Luc Boltanski

Luc Boltanski (born 4 January 1940) is a French sociologist, Professor at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris, and founder of the Groupe de Sociologie Politique et Morale, known as the leading figure in the new "pragmatic" school of French sociology.[1] His work has significantly influenced sociology, political economy and social and economic history. He is the brother of artist Christian Boltanski.


Boltanski contributed to the start of the "political and moral sociology" framework. Political and moral sociology has gradually developed as a research programmein the sense proposed by Imre Lakatosaround a conceptual nucleus looking to construct a theory of action based on Émile Durkheim's theory of moral fact, revising the inheritance of ‘methodological structuralism’ from the point of view of dynamics and processes. The research program stresses how, in many conflicts, the characteristics of the disputants change during the course of the conflict.

Boltanski's most recent work deals with the links between detective novels and the emergence of the nation state.[2]

On Justification

A book co-authored with Laurent Thévenot, On Justification: The Economies of Worth, 2006 (French original: 1991), argues that modern societies are not a single social order but an interweaving of multiple orders. Boltanski and Thévenot identify six "orders of worth" or "economies of worth," systematic and coherent principles of evaluation. These multiple orders (civic, market, inspired, fame, industrial, and domestic) are not associated with particular social domains but coexist in the same social space—as Boltanski and Thévenot persuasively demonstrate through a content analysis of texts used in managerial training in contemporary French corporations.

Central to On Justification is the notion of "test" to indicate forms of conflict among the actors, with a variable degree of legitimacy (chap. 5). If the experiences following one another in conflict processes are legitimate, they firmly bind actors to claim the universality of their reasoning in accord with the order of worth they refer to. If, however, the agents in conflict refer to different order of worth (e.g. to that of the civic polity and to that of the industrial polity), legitimate tests are not available. But if the agents are nevertheless oriented towards a notion of the common good (which belongs to neither of the conflicting polities), an (albeit fragile) "compromise" may evolve to settle the dispute (chap. 10). The notion of workers' rights is an example of such a compromise between the industrial and the civic orders (p. 325). These compromises are always fragile because attempts to define the common good, on which the compromise rests, are bound to re-ignite the conflict (p. 278).

The New Spirit of Capitalism

The New Spirit of Capitalism, 2005 (French original: 1999), co-authored with Ève Chiapello, explores a seventh "projective city"[3] (organized around the concept of flexible networks now prominent in the conception of "the project"). While On Justification was based on an analysis of major texts of political philosophy, this book is based on a systematic analysis of managerial literature from the 1960s and 1990s and aims "to describe the 'residue', which cannot be interpreted in the language of the six existing cities" (p. 24).

The Enrichment Economy

By ‘enrichment economy’, Boltanski and Esquerre (2014, 2016) designate a development of capitalism based on tourism, luxury, art and heritage. The term ‘enrichment’ does not refer to the growth of private fortunes, but rather to the processes that increase the value of objects. Boltanski and Esquerre define value as the justification for price. Any object can be enriched, however ancient or modern it is, and the enrichment can be physical or cultural, through the use of a narrative device. At the heart of this ‘enrichment economy’ it the ‘collection form’, which makes room in the capitalist cosmos for increasing the value of things from the past and things that, though they may be recent, are treated as if they were destined to become immortal.

Selected publications


  1. Groupe de Sociologie Politique et Morale web site
  2. cf « Une étude en noir », Tracés, n°20 et Enigmes et complots : Une enquête à propos d'enquêtes, Gallimard, 2011.
  3. The French term cité has apparently been translated differently in On Justification (polity) and The New Spirit of Capitalism. (city)

Further reading

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