Corps et politique

individu et société

in French Politics, Culture & Society
Author: Arlette Farge
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In this essay, two themes—the body and the political and the individual and society—are used to reflect upon the historian's task. By focusing upon the body as represented in the police archives of the eighteenth century, for example, we learn about the lived experience of domination, and the body-as-royal subject provides us with insight into the mechanisms and preoccupations of political power. The often incoherent and chaotic efforts of thinking bodies to engage with or resist that power are at the very matrix of social relations, and it is up to the historian to reconstruct these efforts in their very incoherence in order to remain as true as possible to the reality in which our historical subjects dwelled. An emphasis on articulating the experience of the individual reinforces this ability to reconstitute the ways in which subjects defined themselves via ruptures, interrupted trajectories, and reconstructed paths, which, in turn, underscores the fact that disorder is the ordinary course of social communities. Individual choices themselves reveal the lack of coherence of the social, and it is by relating and taking account of this incoherence that a historian may provide a nonteleological interpretation of the past that emanates from the interior of a society's fragile and hesitating common fate, that allows him or her to understand and recapture for contemporary readers a world that sought only to exist.

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