Émile Durkheim died on 15 November 1917, following a long period of nervous distress linked with the death of his son André at the front two years before.1 By the end of the war, French sociology was in an appalling state: the highly successful journal that Durkheim had founded, the Année sociologique, had stopped publication, many members of his team had been killed, and the new leadership assumed by his nephew, Marcel Mauss, proved uneasy.
In that context, the resumption of the Année in 1924 is still inadequately understood. There is a need for a fresh perspective not only on the scheme used to resuscitate the journal but also, more generally, on post-WWI French sociology and on the relationship between France and Britain in the field.2 Light is thrown on all this by a previously unknown correspondence that, as part of my research, I discovered in the Keele University Archives. It consists of an exchange of three letters dated 1923–24 between Marcel Mauss and Victor Branford, and is reproduced below for the first time.3
Like Mauss for anthropology in France, Branford (1863–1930) was responsible for most of the developments in sociology in Britain. He shared the leadership of British sociology with Leonard T. Hobhouse (1864–1929), Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics, with whom he was in competition. This correspondence gives an invaluable insight into how the Année was restarted, but also allows us a glimpse of the complex relation between British and French sociologists in the interwar years.
In these troubled times, Durkheimianism appeared shaky, in contrast with the activity of members of the Sociological Society, as testified to by the establishment, in 1920, of Leplay House and the Leplay House Press to promote sociology and extend Patrick Geddes's and Victor Branford's work in Britain. Of Scottish origins, Geddes (1854–1932) was a popular figure in sociology who had graduated in biology and found Frédéric Le Play's ideas mesmerising. While the Année Sociologique had stopped publishing in 1913, the British Sociological Review continued uninterrupted even during the war, and it was unexpectedly British sociologists who fostered the rebirth of French sociology afterwards.
The relaunch of the Année did not take place until 1923. At the beginning of that year, the Confédération Générale des Sociétés Scientifiques indicated its willingness to contribute a special annual subsidy of between 8,000 and 9,000 francs. The news triggered an enthusiastic response from Branford, who offered Mauss additional support, probably financial, or at least this is the implication of Mauss's letter thanking him for his ‘kind and generous initiative’.4
Mauss received the offer with sympathy, at a time when French sociology was in great distress. As he wrote in his letter, ‘It is very touching for me and for all of us to see how you and our British friends are willing to help us. We do not find in our own country such an autonomous sympathy’. Mauss's appeal to the generosity of his ‘British friends’ for assistance with the Année's revival was interpreted as a mark of confidence in Leplay House. At last someone, indeed, no less than the nephew of the ‘founding father’ himself, was grateful to them. The academic atmosphere in Britain was quite hostile to ‘the Edinburgh School of Sociology’ – dubbed ‘a bunch of Scottish amateurs’ – and so support from France was highly welcome.
As Mauss explained in his letter, the Année's publisher was unwilling to contribute anything towards costs, yet it was necessary to fund a modest secretariat and pay fees to authors, since ‘I do not wish, and think it even impossible, to inflict on younger generations the same task as on DURKHEIM and us’. It would also be necessary, until the new Année was established and received complimentary or discounted copies of books and journals, ‘to pay very high prices’ for these. The only way forward was to publish the new Année ‘at our own risks and expenses’, and the only way to do this was to raise a sum of ‘60 and even 70,000 Frs’.
‘Help from British friends would perhaps be a little thing for them and for us a very efficient and important one, the rate of the exchange being so much on your side’, Mauss hinted. Before writing to his new allies at Leplay House, Mauss indicated to Branford that he had already lobbied ‘his friend SELIGMANN, the Anthropologist’. But Mauss did not realize that, contrary to France, there were absolutely no connections between the (Oxbridge) anthropologists and the (amateur) sociologists at Leplay House.
The question was not immediately financial, but it was ‘a sort of promise of subscriptions which we want actually’. One way, Mauss suggested, could be ‘a permanent subscription to our “Institut Français de Sociologie”, which we are now just founding and in which we would be very pleased to have a certain number of our British colleagues amongst us’. The move encouraged new possibilities of co-operation between the two countries.
Branford hastened to reply by suggesting greater co-operation with the Année sociologique team. He thought about a scheme ‘by which the Sociological Review could have the benefit of translating and publishing some of the Abstracts made for the Année’ and raised further ‘the question of co-operation between the Belgian [Solvay] Institute, your Group, and the Sociological Review’, which he hoped Mauss may ‘think this worth some thought and planning’ as an attempt to promote intellectual co-operation in a European sociology. Branford added that the co-operation could even be brought forward within the League of Nations through its ‘Committee of the League on Intellectual Co-operation’.
It seemed that both sociological interests aligned perfectly in 1923. Mauss was looking for financial help while Branford sought Mauss's intellectual support and clout with a view to increasing his weight in British sociology against Hobhouse. This was fair, given that Mauss had little interest in Leplay House prior to Branford's financial offer.5 Both had domestic considerations in mind when it came to bridging a gap across the Channel.
Yet little ensued. The contribution of British sociologists to French sociology remained mostly financial, although Mauss did put the name of Victor Branford forward as a benefactor in the foreword to the new volume of the Année in 1924 and made him a member of the Institut Français de Sociologie as promised. Geddes also founded a Collège des Ecossais (Scots College) to accommodate Scottish students in Montpellier in 1924 and made several trips there in the following years. Apart from that, the integration of ‘British colleagues’ into the French Institute in the 1920s was minor, and it seems that the French were more interested in the British for their exchange rates than for intellectual exchanges.
* * *
Branford finished his reply to Mauss by expressing the concern that the rebirth of the Année could mean a return to Durkheimian orthodoxy rather than a softening of his rule.
In a meeting of the French Institute of Sociology, dated 5 March 1924 and reported by Mauss, one member urged that it ‘should remain closely linked to the traditions of Durkheim’. Branford took this opportunity to indicate Leplay House's opinion: ‘I hope the Institute will interpret the Durkheim tradition in the broad rather than the narrow sense’, because they on their side had ‘a definite criticism to make’.
‘We in this country do not sufficiently realise that sociology is a French science and must be developed in the way defined by Durkheim’, he granted, but insisted that from their point of view, ‘Sociology is a French science in a double sense’. It came from Comte but was also ‘of French origin dating from Le Play’. He recalled the fact to Mauss and the Durkheimians, who were keen to play this down given the permanent competition with the Leplayians to carry over the definition of the discipline since the 1890s in France. Branford concluded that their own effort in British sociology showed that ‘the two synthetic traditions, those of both Comte and Le Play, can themselves be combined into a large frame-work of synthesis’.
This criticism reflected Branford's own ambition for his sociology: to yield a British synthesis of the two French traditions to bequeath the world. He confirmed this in an article for the Britannica Encyclopaedia in 1926:
The two formative French schools, continuing and developing the initial impulses of their respective founders, are manifestly complementary. But owing to the sharp division in France between … the doctrines of Comte and of Le Play …, these have, unfortunately for the progress of science, run independent courses, with little or no interpenetration. … No serious attempt seems as yet to have been made in France to integrate their respective methods and products. But a third school (initiated in Edinburgh about 1890 by Patrick Geddes, and continued by V. Branford and other members of the Sociological Society) has laboured continuously towards uniting and developing both these main French traditions, viewpoints and methods. (Branford 1926: 316)
Contrary to Leonard Hobhouse at the London School of Economics, who strived to devise a sociology purely on British grounds (based on T. H. Green's Idealism, namely) without reference to European sociology, Branford not only found inspiration in Frédéric Le Play and Auguste Comte, the French sociologists, but also promoted an internationalist discipline in which Continental ideas largely featured. British sociology, for him, was part of a collective scientific monument – against any ‘Brexit-like’, isolationist sociology. The story of British sociology can largely be told along those lines of a ‘nativist’ or isolated versus an ‘internationalist’ or ‘Europeanized’ trend.6
But it also reflected the increasing tendency of post-WWI sociologists to fall back on to rigorous Durkheimianism in France, while the Master had disappeared, calling for the emergence of new concepts and ideas. Branford here warned his French colleagues of their unconscious tendency to stick to the past.
He would be proved wrong by some of Durkheim's former disciples such as Maurice Halbwachs in Strasbourg (with his psychologie collective) and Célestin Bouglé (with his Centre de Documentation Sociale at École Normale Supérieure which was increasingly interested in British and American social surveys), as well as by the generation of ‘Young Turks’ of French sociology who followed Raymond Aron in the 1930s.
But it is true that French sociology remained Durkheimian at the time at any event. This partly explains why this dominant position would slowly be eclipsed by other, more dynamic sociologies. In his letter, Branford incidentally pointed to the fact that Durkheimian sociology would fade away if it did not become an all-embracing, modern discipline inspired not only by Durkheim but by Le Play's surveys too. This was to leave the door open to more empirical approaches and the growing domination of American sociologists after WWII in France. This correspondence therefore encapsulates much of the Durkheimians’ sociological dilemma up until 1945 and shows that the relationship between Mauss and Branford was one of co-operation, possible collaboration but overall grave miscomprehension.
PARIS, June 28th 1923,
2, Rue Bruller, 2,
Dear Mr. Branford,
I am very touched by your kind and generous initiative, and I must first thank you very much, whatever could happen, for the kind words you send about us to my friends LAZARD, HOSTELET and FAUCONNET. It is very touching for me and for all of us to see how you and our British friends are willing to help us. We do not find in our own country such an autonomous sympathy.
The question of relaunching the ANNÉE Sociologique was put in front of us directly after the war and we made of it a careful study. But, at that time, expenses were nearly prohibitive and it is only in 1921 that we spoke again about it. Everything was interrupted by my own illness which took me away for more than a year and really in this time the situation was not very favourable. On the contrary, when I started work again end of 1922, this business offered itself in a different way. At the beginning of 1923, the “Confédération Générale des Sociétés Scientifiques” which administers the public funds of the “Bibliographie de la France” offered very kindly a subvention which will be something between 8,000 and 9,000 Frs yearly. The subvention will help us a good deal, but not entirely. So that I have to find other ways and means.
As our publisher is not willing to give any payment and as I do not wish, and think it even impossible, to inflict on younger generations the same task as DURKHEIM and us, I have to find means in order to be able to pay very modestly a secretariat and fees to the authors. Also for the first years, we will have to pay very high prices for books which publishers, and for reviews which editors will not send us before the first volume has appeared. Taking this in consideration, I have to find means to make the ANNEE SOCIOLOGIQUE as rentable as possible, and the only way I see is to publish it at our own risks and expenses, fixing ourselves prices and risking a somewhat important sum of money and reaping a certain part of its profits. To do that I have to raise a fund, which was in March last, of at least 50,000 Frs, but which must be increased for actual prices to 60 and even 70,000 Frs.
I did not like to bother you about this affair before this question was in progress, and I am glad to be able to tell you, that, even since my last letter, it has progressed satisfactorily. I dare say that I am just now at the head of a capital of something like 40,000 Frs.
Help from British friends would perhaps be a little thing for them and for us a very efficient and important one, the rate of exchange being so much on your side. I wrote about it to my friend SELIGMANN, the Anthropologist, who had very kindly talked about it with our poor and lamented friend RIVERS, and with me, three years ago.
But SELIGMANN who got my letter, is unable to do anything for us, being himself busy raising funds for the Royal Anthropological Institute, of which he is actually the Chairman. Beyond that I am very sorry to know that he is only recovering from a very serious illness. But if you like him to assist you in anything you would do for us, he would be, very likely, very pleased to join his name to yours.
I also write to American friends.
The question is not now about paying these funds which have to be used only when we start again and in the progress of the making of the first five volumes. It is a sort of promise of subscriptions which we want actually.
Also the question is not settled about the form these subscriptions may take. These will be perhaps of different forms: one being a sort of loan of which the total refunding is not without the possibility limit, but not very probable; another one would be of shares perhaps if we found a Limited Society; another one a permanent subscription to our “Institut Francais de Sociologie”, which we are now just founding and in which we would be very pleased to have a certain number of our British colleagues amongst us. But, in that case, French law does not permit more than a subscription of Frs: 600. – Subscriptions for a number of copies of l'Année will also be considered.
All these questions are just now under consideration and will not be settled before long. They are really not essential.
I hope to be able to come to London end of this year and would be delighted to see you then.
I beg you to accept my heartfelt thanks, and believe me, dear Mr. Branford,
Yours very sincerely,
(signed) M. MAUSS
65, Belgrave Road, S.W.1.
July 10, 1923.
Dear M. Mauss,
I am greatly obliged for your letter and all the interesting enclosures. As you surmise I never received your first letter. I am particularly delighted to know that you are proposing to come to London towards the end of the year. I should like to ask a few friends of the sociological movement to meet you and discuss the question of money for the new Année Sociologique. Some of our friends are particularly interested in the question of Abstracts, and would be more likely to help if a scheme could be thought out by which the Sociological Review could have the benefit of translating and publishing some of the Abstracts made for the Année. Already we have discussed with M. Hostelet, the question of translating and publishing in the Review some of the abstracts of books made for his Journals; and we hope to begin a scheme of that kind in the October number of the Review. This further raises the question of co-operation between the Belgian Institute, your Group, and the Sociological Review; and I hope you may consider this worth some thought and planning. There is also the great question of classification and the interrelation of the sub-sciences of sociology. Has this not been too long delayed? I had always hoped that Durkheim would have gone into this thoroughly in the paper which he promised us as in sequel to the paper of 1904 by himself and Fauconnet, which was read as one of the Foundation Papers of our Sociological Society in London.
This idea occurs to me as I write that we would try to organise a joint meeting of this Sociological Society, the Psychological Society and the Anthropological Institute to take place when you are in London. Would you read a paper, perhaps by yourself, jointly with Fauconnet, which would serve a double purpose; first to be a continuation of the old paper by Durkheim and Fauconnet, and next to state your project for the new Année Sociologique. I feel sure Hostelet would come over for the discussion: or would contribute something in writing. We could treat the meeting as a Conference continuing the Conference on the Correlation of the Social Sciences which we held at Oxford last Autumn.
Here also is a further point. Professor Geddes and myself have been discussing the general question of Bibliography and Scientific Abstracts with the League of Nations; and in particular with the Committee of the League on Intellectual Co-operation. M. Bergson, as you doubtless know, is chairman of this Committee. In continuity with conversations with M. Bergson which Prof. Geddes and myself have had, I think it might be possible to interest M. Bergson and the Committee of the League in the Conference I suggest for your visit to London.
As to the financial aspect, I need not say how much more likely we would get aid from our friends here for your new Année if first we could have a Conference such as I have suggested. In regard to detail of money contributions, I think it would facilitate things if you could organize your friends on the basis of a Limited Liability Company. This is the mode we adopted for the Sociological Review. It is financed by a company called Sociological Publications Ltd.
We are all about to disperse for our holidays, so pray do not consider there is any need for haste in answering this letter.
With best wishes,
P.S. I send you accompanying this, copies of two numbers of the Sociological Review, bearing on the Oxford Conference.
* * *
23rd July, 1924.
Mons. Marcel Mauss,
2, Rue Bruller,
Dear Monsieur Mauss,
Many thanks for your letter of 29th June, which has been treated so badly by the London Postman, who should have known better than to send back to you a letter addressed to 63, Belgrave Road, intended for No. 65. I am very sorry you should have been put to such trouble and indeed expense. Will you please note that 65, is the right number, and not 66, as given against my name in the list of members of the Institute. The full address is Leplay House, 65, Belgrave Road, S.W.1.
First of all let me thank you and through you the Institute for the honour of membership which I much appreciate.
I am greatly obliged also for the two reprints of your own papers, and particularly the long one on Bolshevism, which I have found very illuminating. I shall
be pleasedhope to make a long abstract of it for the Sociological Review, so as to give our readers the benefit of your thought and exploration.
I am delighted to know there is a prospect of your coming over to London in the Autumn. You mention the end of September. Unfortunately most of our people are not back in town by then. If you could make it a little later in the year we should be delighted to organise a special meeting at Leplay House, where you could meet some of those who might be useful. I should like also to make this suggestion. Towards the end of October, or possibly even in November, our new President Sir Francis Younghusband, who succeeds Lord Balfour as Titular Head of the Sociological Society, will give his inaugural address. If you could manage to be present at that meeting it would afford a good opportunity for you to say something in public about your plans for launching again the Année. If there is any prospect of your coming over for this occasion we would try and adjust the date of this meeting to suit your convenience.
I send two enclosures from one of which you will see we are busy organising a Congress of Religions at which the sociological papers will try to make a serious contribution to the subject.
Pray do not think this letter needs any answer, but I will expect to hear from you again later on when you can write definitely about the time of your coming over.
P.S. I see in the account of your meeting of 5/3/24, that Mons. Lenoir urged that the I.F.S. should remain closely linked to the traditions of Durkheim. I hope the Institute will interpret the Durkheim tradition in the broad rather than the narrow sense. And the broad sense I would define by reference to the paper which Durkheim jointly with Fauconnet published in the Revue Philosophique more than 20 years ago. There he stated that the future of sociology consisted in expanding and developing the social philosophy of Comte and making it scientific by incorporating therein the body of specialisms which have grown up since Comte wrote his Philosophie Positive. We in this country do not sufficiently realise that sociology is a French science and must be developed in the way defined by Durkheim in that article. At the same time we on our side have a definite criticism to make. It is this. Sociology is a French science in a double sense. It is of French origin dating from Comte. But it is also of French origin dating from Le Play. As we see it, it becomes less difficult to incorporate the specialisms as the two synthetic traditions, those of both Comte and Le Play, can themselves be combined like a larger frame-work of synthesis. I have tried to put this point of view in a little paper I send you called the Sciences of and Humanities. But in that I was addressing a group of naturalists + biologists and consequently had to adjust my thesis to their point of view.
All copyrights for letters by Victor Branford are retained by the University of Keele Archives, who have kindly agreed to let us reproduce them here. Thanks are also due to Pierre Mauss, for permission to reproduce the letters of Mauss.
It was impossible to locate a copy of the initial letter from Branford to Mauss in the archives. The quotation is taken from the latter's answer to Branford, quoted below.
There are no other occurrences of a correspondence between them in the Keele Archives.
Branford, V. 1926. ‘A Survey of Recent and Contemporary Sociology’. The Sociological Review 18 (4): 315–322.
Pickering, W. S. F. 2008. ‘Reflections on the Death of Émile Durkheim’. In W. S. F. Pickering and M. Rosati (eds), Suffering and Evil: The Durkheimian Legacy. Oxford: Berghahn Books, 11–27.
Rocquin, B. 2019. British Sociologists and French Sociologues in the Interwar Years: The Battle for Society. London: Palgrave.
Savage, M. 2017. ‘Déclin et renouveau de l'analyse de classe dans la sociologie britannique, 1945–2016’. Trans. Françoise Wirth. Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales 219 (4): 42–55.