Explorer l'index des titres

The Empowerment in Urban Policies

General context

As it has been largely documented, modern states are facing political rescaling processes in which the roles and functions of the different levels of government are evolving (Jessop 1994 ; 2000 ; Swyngedouw 2000 ; Brenner and Theodore 2003 ; Brenner 2004). Obviously, city-regions are becoming central economic and political territories in which a new division of labour is being established between the states and the local level. This extensive transformation is also affecting the nature and the contents of the relations between public authorities and civil society. These processes are part of a "new deal" which has occurred in the last decades.

For 30 years, claims for "political participation" coming from the civil societies in the formulation and the implementation of urban policies or public policies dealing with urban areas (health, sanitation, education, housing, public services, economic development ...) meet historically the new directions taken by states and international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, ... in order to reshape the very nature of their public policy framework (International Monetary Fund 2005 ; World Bank 2005).

Increasingly, top-down policies are completed by bottom-up policies aiming at giving new rights and responsibilities to the civil society in the urban policy making process.

In diverse countries, the empowerment of civil societies is at the core of many urban policies. Empowerment is currently being encouraged by international institutions in developing countries, but also by supra-national bodies such as the European Union and by states. Empowerment, like many all-purpose terms made plastic by indiscriminate use, has been highly popular for a number of years. It has its keynote writers (Friedman 1992 ; Sirianni and Friedlland 2001 ; Fung and Wright 2003). The definition of empowerment is not stabilized but one has to remain that, potentially, empowerment has a subversive dimension. Contrary to traditional development policies, empowerment is based on a right-based approach, focusing on poor and deprived individuals and social groups. Quoting J. Friedmann, "No matter how dynamic, an economic system that has little or no use for better than half of the world's population can and must be radically transformed. Broadly speaking, the objective of an alternative development is to humanize a system that has shut them out, and to accomplish this through forms of everyday resistance and political struggle that insist on the rights of the excluded population as human beings, as citizens, and as persons intent on realizing their loving and creative powers within. Its central objective is their inclusion in a restructured system that does not make them redundant" (Friedmann, 1992). We may refer as well to Chambers' definition: "Empowerment means that people, especially poorer people, are enabled to take more control over their lives, and secure a better livelihood with ownership and control of productive assets as one key element" (Chambers 2003) or to Kabeer's one: "Empowerment refers to the expansion in people's ability to make strategic life choices in a context where this ability was previously denied to them" (Kabeer 1999).

More generally, we may also refer to the Nobel Prize A. Sen's work when he considers that "development requires the removal of the major sources of unfreedom: poverty as well as tyranny, poor economic opportunities as well as systemic social deprivation, neglect of public facilities as well as intolerance or overactivity of repressive states... What difference can a focal concentration on freedom make? The difference arises from two rather distinct reasons, related respectively to the "process aspect" and the "opportunity aspect" of freedom. Firstly, since freedom is concerned with processes of decision making as well as opportunities to achieve valued outcomes, the domain of our interest cannot be confined only to the outcomes in the form of the promotion of high output or income, or the generation of high consumption (or other variables to which the concept of economic growth relates). Such processes as participation in political decisions and social choice cannot be seen as being - at best - among the means to development (through, say their contribution to economic growth), but have to be understood as constitutive parts of the ends of development themselves". So, empowerment has to do with a theory of Justice and Liberty.

Although social inequalities are becoming increasingly marked, empowerment refers to a set of major transformations in policies in order to fight against poverty, to reframe gender relations, to manage cultural diversity in multicultural cities and related problems. This new social and political contract between States and civil societies, whatever the history of states and the statehood, lies upon several assumptions that can be summarized through a Mills - De Tocqueville interpretative scheme:

1. Public (urban) policies are more efficient when involving collective actors and individuals who are directly concerned by the outputs;
2. The efficiency of these policies is improved when they imply the stakeholders directly concerned by the outputs, i.e. individuals and social groups part of civil societies;
3. Civil societies are considered more flexible and more innovative, regarding the content of public policies, than public administrations regarded as too bureaucratic, too formal, and in some cases corrupted
4. The local level, within cities, is the most relevant political and social space in order to promote local democracy and empowerment because the sense of belonging to a community and civic engagement is more developed at this stage;
5. The empowerment is an efficient "tool" which transforms the state-centred political order by improving decentralisation process, pluralisation of decision-making process and, most of all, democratization process.

These axioms are part of an ideal state-society relationship, where State regulation is transformed and civil societies get more responsibilities. In sum, the empowerment aims at redefining the content of urban politics and policies by challenging the asymmetry of resources and forms of legitimacy between the civil society and the state.

It has become obvious that empowerment is part of a general tendency affecting contemporary States and the ways polity and politics are organized. Instead of asymmetric relations between, on the one hand, the state and the society, and, on the other hand, between social groups, empowerment is based on mobilization of social groups considered as deprived and marginalized.

Empowerment underscores the criticism of the bureaucratic State that is considered inefficient and not easily adapted to the new challenges. In developed and developing countries, States are considered to be less relevant, in economic, social and political terms, than during the last five decades. In developed countries, lots of works have been written on their "ungovernability" and their inability to react and to adapt themselves to the social and economic crisis following the end of Fordism and Keynesianism (Paquet 2006). In developing countries, the "state problem" is even deeper since the state and its policies are described as being characterized by nepotism, corruption and collusion (Gibson and Woolcock 2005). In both cases, the State is criticized as being inefficient. It means that the legitimacy of the state is assessed through its outputs, i.e. its public policies, and/or the political practices developed within them. In that sense, empowerment is seen as the way to treat collective problems that are not solved by traditional (state) policies: poverty, education, health, provision of collective services and collective goods... In front of such problems, empowerment appears as a social construct improving the efficiency of public policies by giving the right to deprived and marginalized the capacity to act, by transferring to them material and political resources. Beyond these rights and resources, empowerment is based on a very sophisticated conceptual and analytical framework which legitimates its very existence and its implementation. Indeed, one should note that the Keynesian Welfare-State relied on macro-economic theory dealing with money as well as on a social theory dealing with uneven development and (social/territorial) justice.

The "conservative revolution" and the leading role taken by the monetarist school of Chicago during the 80s and the 90s had also the same components: a macro-economic theory and a social theory of justice focusing not on society as a whole but on individuals. In both cases, polity and policy were embedded in the state as a specific social entity, distinct from the civil society. The main differences concerned of course the role and functions of the State towards the market and redistribution goals.

It is also to be noted that empowerment is based on a scientific framework and a theory of justice which partly gives its legitimacy but needs to be explicit. Economic theories are no longer the main source of academic legitimacy of empowerment - geography, sociology and political science are. It means that, as well as for the Keynesian School and the Monetarist School, a specific part of social sciences played and is still playing a major role in the institutionalization of empowerment within public doctrines implemented by local, national and international (public) institutions. This is obvious in official reports and working papers produced for the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and others State agencies (Serageldin and Mahfouz 1996 ; Narayan-Parker 2002 ; Das Gupta, Grandvoinnet and Romani 2003 ; Alsop 2005 ; Alsop and Heinsohn 2005 ; World Bank 2005 ; Alsop, Bertelsen and Holland 2006 ; Narayan-Parker 2006 ; Shah 2007). That's why the exact status of empowerment is so difficult to determine: it is, at the same time, a category of action structuring a political agenda and a scientific issue for sociologists, socio-cultural anthropologists, geographers and political scientists dealing with contentious politics in urban spaces. The ambiguity of empowerment is perfectly summarized in the title and the general presentation of Empowerment and Practice: From Analysis to Implementation published by the World Bank (Alsop, Bertelsen and Holland 2006).

This conference seeks to analyze and to compare the institutionalization of empowerment and its impacts in diverse political, cultural, economic and institutional contexts since the empowerment seems, theoretically, to be a matrix of profound changes within contemporary States. The three-day conference organized by the UNESCO Chair on Urban Politics and Citizenship will address two key issues that are currently at the core of the transformations mentioned above: (i) the political and economical conditions of the institutionalization of empowerment in urban policies for the last 20 years, and (ii) the uses of empowerment on and by social groups within cities.

1- The institutionalization of empowerment in urban policies

The first session of this conference will deal with the institutionalization of empowerment as a governmental practice. Since J. Friedmann's book in 1992, the general context has radically changed. J. Friedmann recognized that the poor are actively engaged in the production of their lives and the betterment of their livelihoods, activities that usually suffer from - "invisibility to official eyes" (p. 43). This invisibility, then, is not for lack of visible activity, but because traditional economic metrics such as the gross domestic product lack the ability to recognize such activity. Since then, empowerment strategies have been at the core of number of development policies and urban policies, either in the "North" or in the "South". As P. Rosanvallon reminds us, if participative democracy - and empowerment is the more subversive political behavior - is potentially powerful in regard of social and political changes, we must be awarded of its possible co-optation within classical politics based on asymmetry of resources and legitimacy (Rosanvallon 2008).

In this session, empowerment will be understood as a tool of government within State apparatus (Salamon and Elliott 2002). This "tool" provides both opportunities for social and political change but constraints as well. It influences the strategies of a large set of actors by identifying good practices, and thereby identifying approved and unapproved behaviours. What has empowerment got with the State transformations during the last two decades (in developed and developing countries)? How does it influence the relationships between individuals/citizens and the State? What is the role played by development agencies and States in enhancing empowerment in urban policies? How did they lead to making empowerment a central tool of government? Does the institutionalization of empowerment result in top-down" policies or more bottom-up policies? Beyond these hypotheses - classical in political science and in public policy analysis - the political rescaling affecting modern States tends to put a special emphasis on networks of actors and institutions, promoting and institutionalizing empowerment, at the same time, at different levels of government. In that sense, the institutionalization process could be analyzed as the result of a trans-national activity in which local, national and international actors and institutions interact and stabilize empowerment in its contents.

Regarding precisely its contents, and using Gramsci's work (Gramsci, Hoare and Nowell-Smith 1972), is empowerment a component of the "ideological hegemony" at the very basis of neoliberalism (Laclau and Mouffe 2001 ; Jessop 2002)? On the contrary, can it be analyzed as a part of a "counter-hegemonic project" (Levesque, Bourque and Forgues 2001)? What are the roles of activists and academics in promoting empowerment? May we put forward a general hypothesis of the use (and the cooptation) of their discourses and scientific analysis within broader modifications of Statehood that are closely articulated to a (implicit) theory of justice and to the definition of what is and should be the functions of the state and more generally the political which tends to be more and more "agonistic" (Mouffe 2005)?

2- Empowerment and the harsh reality of territorial social systems

The second session of the conference will be dedicated to the implementation of such a "tool of government". It will be based on the general hypothesis that empowerment, in practice, is territorially and socially based. It is embedded in social and territorial contexts that have their own social dynamics, their own history, and their own political culture. If empowerment is closely linked with a theory and a practice of self-government "by and for the people", it is not possible to analyze its implementation without taking into account the political and sociological "trajectories" of localised civil societies. For the purpose of this conference, the term "trajectory" is referred to "clash" between societies and modernity. The "clash" has been more or less violent and it structured social relationships inside groups and between them.

As we know, modernity is an intellectual notion and a social construct produced by western countries. It has been a powerful intellectual and technological framework during the XIXth century and all the XXth century at the basis of industrialization in "Northern countries". It has transformed social relationships, behaviours, and norms. From a sociological point of view, we know from Tonnies' typology or E. Durkheim's writings, that the transition from Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft, from community to society, has had very strong implications regarding social relationships by impacting and putting into question traditions, beliefs, hierarchy, sense of belonging (to a territory and/or a social group). On the contrary, modernity didn't have the same "impact" on "Southern countries". The conference will deal with this central question of modernity by using cross-national comparisons and cross-cultural comparisons.

Briefly, empowerment relies on a general hypothesis that it is possible and necessary to (re-)build local communities gathering individuals who share common interests, same identities. The empowerment strategies implemented, both in developed and developing countries, put the emphasis on this social dimension in which the building and activation of territorial and/or social identities, from which it is possible to generate collective action, are key factors of success, or failure. In some cases, social groups are clearly identified: women, deprived persons, poor dwellers, young people, ... In other cases, the identification of targets of empowerment is not explicitly based on social criteria but is expressed in territorial terms even if, generally speaking, it is routine to select specific groups living in particular urban neighbourhoods.

Especially in developed countries, is empowerment enough to rebuild local communities although the introduction of modernity is credited to them? What about the effect of the economic crisis on deprived groups, specially the "truly disadvantaged", living in stigmatized neighbourhoods, for whom the relationships with public institutions are put into question by the Welfare state restructuring (Wilson 1987 ; Lapeyronnie 2008)? What kind of incentives mobilised by empowerment (symbolic, political and material) are more efficient? If we understand empowerment as an opportunity structure (Kriesi, Koopmans, Duyvendak and Guigni 1992), who are the social groups within cities to benefit from it? Is it relevant, regarding the empowerment objectives, to put a special emphasis on this social dynamic though, at the same time, lots of authors consider that, in developed countries, we are facing "apathetic" civil societies (Eliasoph 1998), in which social capital is weaker (Putnam 2000). This diagnosis is not new since Walter Lippmann identified since the mid-1920s a clear tendency to societies becoming structured by self-centered individuals and self contained communities, with very little interest in politics (Lippmann 1922 ; 1925)? Nowadays, what are the socio-political conditions of possibility for empowerment to be effective? On a more critical perspective, what are the effects of empowerment on the segmentation of society and/or territory?

What are the resources used and built by social groups? Are they pre-given and/or built at the same time as empowerment policies are elaborated and implemented? By whom, inside social groups, these resources are used and/or built? It means, who is able to take advantage, from a socio-political point of view, of empowerment practices within urban policies? Using M. Weber's typology, what type of legitimacy (traditional, charismatic, and legal-rational) is used and how does it fit within broader social and cultural contexts? Does legitimacy evolves while implementing empowerment? May we identify different stages of empowerment practices by referring them to different types of legitimacy inside civil society? The questions raised by empowerment strategies are partly different in countries where the state building process and its consolidation is recent. It is perfectly admitted by international organizations such as the World Bank. In 2004, the World Bank Institute's Community Empowerment and Social Inclusion Learning Program (CESI) launched what is expected to become a major initiative on this topic under the partnership of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the World Bank Institute. This project, entitled "Traditional Structures in Local Governance" aims at taking into account the specificity of "traditional" forms of social relationships and power structures. Indeed, do traditional kinship ties help or hinder empowerment efforts, given that urbanites in Africa and many other non-Euro-American societies are reported to retain strong functional kinship ties with their relatives in the cities as well as those in their rural areas of origin? Indeed one recent study of the African situation has linked collective kin interest with rural-urban emigration in the first place (Dabire 2007). What lessons may be learnt from such kin strategies, if they are helpful in this context? What options are there for amelioration or adjustment of the situation if they are not helpful?

Culture lag is a familiar anthropological phenomenon, in other words material culture change faster than the intellectual aspects of culture. Is this the case with urbanites of developing nations? Do the autochthonous customs in which the urbanites are encultured affect empowerment efforts positively or negatively?
Studies have shown that some countries in the global South are seriously affected by corruption in bureaucracy and government (Ezeh 2002). Is there relationship between this and knowledge system, or kinship structure or both of these? Does this impinge on empowerment in any demonstrable way? If yes, what may be done? How effective or even appropriate is the foreign-derived profane knowledge, in the form of school-type or other forms of knowledge including those from Western-style mass media? Are local media facilitators or inhibitors of the empowerment project?

Religion (of foreign provenance) is found in most of the societies under consideration. What is the effect of this on empowerment, given that religion has been described as a factor that can foster or hinder economic progress (Ord and Livingstone 1969)? In some of these places, for example Nigeria, inter-religious troubles are frequent and endemic. Are there other inter-group relations, such as inter-ethnic, gender, inter-clan, etc, that are relevant in comparable manner? Do these have indirect or direct implications on empowerment? Comaroff and Comaroff have observed that modernity is a European cultural product and that Christianity is a vehicle for spreading it to other parts of the world (Comarrof and Comarrof 2002). Yet another study focusing on Ghana found that this and relatively new Christian movements are avenues for socio-political authority for those that promote them (Senah 2004). Can these claims be confirmed by other empirical evidence? Are these new religions empowering or disempowering the urbanites of the Third World? In empowering the urban less privileged, can or do religions (evangelical Christianity, or other "imported" religions), play the kind of role enunciated in Weber's classical thesis in the Protestant ethic? Compared to it and its possible function in empowerment, how should we evaluate the place and role of autochthonous religions as well as such non-Christian international religions as Islam and Buddhism, in developing countries? Do they empower or disempower the deprived social groups?


Alsop, R. (2005), Power, rights and poverty : concepts and connections, World Bank, Washington, DC.

Alsop, R., Bertelsen, M. F. and Holland, J. (2006), Empowerment in practice : from analysis to implementation, World Bank, Washington, DC.

Alsop, R. and Heinsohn, N. (2005), Measuring empowerment in practice: structuring analysis and framing indicators, World Bank, Washington, D.C.

Brenner, N. (2004), New state spaces : urban governance and the rescaling of statehood, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Brenner, N. and Theodore, N. (sous la direction de) (2003), Spaces of Neoliberalism: Urban Restructuring in North America and Western Europe, Blackwell, Oxford.

Chambers, R. (2003), Challenging the Professions: Frontiers for Rural Development, Practical Action Publishing, Rugby.

Comarrof, J. and Comarrof, J. (2002), "The Colonization of Consciousness", in: Lambek, M. (sous la direction de), A Reader in the Anthropology of Religion, Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 493-410.

Dabire, B. (2007), "Les determinants familiaux de l'emigration rurale au Burkina Faso", Etude de la population Africaine, vol. 22, n? 1, pp. 117-144.

Das Gupta, M., Grandvoinnet, H. and Romani, M. (2003), Fostering Community-Driven Development: What Role for the State?, World Bank Policy Research Paper, n? 2969, World Bank, Washington.

Eliasoph, N. (1998), Avoiding Politics: How Americans produce Apathy in Everyday Life?, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Ezeh, P.-J. (2002), "Corruption and Deviant Behaviour in Nigeria: an Anthropological Perspective", in: Ugwu, C. T. (eds.), Corruption in Nigeria: Critical Perspectives, Chuka educational Publishers, Nsukka, pp. 153-174.

Friedman, J. (1992), Empowerment. The Politics of Alternative Development, Blackwell, Cambridge.

Fung, A. and Wright, E. O. (2003), Deepening Democracy. Institutional Innovations in Empowered Participatory Governance, Verso, Londres.

Gibson, C. and Woolcock, M. J. V. (2005), Empowerment and local level conflict mediation in Indonesia: a comparative analysis of concepts, measures, and project efficacy, World Bank, Washington, D.C.

Gramsci, A., Hoare, Q. and Nowell-Smith, G. (1972), Selections from the prison notebooks of Antonio Gramsci, International Publishers, New York.

International Monetary Fund (2005), 2005 Review of the Poverty Reduction Strategy Approach: Balancing Accountabilities and Scaling Up Results, International Monetary Fund, Washington.

Jessop, B. (2000), "The Crisis of the National Spatio-Temporal Fix and the Tendential Ecological Dominance of Globalizing Capitalism", International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, vol. 24, n? 2, pp. 323-360.

Jessop, B. (2002), "Liberalism, Neoliberalism, and Urban Governance: A State Theoretical Perspective", in: Brenner, N. and Theodore, N. (eds.), Spaces of Neoliberalism: Urban Restructuring in North America and Western Europe, Blackwell, London, pp. 105-125.

Jessop, B. (1994), "The transition to post-fordism and the Schumpeterian Workfare State", in: Loader, B. and Burrows, R. (eds.), Towards a Post-Fordist Welfare State?, Routledge, London, pp. 13-38.

Kabeer, N. (1999), "Resources, Agency, Achievements: Reflections on the Measurement of Women's Empowerment ", Development and Change, vol. 30, n? 3, pp. 435-464.

Kriesi, H., Koopmans, R., Duyvendak, J. W. and Guigni, M. (1992), "New social movements and political opportunities in Western Europe", European Journal of Political Research, vol. n? 22, pp. 219-244.

Laclau, E. and Mouffe, C. (2001), Hegemony and Socialist Strategy : Towards a Radical Democratic Politics, Verso, London.

Lapeyronnie, D. (2008), Ghetto urbain. Segregation, violence, pauvrete en France aujourd'hui, Robert Laffont, Paris.

Levesque, B., Bourque, G. L. and Forgues, E. (2001), La nouvelle sociologie economique, Desclee de Brouwer, Paris.

Lippmann, W. (1925), The Phantom Public, Harcourt, New York.

Lippmann, W. (1922), Public Opinion, Free Press, New York.

Mouffe, C. (2005), The Return of the Political, Verso, London.

Narayan-Parker, D. (2002), Empowerment and poverty reduction : a sourcebook, World Bank, Washington, DC.

Narayan-Parker, D. (2006), Measuring empowerment : cross-disciplinary perspectives, World Bank, Washington, D.C.

Ord, H. W. and Livingstone, I. (1969), An introduction to West African Economics, Heinemann Educational, London.

Paquet, G. (2006), Gouvernance: une invitation a la subversion, Liber, Montreal.

Putnam, R. D. (2000), Bowling alone : the collapse and revival of American community, Simon & Schuster, New York.

Rosanvallon, P. (2008), La legitimite democratique : impartialite, reflexivite, proximite, Seuil, Paris.

Salamon, L. M. and Elliott, O. V. (2002), The tools of government: a guide to the new governance, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Serageldin, I. and Mahfouz, A. M. (1996), The self and the other : sustainability and self-empowerment, World Bank, Washington, D.C.

Shah, A. (2007), Participatory budgeting, World Bank, Washington, D.C.

Sirianni, C. and Friedlland, L. (2001), Civic Innovation in America. Community Empowerment, Public Policy, and the Movement for Civic Renewal, University of California Press, Berkeley.

Swyngedouw, E. (2000), "Authoritarian governance, power, and the politics of rescaling", Society and Space, vol. n? 18, pp. 63-76.

Wacquant, L. (2007), "Territorial Stigmatization in the Age of Advanced Marginality", Thesis Eleven, vol. n? 91, pp. 66-77.

Wilson, W. J. (1987), The truly disadvantaged : the inner city, the underclass, and public policy, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

World Bank (2005), Wolrd Development Report - Equity and Development, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

World Bank (2005), World Development Report 2006 - Equity and Development, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

  • The Empowerment of Civil Society in Urban Policies

    octobre 31, 2009 – novembre 2, 2009

    This conference seeks to analyze and to compare the institutionalization of empowerment and its impacts in diverse political, cultural, economic and institutional contexts since the empowerment seems, theoretically, to be a matrix of profound changes within contemporary States.

    This three-day conference organized by the UNESCO Chair on Urban Politics and Citizenship will address two key issues that are currently at the core of the transformations mentioned above: (i) the political and economical conditions of the institutionalization of empowerment in urban policies for the last 20 years, and (ii) the uses of empowerment on and by social groups within cities.

Repartir à zéro / Starting from Scratch

Le site du colloque a migré. Veuillez désormais vous rendre sur cette page:

Modernism and Unreadability / Modernisme et Illisibilite

L'objet du colloque international << Modernisme et illisibilite >> sera d'interroger un mouvement litteraire majeur, le modernisme anglo-saxon, du point de vue d'un de ses effets aussi evidents qu'habituellement passes sous silence : l'illisible. Le modernisme sera considere a partir de certains de ses textes reputes et reconnus pour leur resistance. Un grand nombre de textes modernistes que l'on pourrait qualifier de << limite >> se trouvent relever de facto de la categorie de l'illisible. Ces textes que l'histoire litteraire a retenus et canonises posent, pour des raisons differentes, selon des modalites et des procedures singulieres qui meritent d'etre decrites et etudiees, des problemes de lecture, problemes de dechiffrage aussi bien que problemes de comprehension, qui different et deplacent la question de l'interpretation. Du Finnegans Wake (James Joyce) au The Making of Americans (Gertrude Stein), en passant par The Waves (Virginia Woolf), certains Cantos (Ezra Pound), ou encore Molloy de Samuel Beckett, de nombreux textes canoniques du modernisme resistent a la lecture, se derobent a la possibilite d'etre articules et commentes. Le paradoxe qui veut que nombre des plus grands textes modernistes soient a la limite de l'illisibilite merite d'etre explore et deconstruit ; la question de la relation entre modernisme et illisibilite vaut d'etre posee car elle n'est ni anecdotique ni indifferente. Plus qu'une derive esthetisante, l'illisible peut etre envisage comme le fait et l'effet de poetiques plurielles, l'indice d'une mise en crise du sens, la signature d'un mouvement litteraire dont l'unite fait par ailleurs probleme. Les textes a la limite de la lisibilite se rencontrent a toutes les epoques et dans toutes les litteratures, mais devant l'intensite et l'insistance de l'illisibilite moderniste, on pourra se demander dans quelle mesure celle-ci se constitue comme moment historique a part entiere dans la litterature anglo-saxonne. On n'exclura pas pour autant une lecture critique de cette derniere hypothese, qui en meme temps qu'elle participe a l'elaboration du grand recit moderniste, enterine de fait une conception polemique de l'histoire litteraire comme succession de ruptures reperables a l'emergence de paradigmes radicalement nouveaux, tel, precisement, celui de l'illisible, a travers lequel les ecritures modernistes interrogent la litterarite sous l'angle de la litteralite et mettent la litterature comme pratique aussi bien que comme institution historique au defi de s'expliquer, de rendre compte de ses proces et de ses croyances tacites et implicites, a deconstruire ce qu'ecrire et lire veulent dire.
A travers l'illisible, les ecritures modernistes interrogent la litterarite sous l'angle de la litteralite et mettent la litterature comme pratique aussi bien que comme institution historique au defi de s'expliquer, de rendre compte de ses proces et de ses croyances tacites et implicites, a deconstruire ce qu'ecrire et lire veulent dire.
Qu'en est-il de la deroute de la signification, de la mise en echec du vouloir-dire qu'ils mettent en oeuvre ? La question du sens, de la signification et de son autre, se profile derriere l'obstacle fait a la lecture. Face au mur litteral, a l'avalanche referentielle, le lecteur est mis en echec. Sa competence << naturelle >> est mise a mal. Ces procedures complexes de mise en echec de la lecture meritent d'etre analysees. Babelisee, defiguree, epuisee, la langue est mise a rude epreuve. On pourra interroger la nature des transgressions dont ces textes modernistes procedent, se demander a quoi exactement ils renoncent, a quoi au juste ils s'autorisent. L'illisible, qui n'est pas un mais multiple et singulier, pourra etre utilement distingue de l'obscur, de l'enigmatique, voire de l'hermetique. On pourra interroger la dimension d'impossibilite que de telles productions litteraires impliquent du point de vue de l'ecriture, examiner l'illisible du point de vue du scriptible. La question de l'ennui ou la jouissance qu'elles procurent pourra etre legitimement examinee.
Les etudes pourront s'interesser aux modalites particulieres, aux strategies de l'illisibilite a l'oeuvre dans des textes singuliers ou porter sur des questions de poetique generale relevant de l'illisible, esthetique de la lecture et critique de la reception. Les lectures critiques de textes hermetiques pourront egalement etre evoquees. Les reponses et les positionnements de la critique, y compris celle du deni du caractere illisible de textes aux confins du dechiffrable et du comprehensible, pourront etre notamment examinees.

The conference on "Modernism and Unreadability" aims to explore a major literary movement, Modernism in the English-speaking world, from the perspective of one of its most obvious though rarely mentioned effects: unreadability. Modernism will be approached through the lens of various texts known to be particularly resistant to interpretation. Several "borderline" Modernist texts fall de facto under the category of the unreadable. For a number of reasons and following various modalities and individual procedures which call for description and analysis, those texts, now part of the literary canon, raise problems of deciphering as well as comprehension which defer and displace the question of interpretation. From Joyce's Finnegans Wake to Stein's The Making of Americans via Virginia Woolf's The Waves, some of Pound's Cantos or Beckett's Molloy, several canonical texts foil reading, articulation, and commentary. The paradoxical fact that several of the greatest Modernist texts skirt the limit of unreadability needs to be elucidated and deconstructed. The question of the relationship between Modernism and unreadability is far from anecdotal or secondary. Unreadability is not simply a by-product of excessive aestheticism: it characterizes and stems from heterogeneous poetics; it points to a crisis in meaning, and bears the signature of a literary movement whose very unity is problematic. Admittedly, texts bordering unreadability are found at all times and throughout various literary traditions. Yet given its intensity, it may be worth wondering to what extent Modernist unreadability defines a unique historical moment in the literature of the English-speaking world. This latter hypothesis may in turn be submitted to a critical reading, since by contributing to the construction of the Modernist master narrative, it also underwrites a polemical notion of literary history as a succession of breaks made manifest by the emergence of radically new paradigms--such as unreadability-- through which Modernist writings question literariness from the angle of literalness and challenge literature--both as a practice and as a historical institution--to account for itself, to justify its procedures and its tacitly or implicitly held beliefs, to deconstruct the very meaning of writing and reading.
What of the failure of signification and meaning that Modernist writings repeatedly stage? The question of meaning, of signification and its other, lurks beneath the obstacles that frustrate reading. Faced with a wall of literalness, with a deluge of referential data, readers are thwarted, thrown off balance in their alleged "natural" competence. The complex procedures whereby reading is thwarted deserve to be analyzed. Language itself is being put to the test as it is alternately Babelized, disfigured, or exhausted. The nature of the transgressions in which these Modernist texts originate needs to be examined: what exactly do they forsake? What liberties do they allow themselves to take? There is not just one version of unreadability: its manifestations are multiple and unique. In particular, it needs to be distinguished from obscurity, enigmaticity, even hermeticism. We must ask ourselves how such literary productions confront writing itself with a dimension of impossibility; how unreadability impacts writability. It is also worth examining the specific forms of boredom and jouissance it generates.
Papers may examine specific modalities, strategies of unreadability at work in individual tests, or investigate general issues of poetics pertaining to unreadability, the aesthetics of reading and reception theory. Critical responses and positionings vis-a-vis hermetic texts may also be held up to scrutiny, notably attitudes of denial towards the unreadability of texts which border the undecipherable and the incomprehensible.

  • Modernism and Unreadability / Modernisme et Illisibilite

    octobre 23, 2008 – octobre 25, 2008

    L'objet de la Conference internationale "Modernisme et illisibilite" qui se tiendra a l'Universite Lyon 2 et a l'Ecole Normale Superieure Lettres et Sciences Humaines du 23 au 25 octobre 2008 est d'interroger un mouvement litteraire et esthetique majeur, le modernisme, du point de vue d'un de ses effets aussi evidents qu'habituellement passes sous silence : l'illisible. Cette manifestation a dimension internationale et pluridisciplinaire rassemblera plus d'une quarantaine de chercheurs venus d'Europe, d'Amerique et d'Asie, issus de specialites de litteratures etrangeres, notamment du domaine anglophone, et de litterature francaise. Parmi les plus grands specialistes de la question moderniste seront en situation de debattre d'une periode charniere dans l'histoire de la litterature et des arts. La presence de Charles Bernstein, titulaire de la prestigieuse chaire de poesie a University of Pennsylvania, de Bonnie Costello, professeur a Boston University, ainsi que de Steven Gould Axelrod, professeur a l'Universite de Californie a Riverside, sera l'occasion d'echanges contradictoires et fructueux. La conference donnera lieu a une lecture de poesie bilingue qui mettra en presence quatre voix poetiques contemporaines majeures dont les oeuvres s'inscrivent dans la lignee du modernisme americain: celle de Charles Bernstein, de Christian Prigent, de Jacques Demarcq ainsi que de Jean-Marie Gleize.

Malcolm Lowry dans la modernite

Cette journee d'etude se propose d'explorer comment l'oeuvre de Malcolm Lowry (romans, nouvelles, poesie) prend en compte, dans les figures qu'on y rencontre comme dans ses inventions formelles, la dimension d'une alterite radicale que les grands tremblements epistemologiques ont mis a jour a l'oree du vingtieme siecle.

Lowry detecte dans la civilisation moderne en voie de perdre ses coordonnees symboliques une passion du reel ou la jubilation et l'horreur se conjuguent dans le parcours tragique vers la destruction : comment l'oeuvre prend-elle en compte ce savoir autre et pourtant loge au plus intime de l'humain ?
La rencontre fulgurante de l'alterite silencieuse (l'Indien mourant, le cougar, le fou...) se produit lors de moments de vision sur lesquels l'ecriture ne cessera de revenir : comment ces spots of time se differencient-ils de leur antecedent romantique, comment l'invention de formes nouvelles fondees sur la repetition plus ou moins modulee de variations (ecriture serielle, ecriture jazz) permet-elle de les inscrire dans une forme romanesque qui elle-meme, se repete et se reinvente sans cesse ?
Mais la figure de l'artiste chez Lowry ne se contente pas de mettre en scene la rencontre avec le noyau de reel inassimilable : il s'agit de faire avec, mais aussi de tenter de reintroduire la dimension humanisante du desir et du sacre. Comment l'acquiescement a l'alterite se lit-il a travers les figures feminines, par un retour a une nature ou les forces pulsatiles de la destruction affleurent sans cesse ? Enfin, comment la langue de Lowry fait-elle place a l'Autre du langage qui peut se faufiler par l'equivoque, les formations de l'inconscient (reve, humour), par l'ouverture aux voix du monde et de la litterature (dialogisme, polyphonie)?

  • Malcolm Lowry dans la modernite

    octobre 17, 2008 – octobre 17, 2008

    Cette journee d'etude se propose d'explorer comment l'oeuvre de Malcolm Lowry (romans, nouvelles, poesie) prend en compte, dans les figures qu'on y rencontre comme dans ses inventions formelles, la dimension d'une alterite radicale que les grands tremblements epistemologiques ont mis a jour a l'oree du vingtieme siecle.

"Rewriting / Reprising" - La reprise en litterature

Universite Lumiere Lyon 2
86 rue pasteur
Lyon, France

  • "Rewriting / Reprising" - La reprise en litterature

    octobre 13, 2006 – octobre 14, 2006

    Josiane Paccaud-Huguet
    Professeur - Universite Lyon 2

    Claude Maisonnat
    Professeur, Universite Lyon 2

Confessions of an English Opium-Eater de Thomas de Quincey

Responsable scientifique : Jean-Marie Fournier,(Maitre de Conferences HDR, Universite Lumiere-Lyon2 / CERAN - Centre du romantisme)

Comite scientifique : Max Duperray (Universite de Provence), Jean-Marie Fournier (Universite Lumiere-Lyon2), Joanny Moulin (Universite de Provence), Marc Poree (Universite de Paris III).

  • Confessions of an English Opium-Eater de Thomas de Quincey

    janvier 14, 2005 – janvier 15, 2005

Entre public et prive : les biens communs dans la societe de l'information

Colloque organise par les PRESSES UNIVERSITAIRES DE LYON a l'occasion de la publication de l'ouvrage de Lawrence Lessig : L'AVENIR DES IDEES.
Le sort des biens communs a l'heure des reseaux numeriques.


    octobre 20, 2005 – octobre 20, 2005

Contacts : Eric de Chassey, Jean Kempf