I am a political sociologist working as a research director at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS – CREST) in France. I am also a Professor of sociology (part time) at l’Ecole polytechnique.
I am regularly invited to teach at French and foreign universities. Over the last 5 years, I have held visiting professor positions at ENS-Paris, Berkeley, University of Chicago, IDAES Buenos Aires, Linköping University, ENSAE, Chalmers Institute in Gothenburg.
I was until recently the editor (non-thematic issues) of Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, a leading journal in the francophone space (yes, you should definitely submit to it, even in other languages than French).
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My recent research focused on the transformations of the political fields over the last decades, with a focus on the question of political professionalization. It drew on an extensive study carried out at the French Parliament, using both ethnographic material and digital data. A recent series of publications investigates the much-decried « professionalization of politics, » in France since the 1970s.
I summarized these results in my latest book. Based upon a long-term ethnography, and extensively leveraging computational social sciences, the book offers a deep dive into the everyday life of national politicians. It captures their joys, pains and surprises in order to dissect the fabric of contemporary politics.
From there, it probes the role of experience in the making of the current homo politicus, as well as reflects on how to make democracy more functional and inclusive.
Using the legislature elected in June 2017 – when dozens of amateurs were brutally projected onto the national political scene – as a case study, it analyzes the role of experience in politics. Do novices do politics differently? Did they transform the practice of politics – a claim made during the campaign by Emmanuel Macron and his team – or were they transformed by it? What is the texture of the modern political condition?
The book answers these questions, as well as offers concrete elements to think about real reform of contemporary politics. The book also sets forth a theory of waiting lines. It shows that what is commonly described as a « professionalization of politics » (or a rise in the number of « career politicians ») would gain from being analyzed as an extension of the queue in which wanna-be politicians have to wait before they access national positions. Based on this in-depth study, I investigate the consequences of this wait on access to the political field, on the practice of politicians and their self-concept, as well as on the increasing distance it produces between laypeople and elected officials.
You can find some elements of the reception of the book here, both in academic and popular outlets. I sometimes write newspaper-invited columns on this theme, including this double page in the French daily Le Monde on the newly elected parliament, or this one on the painful discovery of politics by political novices.
Previous work dealt with the French « War on Cults, » which saw the country wage an intense battle against these groups for more than three decades. It was published by La Découverte in 2017, under the title Raison d’Etat. Histoire de la lutte contre les sectes [Reason of State. A History of the French War on Cults].
My second interest is methodological. I am also invested in the rapidly developing area of computational social sciences.
In the last few years, I have reflected on digital data and its use for (social) sciences, for instance by critically investigating the so-called big data revolution. I regularly make use of computational methods to collect, format, and analyze data (such as in this paper on the Superiority of Economists, co-authored with Marion Fourcade & Yann Algan, or in this one on the reception of French sociologists in the USA, with Andrew Abbott).
Part of this work deals with machine learning. One of my interests is to clarify what can social sciences do with it, and conversely what it can do to them. The first article about this project, co-authored with J. Boelaert, was published in the Revue Française de Sociologie under the title « The Great Regression. Econometrics, Machine Learning, and the Future of Quantification » (get it here). Another one, on how to use machine learning to « augment » social sciences came out at Sociological Methods and Research in 2022 (get it there).
I am currently exploring the transformations of political journalism and of public debate using state-of-the-art Natural Language Processing tools.
Eventually, I dedicate part of my time to spreading the computational social science gospel, teaching social scientists how to collect, format, and analyze digital data in various forms. To this effect, I regularly organize intensive workshops on the topic, in France or abroad. Here is a complete version of this course on Digital Strategies for the Social Sciences (with videos and exercises, in French). And you’ll find here the program of the SICSS-Paris workshop, held in June.