The purpose of this dossier is therefore to examine how the visual - something seen , act of seeing and visibility regime - has transformed the study and writing of the past. Read More
Stéphane Van Damme
Urban Historic Atlases and the Administration
of the Metropolitan Past in the 19th-Century
In many European capitals, the nineteenth-century witnessed the rapid expansion of a phenomenon that is now commonly described as "heritage awareness". In particular, this new sensibility was reflected in the gradual establishment of an institutional network devoted to administering the urban past. These undertakings were supported by municipal governments. Archives, historical libraries and municipal museums were established across Europe. By underscoring the difficulties involved in interpreting the urban past and a growing need to identify the metropolitan object on behalf of the broader public, a collection of scholars – architects, engineers, archeologists, geologists, paleontologists and botanists – addressed the unity of the urban space. Was it to be defined by its extent, its demographic density, its buildings, its economic and political functionality, its historic depth or its geological characteristics? Was it a natural territory as suggested by the thesis of major geological basins (Paris, London) and botanical research? Although all were united in taking an historical approach to their object, the diversity of the units of measurement they employed and the multiplicity of perspectives they brought to bear on their inquiries hampered the common undertaking of these various disciplines and groups of scholars. The historic atlas as an epistemic genre was particularly well-suited for this context and the plasticity and mobility of the analytical frameworks that characterized it.
Ganin ya fi ji/Seeing Is Better than Hearing:
Reading Identity on the Skin (Central Sahel, 19th Century)
The facial scarring practiced on the African continent is most often considered a matter of ethnic or tribal marking. Influenced by colonial presuppositions, this simplifying reading does not take into consideration the diverse uses to which the practice has been put in different times and places. By analyzing vernacular verbal uses to be found in the Hausa and Kanuri linguistic sources collected in the 19th Century, the present article offers a new look at facial and body scarring practices in the Sahel and central Sahara in the 19th Century. The scars are not generic marks that have been worn in the same way by the entirety of a given group since time immemorial. On the contrary, they reflect dynamic practices serving diverse and ever-evolving purposes (political, identity-based, medical, social, aesthetic).
The Voice and the Eye: Visual Regimes of Polish
Competition Memoir, 1930-1984
The narratives produced in the framework of Polish memoir writing competitions before and after World War II offers a point of entry for studying what Martin Jay has termed the "tacit cultural rules of different scopic regimes". In both periods, memoirs participated in political projects that went beyond the simple collection of first person accounts and sought to validate new ways of seeing. At first glance, these projects and their efforts to intervene in the realm of visuality appear very different: interwar peasant and worker movement, contesting cultural assumptions about the "dark" or “benighted” lower classes, claimed authority for subaltern ways of seeing based on worker/peasant biographical experience. Postwar communism posited the uniquely visionary abilities of politically conscious individuals to see beyond present realities to future, revolutionary possibilities. In practice, however, competition memoirs only partly conformed to these scripts. They thus often demonstrated the limits of these two visionary projects, rendering “countervisuality” a common denominator of autobiographical narratives across the two periods.
Seeing and Having to See the Past: Reconsideration of a Commemorative Historical Exhibition
Since their birth in the 19th-century, historical museums have been endowed with a social role. Today, they are more particularly intended to disseminate a “shared memory” and encourage “tolerant citizenship”. This state of affairs has inspired numerous works. Yet, when confronted with an historical exhibit, the famous visitors' gaze mainly remains to be decoded. The present article addresses it on the basis of original material: the 2012 historical exhibition sponsored by the City of Paris to commemorate the Vel' d'Hiv’ roundup. As a member of the exhibition committee, I was able to conduct participant observation field work concerning its genesis. Employing a new approach and new material allowed me to understand how a public narrative concerning history is constructed by politics. In other words, what does it mean to present the past? A collective survey of visitors was subsequently conducted to determine how the exhibition’s presentation of the past via images was seen (or not seen). In other words, what does one see of the past when it is presented to one?
Marie-Hélène Sa Vilas Boas and Federico Tarragoni
Does the Concept of Clientelism Withstand Popular Participation? A Comparison of the Brazilian and Venezuelan Cases
In recent work devoted to participative systems in Latin America, the notion of clientelism often plays a paradoxical role: it is not exactly known whether it is akin to a perverse new logic of these systems or whether it is a nearly timeless historical characteristic of Latin-American democracies. Whatever the case, it often interferes with explaining the political logics of participation, particularly among subaltern groups. The very diverse meanings assigned the concept of clientelism as it is used in sociological explanation in themselves call for clarification. The present article seeks to profit from the archeology of the concept already carried out in political science to render intelligible the causal ties (and its tropisms) between participative systems, popular politicization and “perverse effects” of a clientelist nature. A dual perspective informs my argument: on the one hand, many contemporary uses of the concept of clientelism posit an understanding of the wealth of forms of popular politicization entailed by participatory dynamics; on the other hand, the history of a collection of inextricably positive and normative judgments regarding Latin American history and, in particular, its democratic political modernity are hidden behind the tropisms that characterize the manner in which this concept is used.
Marie-Laure Geoffray and Jan Verlin
Revolutionary Circulations, Intersecting
Studying the circulatory flows between three governments that present themselves as “revolutionary” – Cuba (1959), Sandinista Nicaragua (1979-1990 and 2006-) and Chavist Venezuela (1998-), both during the Cold War and after the turn of the 21st-century – allows one to better grasp the transnational dimension of these “revolutions”, which have rarely been studied outside of their national space. First of all, these circulations are revealed to have favored the emergence of an historic revolutionary community that reconstituted itself with Venezuela in the 2000s. Next, revolutionary governments put them to political use to advance their intersecting strategies of legitimation vis-a-vis local and international audiences. However, the political opposition to revolutionary governments also puts these circulations to political use, delegitimizing the latter by accusing them of damaging national sovereignty.
Laure Kaeser and Pierre-Alain Roch
Active Aging: Development, Legitimation and Attempts to Diffuse a Transversal System of Reference in Europe
The role taken on by the European Commission in the process of diffusing active aging allows one to understand how the political quasi-consensus regarding the need to keep older people active in response to the “problem” of aging has been developed and legitimated. We present the emergence of the notion of active aging in the context of international social policies for purposes of contextualization and orientation. International organizations and their role in defining active aging are identified according to their place in the field of international social policies. The empirical aspect of the present article focuses on the mechanisms that the EC has established to legitimate and diffuse the notion of active aging. This article employs content analysis methods and lexicometric analysis and draws upon the differentiated and illustrated materials that accompany the modes of development and diffusion adopted by the EC. We in this way demonstrate that the technical and political effectiveness of the transversal reference system for active aging stem from the fact that it is presented as a positive and consensual solution setting forth the social determinants inherent to the aging process.