Re-evaluation of the humanities | Duty

Historian, sociologist, writer, lecturer at the University of Quebec at Chicoutimi in History, Sociology, Anthropology, Political Science and International Cooperation, and Chair of Canada’s Department of Collective Imagination Studies.


During a workshop at the École de technologie superieure on February 5, Rémy Quirion and Jean-Pierre Perrault, Chief Scientist of Quebec and President of ACFAS, respectively, expressed the wish that more space be given to science in the field of knowledge. We should welcome this statement, which I would like to expand on.

In fact, all too often when it comes to science, knowledge or innovation, we spontaneously think of basic and applied sciences, technology, often medicine, and almost never the social or cultural sciences. In the same way, when we talk about the major issues facing our society that require the involvement of “science”, we usually refer to imbalances related to climate and, more generally, to the environment, the development and application of new technologies, space, biology. . , etc.

Here, however, are three examples of serious problems in the humanities. The first concerns the fair management of diversity. This question has been asked at all times and in all societies. The solution that was brought to her – with rare exceptions – was to suppress her by forced assimilation or to suppress her by other, more violent means (we know sad examples of this even today, during the Olympic celebrations …).

With the advent of human rights, we have come to respect and welcome differences. But this new orientation has created other difficulties, breaking the old symbolic schemes worked out in the past of peoples; we are talking here about traditions, identity, memory. How to share them with newcomers, taking into account their own cultural heritage, but without diluting or sacrificing it? Almost all modern societies struggle with this problem; no one has found what we could call a solution.

The second example concerns the cultural foundations of social cohesion. All collective life is based on a symbolic basis (mainly ideals, beliefs), which overcomes divisions, interests, parties, cements social ties and allows reaching the consensus necessary for governance. These landmarks also inspire citizens who find meaning in their lives and thus regulate their behavior. What happens when these landmarks blur or collapse? An eloquent example of this is currently being given by the United States, a country struggling with very serious pathologies, because its symbolic basis is mainlyAmerican dream which was its core is falling apart. “We don’t know how to do things together anymore,” headlined recently New York Times. But how to restore these sights? How to solder national imaginary?

The third example concerns the fate of democracy. Many studies agree: the health of the world’s democracies is deteriorating. Moreover, we see, for example, in Africa, that democracies are collapsing in favor of dictatorships. What we know well is the role of solidarity as the main condition of democracy. Without this condition, a state of disorder and disunity is established, conducive to the emergence of despots. Thus, the social bond is held only by force. But then again, we don’t know how to fix the community fabric.

Broken companies

In these three cases, my diagnosis seems pessimistic, but it is very close to reality. Otherwise, the means to rebuild shattered societies would have been available long ago.

These three problems have diverse and profound implications in all spheres of collective life. These are also problems for which no society has yet found real remedies, despite the research that has been done. But who will argue with the fact that the acquired knowledge, even if it remains partial, does not deserve to belong to the field of “knowledge” and “science”?

Likewise, who would like to prioritize disciplinary areas and subjects of study? Is racism and oppression of women, planetary issues less important than the future of mobile phones? Is the elimination of social inequality less urgent than the observation of the planets? Is fighting suicide and understanding its causes less important than not knowing the seabed? And what about the omnipresence of violence, the banalization of torture, pedophilia, etc.? ?

One might argue that, unlike the “exact” sciences, the humanities suffer from a serious shortcoming, namely the inability to formulate laws. This shortcoming is obviously related to the nature of the object on which they work: their daily lot consists of vague and tenacious perceptions, unconscious impulses, emotions, incoherent behavior, that is, all phenomena subject to irrationality. On the contrary, “science” will operate on a solid basis that can be easily understood. This is another illusion. Some of the questions that he fails to clear up are enormous, both from the side of the infinitely large and from the side of the infinitely small.

This imbalance requires, of course, a more equitable distribution of subsidies, but also a new recognition of titles and positions. He also advocates a reform of the scientific imagination, which considers “scientific” only those who work with test tubes, those who wear lab coats, or, more generally, research based on an impressive infrastructure of equipment.

Therefore, we should be pleased that the two great bosses of science in Quebec have a more realistic and fair vision of scientific work, as well as issues related to subjects and areas of study.

PS – Death February 18 Francois Ricard. Very sad news. Brilliant, very insightful mind. Generous, humble person. One of the most remarkable intellectuals of contemporary Quebec. A great humanist has left us.

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