Alain Touraine, a great universalist and committed intellectual, is dead

Alain Touraine, in February 1980.

A major figure on the French and international intellectual scene, the sociologist Alain Touraine died in Paris on Friday morning June 9. He was 97 years old. From his first field investigations in the Renault factories to his latest texts on the metamorphoses of “speculative” capitalism, this enthusiastic traveler never ceased to observe the social world, its profound changes, its new dividing lines, its resources of indignation and freedom, too. Me, what interests me, what I try to bring to light everywhere, is the conflict “, he summarized in 2017 during an informal meeting. Telling about society, recounting its conflicts, such will have been the vocation of this flamboyant intellectual, with curiosities without borders, trained in the dual school of literature and the Liberation.

Born on August 3, 1925 in Hermanville-sur-mer (Calvados), into a rather bourgeois and conservative family, Alain Touraine grew up surrounded by books. His father, doctor and professor of dermatology, subscribed to the original editions of several large houses, including Gallimard and Grasset. “I belong to the last generations brought up by literature, he confided. My education was more moralistic than political. For me, politics at the time was Hope, by Malraux (Gallimard, 1937). »

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An exalted child of literature, Touraine was also a son of debacle. In the 1950s, while studying in the United States, he came across a course by the great sociologist Talcott Parsons (1902-1979), and it was a shock: “It made me sick, and in two hours, I understood what I was up against!, he remembered. For Parsons, as for many Americans who had won the war, society was a matter of course, they lived in it as one lives in a house with a roof and walls. I had immediately been uncomfortable in a society that had behaved badly, collapsed, and which no longer knew at all what it wanted. »

Serious and ardent

This social world, envisaged from the outset as a moral problem and as a collective fray, the young Touraine very quickly took it to heart to study it closely, with the seriousness and ardor which have always distinguished him. After joining Normale Sup in 1945, he began studying history at the Sorbonne and met the Marxist professor Ernest Labrousse, who sent him to Hungary on the occasion of the centenary of the 1848 revolutions. longer than expected, traveling the country and visiting farms in full agrarian reform, just before the communist glaciation.

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