The Newsletter 96 Autumn 2023

On Intimacy in the Field of One’s Research

Nicolas Bautès

As academics, whose main social function lies in the combination between research and teaching activities, we are often confronted with the judging gaze of many. Our daily life is punctuated by such interjections that cast doubt on our social utility, on our ability to help students find jobs and build their future, or even on the relevance of a particular course, or on the relevance of our courses to the job market. Behind these doubts lie some of the major issues at stake in our professions, in our educational and ethical commitments to promoting knowledge, fair learning, and to provide keys to understanding the world.

We often approach this world by conducting surveys, so-called qualitative, for they bring us into contact with social situations and people from whom we draw the elements that will enable elaborating - before transmitting - the means of understanding - before acting on - the world. This intrinsic relationship in the social science researcher's approach could be perceived, from the outside, as a banal one. However, when endowed with the caution, respect, and systematism inherent to any proper social (scientific) approach, it turns out to be a truly human (educational) experience. It strongly shapes a profession and builds the very fabric of the social sciences.

Research is at the very heart of a scholar's life because it brings together, often in intimate situations, individuals from different social positions, career paths, and intentions. The example taken in Earth as object 1 Nicolas Bautès, “Earth as Object,” Storytelling Repository, Humanities Across Borders, December 20, 2019,  illustrates the permeability between the lives we live as researchers and those we present as humans. The encounter with the so-called Other, is made up of these moments of sharing intimacy, daily, life and confidences which, after a delicate process of distancing and analysis, build in meaning which, without constituting a directly mobilisable educational resource, is an important modality of transmission of knowledge. It is also a core feature of social positioning and shapes the scholar’s relation to the world. Namely, to be able to consciously address difference, aspiration, regrets, and projections into the future, all the aspects which make the social sciences not just an informed and aesthetic gaze, but rather a truly political relationship with the living world. That way could be a step into the long process toward decolonizing education.


Nicolas Bautès

University of Caen, France 
French Institute of Pondicherry, India