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I am a political sociologist working as a senior research fellow at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS – CREST) in France. I am also a Professor of sociology at l’Ecole polytechnique.
I am regularly invited to teach in 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 (and yes, you should definitely submit to it, even in other languages than French).
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My current research focuses on the transformations of the political fields in Europe over the last decades, with a focus on the question of political professionalization. It draws on an extensive study carried out at the French Parliament, using both ethnographic material and digital data. A recent series of publications investigated the much decried « professionalization of politics, » in France since the 1970s.
A first book, co-authored with S. Michon & J. Boelaert, was published in 2017 under the title Métier: Député [Occupation: MP], and was widely discussed during the 2017 election season. Other articles have been published or are in print. In October 2021, I will publish a second, broader volume.
Based upon a long term ethnography, this book offers a deep dive into the everyday life of national politicians. It captures their joys and pains, and surprises to dissect the fabric of contemporary politic. Using digital data and machine learning, it also answers the question « what can novices do? ». From there, it probes the role of experience on the making of the current homo politicus, as well as reflections on how to make democracy more productive. The book, entitled Les candidats. Novices et professionnels en politique [Homo Politicus. Amateurs and Professionals in Politics] will be published by PUF in October. The English translation is under way.
Using the legislature elected in June 2017 – when dozens of full amateurs were brutally projected onto the national political scene – as a case study, it analyzes the role of experience on 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 to these questions, as well as it offers concrete elements to think about a real reform of contemporary politics. The book also sets forth a theory of waiting lines. 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 position. Based on this in-depth study, I investigate the consequences of this wait on the access to the political field, on the practice of politicians and their self-concept , as well as on the increasing distance it produces between layperson and elected officials.
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.
A 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 field of computational social sciences. In the last years, I have reflected on digital data and their 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 with machine learning. One of my interest 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).
Currently, I am exploring the transformations of political journalism and of the public debate am 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 (in French).