The Katharine A. Pearson Chair in Civil Society and Public Policy welcomes anthropologist and ethnologist Marc Abélès, Director of Studies, École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS).
How can an anthropologist contribute to a better understanding of contemporary institutions ? By contrast with sociological studies, anthropology provides an ethnographic perspective, an analysis of everyday practices and representations. It emphasizes macro-micro articulations, and seeks to illuminate how power circulates and irrigates the structures and the functioning of institutions.
This ethnographic work requires patience and interactivity. To show what is at stake in this kind of approach, I would like to present the fieldwork I did in two different contexts, national and international: the French Parliament and the World Trade Organisation. These two institutions share a common vocation: they aim to produce norms which will impact the economic and social life of the people. However, there is a significant gap between the political practices observed in the French assembly and the transnational diplomacy at work in the WTO.
Putting together these two experiences, I will propose some reflections based on my ethnographic explorations in the field of institutions.