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Biographies et récits de vie

Kmar Bendana
Katia Boissevain
Delphine Cavallo

Résumés : biographies et récits de vie


Texte intégral

Hichem DJAÏT. Writing the life of Muhammad: Historians facing Tradition

1Centered on the prophetic experience and Tradition, this article approaches the question of the forming of a community in Medina, through the difficulties of writing a biography of Muhammad. After outlining the political context of a dawning Islam, the author explains the stages of formation of a Tradition and goes through the historiography concerned with the way Muhammad’s hadith-s have been dealt with. He suggests going beyond these works while keeping in mind the different wrappings which have surrounded this Tradition and linking them with secular biographical works.

Michaël BÉCHIR AYARI. Exploiting biographical interviews in sociology: Tunisian socio-professional and militant trajectories

2Construction and analysis of biographical data only yield their meanings, in our case, in the light of theoretical developments which consider socialisation as a dynamic process. Reconstructing socio-professional and political trajectories of militants of the Tunisian opposition must not occult the necessity of a systematic reflection on understanding the reasons behind the interviewees’s actions and on the argumentative logic deployed by the narrator during the biographical interview. Whatever the process of discourse analysis which is implemented, the sociological interest of biographical data is fully revealed when the sociological approach draws on induction, and when the stakes surrounding the production of written sources are analysed.

Edhem ELDEM. The Imperial Ottoman Bank and its employees’ files

3Constituting an impressive serie of 6 000 files stretching over a period of almost 50 years, the files of the Ottoman Imperial Bank are one of the richest sources for the study of the lower bourgeoisie of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the xixth century and the beginning of the xxth. This serie has a double interest. Firstly, it gives access to the details of careers and individual profiles through a great number of varied documents withheld in each file ; secondly, this documentation covers a portion of the population on which we have almost no information. Here, the author presents this rich documentation while underlining its most important aspects: an outline of the Ottoman’s biographical tradition, from poets’ and ulamas’ biographical compilations to civil servants’ files of the Hamadian’s period ; the beginning of a new, modern way of collecting biographical data for administrative purpose, which itself symbolizes access to western civilization by the Empire ; a detailed study of this information ; a focus on prosopography, bringing forth the main data which can lead to a quantitative study of the sample ; a detailed study of more precise information available in these files and its biographical interest ; and a conclusion on the openings which will be obtained from this impressive data base, taking into consideration methodological and ethical problems linked to its use.

Khaled KCHIR. “The books of notables”: an attempt to characterize a new biographical genre in the Arab lower Middle Ages

4Through the characteristics of biographical dictionaries at the end of the Middle Ages (15 between the xiiith and xvth century), this article outlines a particular historiographical type of work. This collection of famous people’s lives explains the individual figure from the stand point of a particular conception of “notability”.

5In the early xivth century, the birth of a new “literary” genre is noticeable, at the cross-road of classical dictionaries: biographies (siyar and tarâjim), prosopographies (tabaqât el mashyakha), and local histories (târikh al-mudun). Ibn Khallikân (d. 1281) and his follower Safadî (1296-1363) are the pioneers of this innovation.

6The originality of A‘yân al ‘asr wa a‘wân al-nasr written by Safadî is that it is exclusively dedicated to those who died after his birth and that it covers a variety of social environments of the Egypto-Syrian society: government officials, army, zâwiya-s, mosques. The author writes his biographies in rhymed prose, inspired by real or imaginary encounters with chosen individuals, thus staging himself through those he chooses to write about, who constitute a nuanced rainbow of the most remarkable people of their time.

Loïc LE PAPE. Conversion narratives: from romanced personal story to sociological analysis of a religious commitment

7In this article, the author proposes a discussion of the contributions and limits of the biographical method applied to his Phd research, relative to religious conversions. Three questions are successively tackled: through an individual story, how can we accomplish the “generalizing process” necessary in order to place each story into sociological perspective ? Which status can a sociologist following a comprehensive methodology apply to converts who are totally self-committed in interviews ? Lastly, which significance should we grant their testimonies, following the ethical imperatives of respecting both the converts’ speech and scientific requirements ? Three topics are approached to answer these issues: the possibility of accessing the social through the individual, the possible transformation of interviewees into authors and the use of variations of scales, contexts and temporalities in order to put in perspective different stories of conversion. The discussion follows a pragmatic mode, born with questions which have come to the author’s attention during fieldwork.

Bartolomé BENNASSAR. Biography: revisiting a historical genre

8The author of three biographies (Don Juan d’Autriche, Franco and Cortès) recounts in these pages a history of the biographic genre, first considered of minor importance by History scholars. With its comeback in the 1970’s, biography first limited itself to retracing the lives of famous figures ; more rarely it inspired “life stories” of unknown individuals (particularly in the US and Brazil). The article proposes 3 reasons for the actual enthusiasm for this historic genre, illustrating them by “life stories” dealt with in other works.

  • A biography is an Ariane thread between generations and an instrument for analyzing relations between generations (two stories, that of a castillan peasant, from the vicinity of Toledo, Juan Rodelgas, and that of a peasant-seaman from Languedoc, Guillaume Bedos).

  • A life story is a sum of social experiences: in the heart of the family, the educational environment, the group, professional life, associative networks, which confirm belonging to a social class, and influence personal and emotional relations (the story of Pedro Gutierrez, according to deeds executed by notaries).

  • A life story is the recovery of the existential, of contact with what we name “real life experience” in a time where the individual is, in a way, “over dimensioned”. Knowing the life of an individual tears one away from the abstract of structures, from normative frames (Franco who remained little known for a long time).

9To write a biography is to reveal the complexity of reality, grasping the threads which weave a life, restoring the depth of an individual through his kinship, his social frame, his historical context and his way of life.

Sylvaine CAMELIN. Hadrami migration, a cross generation phenomena

10This article reflects on the use of life stories in social anthropology. It starts with a brief historical and methodological account of this tool, after which the article shows how, in some contexts (here the migration process), this method is imperative in collecting data. More specifically, the author observes the migratory process of the hadrami people (from south Yemen) and the way they settle in the United Arab Emirates. In the case of this community, the migratory process is reconducted from one generation to the next according to opportunities and constraints (personal, political, economical…). Nowadays about two thirds of the Hadramis settled in the Uae have spent most, if not all, of their life outside Hadramaout (some have never visited their area of origin). Nevertheless, the various members of this community claim a very strong sense of belonging to this region.

11Following the migratory story of a family living in different towns of the Uae, the article shows how, as time goes by, the constraints of the various countries in which they temporarily settle are turned around, or even used by the migrants, and what kind of strategies they mobilise to carry on their lives as hadrami migrants while never loosing what they consider to be their primary identity.

Kmar BENDANA. Re-reading Bourguiba’s biographies. Life of a man or birth of a Nation ?

12The aim of this article is to contribute to a reflection on the links between biography and autobiography through a rereading of Habib Bourguiba’s biographies (1903-2000), who strongly contributed to the drawing of his image through a long process of selecting and editing traces of his political “fight”. This narrative construction, bound to the orator’s talent and the political longevity of this exceptional statesman (1934-1987), has influenced the making of the biographical pieces considered here.

13While retracing the broad outlines of the leader’s life, the article strives to bring to the surface the different points of contact between the two genres: the differences in density and the conjunction on blind spots, the change of direction from man to icon, as well as the confusion between the history of the birth of the nation with that of the man who ended up personifying it. Each of these two genres reflects the political context, expresses the closure imposed by official history and shows the editorial weakness concerning contemporary history. The overwhelming presence of the autobiographical scenario does not preclude from demonstrating the authoritarianism of the man (identified to that of the regime), but it leaves out a number of historical events still clouded by the leader’s memory, by the difficult practice of oral investigation and the limits in the French tradition of biographical genre.

© Institut de recherche sur le Maghreb contemporain, 2005

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