Petrozavodsk Soulajgora, Tomasz Kizny 2007

NANO: Nature(s) & norms

A project carried out within the framework of the research program SAMSON: Sciences, Arts, Medicine and Social Norms, developed by Sorbonne University (Paris), the Faculty of Arts, Charles University (Prague), Warsaw University and CEFRES.

The project “Nature(s) and Norms” implemented in cooperation between the Institute of Polish Culture and the UMR 8224 EUR’ORBEM, in partnership with the French Centre for Research in Humanities and Social Sciences in Prague intends to conduct a series of seminars and workshops, the guiding principle of which is to analyse the process of formation of social norms. The aim is to examine the normative order of modernity, the representations and concepts of which will be explored at the intersection of art, literature, social and natural sciences, and medical discourse. The focus is on Central and Eastern Europe, including Russia and its normative processes in a period of intensive modernisation. The studied period is a crucial one for the development of European modernity, from the second half of the 18th century to the second half of the 20th century.

The peculiarities of modernisation processes and their understanding and description in the above-mentioned fields escape the commonly accepted categories of aspiration and imitation, backwardness and recovery. Although liberal democracy was never a strong point of these cultural areas, this does not mean that they did not develop ideas and social practices of a counter-hegemonic modernising nature: initiating and following emancipation movements and their political emanations, forming ideas of co-operativeness and co-operative movement, conceiving horizontal networks as relevant for the process of democratisation, and – finally – opening up new directions in art as well as in the social, natural and medical sciences. We assume the hypothesis that attitudes and texts formed under deeply authoritarian conditions (and this is the case in the fields we are interested in in the 19th and 20th centuries) could foster processes of social change, create alternative models of rules of social life and together constitute an interesting response to the capitalist model of culture and its various consequences. Within this framework, the members of the project will explore both the development of state policies, individual scientific and artistic practices, the birth and evolution of networks that favour the dissemination of ideas resulting from modernisation in these areas of culture, as well as work in the field of the history of ideas.

The research project will be implemented through seminars and workshops around two main questions: How did the interaction between important fields of modernisation (art, medicine, social and natural sciences) shape the framework of social norms in Central and Eastern Europe? And conversely, how did well-established social norms, albeit differentiated by region and class, influence the directions of development of scientific and artistic practices?

Research on these issues has already been initiated both by the Polish team (researchers dealing with questions of norms of corporeality, socio-historical determinants of norms of sexuality or reproductive rights, semiotisation of nature, etc.), the Czech team (since 2016, CEFRES research area 2 dedicated to “Norms and transgression” has already produced several publications and scientific events, see ) and by the French team (from 2020 in the form of the project SAMSON “Sciences, Arts, Medicine and Social Norms”, see the dedicated website: The work plan for the period covered by the candidacy was drawn up together by the two teams during a workshop (Warsaw, March 2022).

The intertwining of these two experiences encourages and amplifies the interdisciplinary character of the research programme. The planned seminars will deal with issues at the intersection of the humanities (literary studies, cultural studies, history of film and photography, sociology or history of science) and the natural and medical sciences. The aim is to elaborate new perspectives in the study of discourses, experiences and social phenomena relevant to the process of modernisation. Reproductive rights and the discourses that govern them, the framework of ‘physical form’ and disability, the regimes of corporeality and sexuality, the management of natural resources and the involvement of natural phenomena in the processes of nation-building – to name but a few of the topics that will be addressed – are issues that are firmly rooted in the history of modernisation. However, they are also equally crucial issues in contemporary conflicts, including those concerning inclusive politics, prejudice and the languages of exclusion. We are also interested in the semantisation of landscape (implemented by states both to maintain certain forms of memory – such as heroic or monumental memory, and to repress others – in the case of experiences of trauma and shame, such as the Holocaust).

Complementarity of the teams: knowledge construction and its dissemination to civil society

The study of social norms, the identification of their origins, the analysis of their historical variability and the questioning of their ‘naturalness’ are all research issues that allow us to adopt a new approach to the dynamics of modernisation processes, both in Western and in Central and Eastern Europe. Without losing its academic character, the project is embedded in the vivid debates of our time, in which the question of defining social norms is central to political discourse, social design and everyday human experience. Thus, the “Nature(s) and Norms” project, while maintaining the discipline of the research, crosses the boundaries of the traditionally understood academy. The long-term commitment of the Institute of Polish Culture’s teams to the construction of civil society, the animation of culture in the broadest sense, and participation in contemporary social debates is a valuable contribution for all members. In return, the research experiences and the international network of collaborations acquired by the French teams will be a useful complement to the Polish side. The good practices of the Polish side, consisting of conducting academic research together with the dissemination of knowledge and engagement in the functioning of civil society through various means (debates, workshops, cultural events, etc.), would enter into a fruitful dialogue with the new methods of research outreach currently developed in France. Between these two poles, the pivotal role of the CEFRES team in building Franco-Czech and (Central) European research synergies in the humanities and social sciences will be a valuable counterpart, relying in particular on its privileged links with Charles University and the Czech Academy of Sciences through the Platform for Scientific Cooperation, founded in 2015.

This project aimed at developing sustainable research synergies on a European scale would be an extension of the work already carried out by the UMR EUR’ORBEM team. The interdisciplinary dimension of this work was strengthened by the involvement of the “Humanités biomédicales” (Sorbonne) in the SAMSON project. After two years of preliminary research, international openness beyond the usual East-West divides would be necessary in order to extend, strengthen and perpetuate the collaborations already initiated. The researchers of UMR 8224 Eur’ORBEM benefit from a long-standing international research network with the countries whose cultures they study as well as with other European and American institutions. Team members have published several articles and books in the languages and countries they study. The project will contribute to extending and strengthening the existing network of collaborations through an institutional partnership with the University of Warsaw, with which our teams have been working for several years both at the educational level (e.g. the French-Polish double Master’s degree) and at the scientific level (among the many conferences and workshops co-organised, we can mention those on the symbiotic relationship between psychoanalysis and literature, 2014; artistic creation in the feminine, 2016; emotions and care, 2018; normativity in discourses on memory, 2018; circulation of concepts between literature, science and philosophy, 2018).  This project will also be able to draw on the resources of the European university alliance 4EU+, to which the universities of Sorbonne, Warsaw and Prague belong.

The project also includes a strong training through research component. It plans to integrate several Sorbonne University doctoral students (Astrid Greve Kristensen, Tatiana Drobot, Vojtěch Pojar), as well as two post-doctoral students (Mathieu Lericq, Fedora Parkmann) in order to allow them to collaborate in the foundation of an international scientific network, to present their research projects related to the project. They will be involved in all stages of the project’s development (coordination of sessions, administrative management, etc.). The joint research notebook will also be fed by the publications of the doctoral students of both universities (the sections to be developed will include reviews, translations, documentary monitoring).

See the program of the seminar for 2022–2023