History of the Human Sciences 22 (4):30-62 (2009)

Little is known about the world’s first sociological society, Émile Littré’s Société de Sociologie (1872—4). This article, based on prosopographic research, offers an interpretation of the foundation, political-intellectual orientation and early demise of the society. As indicated by recruitment and texts by its founding members, the Société de Sociologie was in fact conceived more as a political club than a learned society. Guided in this by Littré’s heterodox positivism and the redefinition of sociology he proposed around 1870, the Société de Sociologie was intended first and foremost to accompany intellectually the political changes that Littré considered imperative in the early years of the Third Republic (1870— 1940). This expectation found little echo among the members of the society, and it seems possible that Littré himself and his closest associates were the ones to interrupt the society’s meetings. Some of its members’ general studies on the status of the social sciences and their main divisions were continued in the framework of the journal La Philosophie positive (1867—83), but the authors most committed to those studies were on the margins of the Littré network. Neither the dominant positivist republicanism, centered around Littré and Dubost, nor the general sociology of the more peripheral members of the network (Mesmer, Roberty, Vitry) represented an important intellectual contribution to the formation of academic sociology in France. Given that the Société de Sociologie did contribute to diffuse the project of a sociological science and developed forms of sociology coherent enough to be rejected by the pioneers of university sociology, the group constitutes a significant case of failure in the history of the discipline.
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DOI 10.1177/0952695109337691
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