgynous” or epicene names are interesting : most of the time, they are unstable, they begin as male names and end as female names. [See Lieberson, Stanley, Susan Dumais, and Shyon Baumann, ‘The Instability of Androgynous Names: The Symbolic Maintenance of Gender Boundaries’, The American Journal of Sociology, 105 (2000), 1249–87 jstor]

Let’s take Leslie :
At the end of the 19th century, it is given to baby boys more than 9 times out of 10. Around 1950, it is given at the same frequency among boys and girls. But now, male Leslies are much less frequent than female Leslies.
It is difficult to find the opposite evolution, where a female name is masculinized.

Let’s consider that a name is epicene if the babies born year N and receiving this name are girls more than 10% of the times and less than 90%. This definition is restrictive, I consider that some names — such as Leslie now — aren’t really epicene anymore even if they were epicene before (because in 2013, there were fewer than 1 boys for 10 Leslie). This definition focuses on the current use of epicene names.
10/90 are arbitrary boundaries, one could use 1/99 or 30/70 (and it is easy to do, see the R code below).


In 1880, 2% of the babies had an epicene name (and there were very few such names). During most of the 20th century, around 3.5% of babies received an epicene. Since 1960 (or 1980) this proportion is increasing : 8% of the babies born in 2010 received an epicene. And today (dotted line) more than 1500 names are epicene. The consequence of these number : epicene names are “small” names, given to a small number of babies each year.


The real proportion of epicene babies is higher : names given to less than 5 male or female babies are not included in the database, and we lack information about 10% of the babies. And very rare names are more likely to be epicene than common names.

Let’s focus now on the population of babies receiving an epicene. From 1900 until 1950 (black line), more than 50% of epicene babies are male (which means that parents are more often than not giving “male” names to their daughters when they give them an epicene). From 1950 until 1990, the epicene babies are mostly female.
As you can see (dotted red line) there are always more “male” names than “female” names in epicene names [a “male” name is a name given to a higher proportion of male babies than female babies].


There seems to be an interesting evolution of the Gini coefficient. The Gini coefficient is a measure of inequality (most often used to describe inequality of income in a country). Here, it is used to describe the distribution of name frequency.

Notes : I relied on Social Security Administration’s applicants numbers and first name. They are closely related to birth for the current period, but not before the 1930s : I very crudely corrected the skewed sex ratio. I used the ‘babynames’ package for R.
You can download the R code (it is not pretty) : epicene-usa-web.R

From tags to niches : big “data porn”

The first issue of Porn Studies has now been published, and it contains the article written with Mazières, Trachman, Cointet and Prieur, “Deep Tags“. In it, we describe a huge dataset of titles and tags. One interesting part is where we try to define what could be a “niche”, as arising from shared tags rather than from a particular or specific desire.
You can find more information about this article and the dataset on
Deep tags: toward a quantitative analysis of online pornography (open access)

Bourdieu and dataviz

[Please forgive (or correct) my English skills]
Bourdieu did many experiments with diagrams, what we tend to call “dataviz” today. Techniques of data visualization are not usual in contemporary sociology (according to Kieran Healy and James Moody’s paper) and they were not that usual forty years ago when Bourdieu wrote and drew.

Let’s begin with an image :


This image was published in an article about fashion and “haute couture” (le couturier et sa griffe, written with Yvette Delsaut)

And it dates back to a time when graphics had to be drawn by hands. The journal created by Bourdieu and his team, “Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales“, used the services of a comics creator who is also an academic, Pierre Christin… but I don’t know if Christin drew this particular graph. The source used by Bourdieu is from a trade magazine : “17 couturiers, leurs structures économiques”, Dépèche-Mode, n°683, mars 1974, and it is a great and complex “dataviz”. One could add some embellishments with d3.js but the structure is well-thought.

How to read the image :

  • – Haute Couture firms are placed according to their foundation date
  • – the thin-line circle is proportionnal to the number of employees
  • – the bold-line circle is proportionnal to the sales [revenue, sales turnover] : sales usually grow with the age of the firm
  • – the arrows represent the moves of specific individuals from one “haute couture house” toward another (you can see Yves Saint-Laurent leaving Dior to create Saint-Laurent) : « les nouveaux entrants sont pour la plupart des tranfuges des maisons établies » : “the “new” couturiers are very often turncoats [defectors?] from established Houses”
  • – the words at the bottom are words associated in 1974 with the Haute couture firms founded between 1880 and 1970 : Lanvin is “luxurious” and “exclusive”… Lapidus is “moderne” and rigorous”… Scherrer is “kitsh” and “ultra-chic”

It seems that this article “le couturier et sa griffe” (the fashion designer and his signature) has not yet been translated in English.

Let’s now give some background on this image :

  1. Bourdieu discusses on several occasions the uses of graphics (maps, plans, calendars, genealogical trees…) in his books. It is in “Le sens pratique” (1980), in which Bourdieu discusses his relationships with structural anthropology, that you will find the most thorough analysis of the use of diagrams :

    [My translation :] One should not see more than a theoretical artefact in the schema that put together as a sharper and synoptical form the information gathered by a recollection work(…)
    [in French] p.335 Il faut se garder de voir autre chose qu’un artefact theorique dans le schéma qui rassemble sous une forme resserrée et synoptique l’information accumulée par un travail de recollection (…)

    p.335 [schemas and explanations] are useful in two ways. First they offer an economical way to give the reader an information reduced to the relevant outlines [relevant features] and ordered according to an ordering principle both familiar and immediately visible. Second they enable us to show some of the difficulties that are created by the effort to gather and linearise the available informations (…)

    [schéma et explication] sont utiles à deux titres différents: premièrement ils offrent un moyen économique de donner au lecteur une information réduite aux traits pertinents et ordonné selon un principe d’ordre à la fois familier et immédiatement visible; deuxièmement, ils permettent de faire voir certaine des difficultés que fait surgir l’effort pour cumuler et linéariser les informations disponibles (…)

    Bourdieu wanted his diagrams to be read quite easily, but he did not want his diagrams to be only simple, they ought also be able to show that the translation from the observed reality to the graphical space is difficult. To show the work involved in creating these diagrams. They need to show many data points.

  2. The article “Le couturier et sa griffe” was published in the very first issue of “Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales“. An award-wining comics artist and illustrator, Jean-Claude Mézières, played a role in the graphical layout of this journal (which did not look like an academic journal). [to be clear : Mezières worked with Christin, who was married to the editorial staff of Actes, Rosine Christin : small world]

    Luc Boltanski (who was at the time a follower of Bourdieu) wrote recently about the creation of Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales. In this text we understand that diagrams were not only “post-structural” devices. They were also “post-comics” devices.

    [Rendre la réalité inacceptable, Paris, Demopolis, 2008]
    p.19 I collected fanzines bought in specialized bookstores. What we called fanzines at the time were small magazines by comics “fans”, often published by amateurs, without many funds (…) One of these fanzines seemed especially effective [beautiful ? successful?] : it was called Schtroumpfs (the title was an hommage to the little blue Smurfs [called Schtroumpf, in French]). One day, when I was discussing the
    thorny “journal-that-we-don’t-have” question with the boss, I pulled one issue of Schtroumpf from my bag and I said to him “We will make a sociological fanzine”…

    je collectionnais les fanzines achetés dans les librairies spécialisées. Ce que l’on appelait alors des fanzines étaient des petites revues de “fan” de BD, souvent publiées par des amateurs, avec très peu de moyens (…) L’un de ces fanzines me semblait particulièrement réussi: il s’appelait Schtroumpf (en hommage aux petits lutins du même nom). Un beau jour, au cours d’une conversation avec le patron sur cette fameuse question de la revue dont nous manquions, je sortis un exemplaire de Schtroumpf de mon sac et je lui dis: “on va faire un fanzine de sociologie”…

  3. One can find a few texts that reflects on Bourdieu’s use of diagrams, photographs, graphs and typographic variations. For example in Michel Gollac’s text : La rigueur et la rigolade (in : Rencontres avec Pierre Bourdieu, sous la direction de Gérard Mauger, Éditions du Croquant, 2005). The title translates as “Rigor and fun”, and this text reflects on Bourdieu’s oral advice that sociology should be “fun”. [I would say that his idea of “fun” was a peculiar scholastic fun. Bourdieu was not very well known for being funny]. Gollac’s idea in this text is that Bourdieu’s diagrams (which were not always based on hard statistical evidence) were supposed to be a “fun time” during the reading. A fun pause, a “free trip” into social space. But these graphs required a “strenuous effort” to be drawn… Rigor and fun…

    A central part of his text is :

    « Whether handmade diagrams or true correspondance analysis graphs, what’s essential is that they offer a novel possibility (unthinkable with tables or regression analysis results) : to wander freely in a social space. This virtual trip is a fun time, in the strongest sense of the word : offering in a single gaze the whole possible lifestyles (which is not possible with a variable-by-variable classical analysis) . it [the trip] condenses in a short amount of time the pleasure to “live all the lives”, to use one ofBourdieu’s expression.
    This condensation of the whole possible shows [makes it to appear, in French] that each practice is situated and takes its meaning only in relation to the other practices, and this is showed through a
    conscious and laborious effort, but also through the pleasure of the sensible evidence and visual esthetics. »

    « Qu’il s’agisse de diagrammes faits à la main ou de véritables graphiques d’analyses de correspondances, l’essentiel est qu’ils offrent une possibilité inédite, impensable à l’aide de tableaux ou de résultats de régressions : se promener librement dans un espace social. Cette promenade virtuelle est un moment fun, au sens le plus fort : offrant, en un seul regard, l’ensemble des styles de vie possibles (ce que ne permet nullement un traitement classique, variable par variable), elle concentre en un court instant le plaisir de « vivre toutes les vies », pour reprendre l’expression de Bourdieu.
    Cette concentration de l’ensemble des possibles fait aussi apparaître, non seulement à travers un effort conscient et pénible, donc à peu près impossible à soutenir tout au long d’une recherche, mais aussi à
    travers le plaisir de l’évidence sensible et de l’esthétique visuelle, que chaque pratique se situe et ne prend sens que par rapport aux autres. »

  4. From all these elements, it follows that diagrams are not simple images of statistical relations between variables. The relationship between statistics and images is far from being univocal :


    In the French edition of La Distinction, the “Graphique 5 / Graphique 6” “Espace des positions sociales / Espace des styles de vie” is famous. Bourdieu writes in a note that “it is not a correspondance analysis graph”, but a summary of many partial graphs that takes the form of a correspondance analysis graph. In short he says : I don’t have the data to back this graph, but I have many smaller datasets that hints at this graph… so… let’s do it.
    There are other “fake” graphs : « L’espace des consommations alimentaires » (graphique 9), « L’espace politique » (graphique 21) : « This diagram is a theoretical outline [schéma] that was constructed on the basis of a thorough reading of available statistics (and of various correspondance analyses) » [French text : Ce diagramme est un schéma théorique qui a été construit sur la base d’une lecture approfondie des statistiques disponibles (et de différentes analyses des correspondances).]

    Some see Bourdieu as a “faussaire statistique génial” : a brilliant statistical counterfeiter. But let’s be charitable and let’s speak of “a genial compositor” (creator of composite graphs).

Can you really vote twice? Proxy votes in France

Here is the companion piece to my blog post on The Monkey Cage (thanks Erik!). You can also see Arthur Charpentier’s companion piece.

France does not allow for early voting nor mail-in voting. If you want to vote, you have to go to the ballot box, or vote by proxy. Proxy voting is now easier than before, but one still has to go to the police, the gendarmerie or to a local tribunal to officialize the proxy. And one has to sign “sur l’honneur” that going to the ballot box on the day of the election is impossible. Another condition : The proxy voter needs to be registered to vote in the same city.
I was surprised to realize that French political scientists never studied proxy voting (it has been extensively studied by legal scholars of electoral fraud). Until a few years ago, it was indeed a rounding error in ballot box results, but that is not the case anymore. And to be brief, proxy voting seems to be a way for the politically active to vote when they can not physically vote. With two colleagues, Arthur Charpentier and Joël Gombin, we have begun to explore the social and political logics of the “procuration” — as proxy voting is known in France. We focused our inquiry, at first, at the polling station level (bureaux de vote) : it is a very small geographical unit of around 1000 voters, and in many cities it should be somewhat homogeneous (at least with a smaller variance than bigger geographical units).
We focused on polling stations data because the “electoral participation surveys” of the INSEE (the French National Statistical Institute) did not gather information about “proxy votes” (they were considered to be too few).

For a few years now, the main French cities have put some data online. And in a few cases, we have data about proxy votes :

  1. Montpellier : Electoral results (1994-2012), and the shapefile of the Bureaux de vote for 2012.
  2. Nantes : electoral results (2007 to 2012) and shapefile of the polling stations (for 2012)
  3. Paris : electoral results (2007-2012) But no shapefile here. I have had access to a shapefile created by the Cartelec group
  4. Lyon : It is more complicated here. Data have to be scrapped from the municipal website. The shapefile of the polling station is available. Julien Barnier put on GitHub the code used to gather electoral results

In the working paper published by La Vie des idées, we also used data created by the ANR Cartelec, which recombined data from the French census to fit the geographical units of the polling stations.

Feel free to ask for more information about la procuration en France.

A peek into google’s unconscious mind

Google Scribe suggests what words you can use. It can write entire stories about Beyonce and things popping up…
Kind of like a cadavre exquis, with google’s own cadaver.

My working conditions

It was cold yesterday in Paris. Very cold. Below 30°F (minus zero Celsius).
It was also very cold in the classroom I was supposed to teach, at “Paris 8” university (also called Vincennes at Saint-Denis, or Paris VIII). A broken window has not been fixed during the winter recess.
Was I supposed to teach with my scarf, my gloves, my coat and my winter cap ? It seems so. The student gathered around the rachitic heater (unfortunately, it is positionned just below the broken window) and we began the class.

After one hour, I was warm enough to shed the coat (but not the scarf) : my feet were beginning to feel the wind chill (the doors are not really “closing” in this building, and the winter cold was fondling my toes). But the student were shivering.
Oh… and the graffitis ! They are mostly related to French politics and adolescent leftist ideals : I won’t translate them.

But they have nothing to do in a classroom. I wonder why this room wasn’t even re-painted since… 1996 ? 1994 ?
Do you really want to see the toilets of the university Paris 8 ?


Hier, il faisait froid dehors, en tout cas en dessous de zéro.
Il faisait très froid aussi dans la salle qui m’a été attribuée pour faire cours, à Paris 8 : une fenêtre cassée n’avait pas été réparée pendant l’intersemestre, les quelques semaines qui séparent deux semestres et pendant lesquelles, parce qu’il n’y a pas de cours, les travaux sont prévus.

J’y ai donc fait cours en manteau, avec écharpe et bonnet pendant au moins la première heure. Après, parce que faire cours me réchauffe, j’ai pu sortir de cette sorte de burqa chauffante. Mais les étudiantes, elles, sont coincées, assises dans le froid pendant trois heures.
Que trouve-t-on d’autre dans cette salle ? Des insultes, comme “Démembrons Madame Boutin” et d’autres graffitis : cette salle ne semble jamais avoir été repeinte. Des coulées noirâtres perlent du faux plafond troué.
Les tables sont cassées, le sol n’est plus nettoyé depuis bien longtemps, il n’y a pas de quoi effacer le tableau ni de quoi écrire, il n’y a ni vidéoprojecteur, ni télévision, ni même de prise électrique qui fonctionne. La porte ne ferme plus vraiment.
Et il fait très froid.

National obsessions / Névroses nationales

  • Est-il stupide de penser que les sociologues françaises sont surtout préoccupées par la question des dispositions, de l’incorporation des habitudes, et les sociologues américaines par le débat structure / agency ?
  • If I think that French sociologists are mainly concerned with what we call “les dispositions“, and their US counterparts by a structure/agency debate… am I far away from something true ?
    Could it explain some misunderstandings between international colleagues ?

[Thanks : Etienne O., Erving G., William G.]

A journalistic sex toy raid

IIn the US, some states prohibit the retail of sex-toys. And citizen journalists are fighting to enforce these laws, too often neglected by the police. Yesterday in Jackson Mississippi, a strong-willed local and undercover journalist tried to buy one personal vibrator. A purple one.
Adult Store Caught Selling Illegal Sex Toys : “Adult Video and Books on McDowell Road in Jackson is apparently selling illegal sex toys again.”
A…GAIN ! ? Indeed : « A “3 on Your Side” undercover investigation shows that the business is back at it again and is not even discreet about selling the devices.
WLBT received the tip, so we decided to go undercover to see if it was true. »

[flashvideo filename=”../../blog/fichiers/2008/20080131-wblt-sextoys.flv” width=”320″ height=”240″ /]

Unfortunately : the police doesn’t care… even though « Section 97-29-105 of the Mississippi Code provides that knowingly selling, advertising, publishing or exhibiting any three-dimensional device designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genitalia (“sexual devices”) is illegal.» [Miss. Code Ann. § 97-29-105 (Rev. 2000)]

Elsewhere on the internet : Cory Silverberg, JackBeNimble, Violet Blue