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Clemens Heller, imprésario des sciences de l’homme

Hinnerk Bruhns
Joachim Nettelbeck
Maurice Aymard

Première partie. Portraits de l’humaniste en stratège des sciences sociales

“The Clemens Heller I Knew”

Immanuel Wallerstein

Texte intégral

1 I was a graduate student in sociology at Columbia University in the 1950’s. I was particularly interested in the anticolonial movements in Africa. I was also interested in what at the time was called comparative sociology. So, when it came to formulating a topic for my doctoral dissertation, I decided to do a comparative study of the movement for independence in the British colony of the Gold Coast and the French colony of the Ivory Coast.

2I obtained a grant from the Ford Foundation to pursue this study, but in a truncated form: they would pay only for studying the Gold Coast. Their grant covered a year at Oxford University to enlarge my knowledge of West Africa and then to spend time in the Gold Coast. I decided to accept the grant but to stretch the money to allow me to pursue my work about the Ivory Coast as well.

3I went to Oxford in the fall of 1955, but there chose Kenneth Robinson as my mentor, the rare British academic to have written about French West Africa. I also sought to visit Paris, initially to meet with Georges Balandier. I had been impressed by Balandier’s work on what he called the “colonial situation” and had corresponded with him about it.

4Columbia’s graduate program in sociology at the time was exceptionally strong and was basically framed by the duo of Robert K. Merton and Paul F. Lazarsfeld, who worked closely together. They complemented each other in multiple ways, including geographically. Lazarsfeld was from Vienna and was the one who arranged the multiple contacts with European scholars in the duo’s attempt to spread their version of sociology. So, when I began my doctoral work, it was natural that I turned to Lazarsfeld for assistance. He said that I had to begin with Clemens Heller to pursue the work I wished to do in Paris.

5I have forgotten what Lazarsfeld said about Clemens. It seems obvious in retrospect. They were both from Vienna. They had both come to the United States and become U.S. citizens. They both leaned toward a very internationalist outlook. In any case, what a happy idea this was. As soon as I met Clemens, the two of us clicked. He would become my mentor, introducing me to Parisian (French) life and ways and to French scholars whom he deemed important for me to know.

6When I first met Clemens, he was the Director of Aires Culturelles of the VIe Section of the École Pratique des Hautes Études with a small office at 20, rue de la Baume. This had been arranged by Fernand Braudel. There were very few people in this office. One was Marie-Louise Dufour, in charge of publications, later to become Clemens’s wife. Aires culturelles was the French version of Area Studies, as practiced in the United States. Clemens, along with Fernand Braudel, made it part of a vision which they would pursue.

7When the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme (MSH) was founded in 1962, Gaston Berger was supposed to be its Administrator and Braudel its intellectual leader. Unexpectedly Berger died. Braudel assumed the title of Administrator and appointed Clemens his adjoint. But the titles were deceptive. It was actually Clemens who administered the MSH. And Braudel was its intellectual leader and public face. When the two disagreed about some administrative matter, Braudel yielded to Clemens.

8As for me, introducing me to Parisian life meant many things. It included Sundays rowing on the lake. It meant meals at Parisian restaurants. It meant finding me places to stay on my visits to Paris. It meant transforming me from my cultural roots as someone born and educated in the United States into someone more open to multiple cultural values.

9But this education, this Bildung, was only a part of what Clemens did for me. He devoted to me the attention he offered to others invited to the MSH, a still relatively small group in the 1950’s. Clemens believed in listening to the guests of the MSH. He didn’t restrict his favors to those of one ideological persuasion. As long as he felt that his guests were serious and hard-working, he welcomed them and spent time with them.

10Spending time meant more than a mere courtesy visit. He would suggest various contacts to the invitee. He would even call these persons himself to arrange appointments. Then, he would ask the invitee to come back in a few weeks and review with him what the invitee had learned. This might lead to shifting emphases or adding other contacts. I thought of this as the Heller system.

11In my case, he introduced me, often via luncheon dates, to a long series of French intellectual figures, important in the human sciences, as the French called it. With some of them, I commenced a lifelong friendship and collaboration. With others, the relationship went no further. But even that was useful, as I learned the vocabulary of those with other ideological preferences.

12After I had finished my field work in the Gold Coast (later called Ghana) and the Ivory Coast, I began to come to Paris more regularly. Clemens introduced me to Fernand Braudel. He arranged for me to have an office, a precious gift. He and I were both early birds, arriving at the MSH at about 8am, before most persons. I would drop into his office at these early moments and we would discuss everything – Paris life, French and world politics, the state of French intellectual life. He never ceased being my mentor.

13As the years went on, the Heller system of treating invitees became more difficult for Clemens, as the numbers of invitees grew. Clemens was successful at obtaining funds for programs to invite persons from specific geographic zones, such as Russia, East-central Europe, Germany, China, South Asia, Latin America, Brazil, the Maghreb, and others. For each of these he found one person to play the role of Clemens for that country or area. He created a scientific secretariat.

14When Braudel died, Clemens assumed the title of Administrator. But he declined to move into Braudel’s office, using it as a place for special meetings, and otherwise a shrine to Braudel. But of course eventually the years caught up with Clemens. At first he retired to Lausanne, where he and Marie-Louise had a home. But even that became too much and he resigned, opening the way for Maurice Aymard to be appointed as his successor.

15Clemens was an exceptional person and created an exceptional system. Like all of us, however, he was a man of his time. In 2017, the world is different and French intellectual life is different. In this changed reality, it would be a great shame if we forgot the very special system Clemens established. It still has lessons for us.

© Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme, 2018

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