The clinical sociology

Among the different branches of sociology that have been popping up in recent years, we find the clinical sociology that has its origin in France in the 1980s, and has as a precursor to Robert Sévigny, Gilles Houle, Eugène Enriquez, and Vincent de Gaulejac. The clinical sociology represents a new paradigm for research and intervention based especially on the life stories and the becoming of the subject.

La sociología clínica

From the hand of one of the initiators of this new specialty, the sociology, Vincent de Gaulejac,1 from the prologue of his book The sources of shame (Marble Left/Publishers, 2008)2, we get a rough idea about the clinical sociology, its object of study and its methodology.

If the reader wants to carry it further, I recommend the article of Fabiana Grasseli and Mariano Salomone: The theoretical perspective-methodology of the clinical sociology. Contributions to a debate in the journal of the Fundación iS+D: Prisma Social revista de ciencias sociales, no. 9, December 2012. pp. 83-109.


In the prologue of The sources of the vergüenzto of Vincent de Gaulejac (Marble Left/Publishers, 2008)


The clinical sociology is based on the clinical procedure for apprehending social phenomena, which constitutes a particular modality of investigation and intervention. It is about working “as close as possible to the lived experience of the actors”,3 , both in the construction of the object of research as in methods.

It is a sociology “as the other”, that is part of the parentage of a sociology sympathetic (Max Weber), taking into account the subjectivity as much as does Emile Durkheim when he declared that the study of psychic phenomena to sociological is the very substance of sociology. The uniqueness of our approach lies mainly in the introduction of the clinical procedure, which leads to putting the listener in the experience, to consider that the exploration of subjectivity, conscious and unconscious, is necessary for knowledge of the social phenomena, the researcher is involved in the objects of their research and that sociology has for its object the exploration of the existential dimension of social relations.

The posture clinic in sociology

The place of subjectivity in the very centre of the production of knowledge leads them to criticize the position of the expert, the possessor of scientific knowledge superior to other forms of knowledge.

The place of subjectivity in the very centre of the production of knowledge leads them to criticize the position of the expert, the possessor of scientific knowledge superior to other forms of knowledge. The posture clinic is constructed, in the first place, upon the hearing, the knowing of the experience and the consideration of the knowledge that actors have of their social world. The questioning of a discourse of “truth” leads to understand the basis of the different points of view, to put them in perspective and encouraging spaces of co-construction of knowledge. This does not negate the scientific point of view. Not all forms of knowledge are equivalent. The scientific rigor is necessary and unavoidable, provided that it does not rely on the logic of power, of social distinction and did not contribute to the symbolic violence between the “wise” and “ignorant”. The back and forth between experience and theory, what is experienced and what is conceptual, it is essential to understand the social phenomena.

There are close links between, on the one hand, the theoretical positions and methodological and, on the other hand, the affective implications, ideological, economic, and institutional researcher. These “conditioners” are usually implicit, or hidden, and in any case they are oblivious both to the majority of the researchers and the actors. The question of the relations between objectivity and subjectivity becomes then essential. The idea of neutrality of the researcher is set aside to give place to the analysis of their involvement, their commitment, their goals, transitive and intransitive, their interests manifest and latent. In the explanation of those motivations and in the objectification of the conditions of production of research is where we find the rigor in the field of the social sciences, and not in its neutralization on the model of the sciences called “exact”.

To the extent that we believe that social facts are not things,4 it is advisable to understand from the outside, as phenomena that structure the social existence of men, is determined by, and determine, as from the inside, to the extent that they act in the “self”. This interiority of the social world radically questions the equivalences that are common among, on the one hand, psychology/inner self/psyche and, on the other hand, sociology/externality/social. The social and the psyche will nurture each other permanently and in a way inseparable. In most of the cases we meet with phenomena sociopsíquicos. The researcher should be able to then isolate, in a first moment, the social components and the components of psychic phenomenon studied, then, in a second instance, to analyze how they are combined, influence, support, connect or intrincan.

Our relationship with the world, and this observation is valid both for the researchers as for the actors, is a construction, constituted by projections, introjects and representations that determine the frames of the memory (what we retain and what we forget), the frames of thought, interpretation and action. Consequently, the researcher is inside of your object. It is convenient therefore to better understand the complex games of intricacies between the object and the subject in all the stages of the research and the intervention. Within this same perspective, the actor has to the society within itself: it is at once product and producer of the social world. Since we can’t think of more social phenomena from a dissociation between the individual and the society.

The question of the subject is inescapable. Not to rehabilitate the figure of a conscious subject, self-contained, transparent to itself, endowed with free will and is master of his destiny, but to understand the subject that is to emerge, in doubt, in front of multiple contradictions. The subject can emerge only because there is restraint. Their margins of manoeuvre are not of an absence of determinations, but, on the contrary, the multiplicity and heterogeneity of the same. The subject emerges by the fact that these forces polysemous are all in the same direction. In consequence, he is led to take decisions, to choose within the space of indeterminacy created by all of the contradictions that run through it. The sociologist corresponds better understand the set of processes sociopsíquicos that constitute this subject and the different ways in which the subject reacts to try to emerge. The accompaniment of this process of subjectification is one of the tasks of the sociologist clinical.

“get as close as possible to the lived experience of the actors”

Not the clinic is reduced to the question of the treatment or aid to the resolution of individual problems, or collective. Conflict, in and of themselves, are neither harmful nor destructive. They are the expression of the contradictions of the social world and the depths of the psyche. The inability to cope with these conflicts is what poses a problem. The clinical methods are constructed to allow the subject to analyze these conflicts, make up an answer and find mediations in the face of those contradictions. It is, therefore, of “get as close as possible to the lived experience of the actors” to perform this analysis and put in place the possible changes, develop responses to them. We enter into a process of a certain duration, that does not seek to achieve a result scheduled. The results emerging in the way, in the process, as each stage opens up new possible outcomes that cannot be foreseen at the beginning. What is essential lies not so much in the culmination of the process as well as the contributions of the subject in the different stages of the same. In

therefore, the “test” is more focused on the quality of the process implemented in the subsequent verification of the results. The relevance of the hypothesis produced is measured in relation to the way in which the actors involved by the phenomena studied, the assume as their own because they have meaning for them. This does not mean that we avoid confrontation with the scientific community to validate the consistency between the theoretical formulations proposed, the assumptions set forth above, the method of collection and analysis of data. The goal is to integrate, in the validation, the effects of the production of knowledge on the part of the actors themselves, in particular in terms of the development of their skills of reflective. The problems posed by the reception of the knowledge produced by the researchers are as essential as those that refer to its production.

The emotions are the watches of subjectivity.

The consistency of the process is verified also in the attention given to the link between intellectual knowledge and sensory knowledge, between the registration of the reflection and the record of the feelings. The position which considers that emotions and feelings should be controlled, neutralized, and up to eliminated because it would be in the order of the irrational, not only is limited but that is amputated of an essential dimension of the human. The emotions are the watches of subjectivity. Provide indications of an inestimable value on the way in which social phenomena are were experienced, experienced, experienced. Are an essential dimension of social relations, and occupy the very center, so much of man’s being and the being of the society.

The clinical procedure breaks with the experimental method, with the position of the scientist who relies on laws to produce a discourse of “truth”.

The clinical procedure breaks with the experimental method, with the position of the scientist who relies on laws to produce a discourse of “truth”. It is designed to foster listening, empathy, mutual understanding, co-construction of hypotheses and the confrontation of theoretical knowledge, practical and from experience. The framework that accompanies it must promote the involvement and detachment, the objective analysis and the subjective expression, the analysis of the relationships transferential –both between the researcher and its object, as between the different actors involved-and get as close as possible to the lived experience, favouring at the same time the development of a conceptual reflection in depth.

A recent history

The clinical sociology is part of the path traced by the psycho-sociology (Pagès, Palmade, Enriquez), but also by the institutional analysis (Tosquelles, Oury), the psychoanalysis (Mendel), the socioanálisis (Lourau, Lapassade), the psychoanalysis of the group (Anzieu, Kaës) and the esquizoanálisis (Deleuze and Guattari). We must also recognise the importance of the contributions of americans, and particularly those initiated by Kurt Lewin, Jacob Lévy Moreno and Carl Rogers. Similarly, we pay here a tribute to the contribution indisputable of Enrique Pichon-Rivière, whose project was in many points similar: to develop a truly social psychology that demonstrates the dialectical relationship between the social structure and the ghosts unconscious of the subject through relations of groups, the interface between the psychosocial and sociodinámico.5

The clinical sociology appears in France in the 1980s.

The clinical sociology appears in France in the 1980s. In 1988, in Geneva, some people, on the initiative of Robert Sévigny, Gilles Houle, Eugène Enriquez, and Vincent de Gaulejac constitute a working group within the International Association of sociologists of French speech. In this way, they continue the path opened by Robert Sévigny and Jan Fritz with their efforts to create a working group on this approach in the International Association of Sociology. In 1992, two committees are recognized as standing committees of research within both

associations. The first colloquium of clinical sociology in France organized meets that same year at the University of Paris 7, under the auspices of the Laboratory of Social Change. The meeting brings together more than 150 researchers from about 15 countries. It thus constitutes an international network that quickly will develop, in link with our colleagues in Québec, under the impulse given by Jacques Rhéaume. It is a network rather frenchspeaking and Latin, as is represented above all in Belgium, with Marcel Bowl of Balle, Michel Legrand and Francis Loïcq, in Greece, around Klimis Navridis, and in Italy, Michelina Tosi and Massimo Corsale. But it also develops in Russia, with Igor Massalkov, in Mexico, around Elvia Taracena, in Brazil, with Norma Takeuti, Teresa Carreteiro and Joseph Newton, in Uruguay, Ana Maria Araujo, and in Chile, Francisca Marquez and Dariela Sharim.

Since 1992 we organise meetings on these three continents, giving rise to many publications in French, Portuguese and Spanish.6

In the nineties, establishing contacts in Argentina. The affiliation between the clinical sociology and the work of Pichon Rivière is remarkable, in particular as regards the need to link the psychoanalytic perspective with the problematic socio-cultural. In addition, the approaches of the esquizoanálisis and institutional analysis agree on many levels with the concerns by linking the sociology and clinical procedure. The author of these lines gave some lectures in schools of social psychology, at the University of Buenos Aires, and coordinated a group of involvement and research, “family novel and social trajectory” with Ana Maria Araujo. This last was founded by a group of clinical sociology in Montevideo in 1998 and published a journal, “clinical Sociology” and several important research. In 2008, at the initiative of Ana Korea, Josette Halegoi and Mabel Meschiany, is organizing a series of demonstrations to raise awareness of the clinical sociology in Córdoba, Rosario and Buenos Aires.

In the years ’90, the clinical sociology is imposing on slowly as a new orientation within the field of the social sciences, in particular from research carried out in the Laboratory of Social Change from the University of Paris 7. Young researchers from various disciplines choose to enroll within this guidance and begin to publish their work. Have been presented some twenty theses that claim to belong to this guidance, three of which have

received the prize awarded by Le Monde de la recherche and Edgar Morin5. The main works have been published in the collection “Sociologie Clinique”, first in the editorial Desclée de Brouwer (16 titles published) from 1996 to 2002, and then in ÉRÈS, from 2002 (16 titles published). Three events symbolized the recognition of this power in France: the foundation of the International Institute of Clinical Sociology in Paris, in the year 2001, the creation of a thematic network of clinical sociology on the occasion of the foundation of the French Association of Sociology n 2004 and the creation of a master “clinical sociology and psychosociology” at the University of Paris 7, Denis Diderot, planned for 2009.

The object of the clinical sociology

The clinical sociology invites us to take into account the specificity of human and particularly the presence as irrecusable as the irreducible subjectivity. Pay special attention to the dimensions of individual, personal, psychological, affective, and existential social relationship. Proposes to reinstate the very object of sociology current which, throughout its history, it was progressively rejected, cast out and hidden, that is to say the relations between “the being of man and the being of the society”, according to the beautiful expression that they use the members of the Collège de Sociologie in 1937. From there the attention that is paid to the processes of socio-psychic condition of course is to dwell for a moment on the hyphen that separates and unites at the same time to the socio and psychological aspects.

What is produced becomes a producer of what is produced (Morin, 1990)

There is a key issue on which sociology may not assign, unless you choke to sociology in the clinic and the potential for syncretism: the primacy of the social over the psyche or of social relations on the individual. It should be noted also that this should not be understood as taking a position on legislation, through which it would give more value to the social to the psyche or, in last instance, as the manifestation of a will to hegemonic, an attempt of seizure of power by the sociologist in his struggle against the psychologist. Primacy, in this case, it simply means that the social relations that preexist with respect to the individuals that are involved and are produced within them. But this does not question in any way the ability of transformation of these latter, because the relationship can not think of here, out of a principle of recursion. What is produced becomes a producer of what is produced (Morin, 1990) or, more broadly, what is the effect becomes the cause of what causes it. In this case, what is second not is secondary. Individuals are not integrated to the social relationships so contingent but necessary. It is for this reason that take into account the way in which the live, the represent, assimilate and contribute to reproducing or transforming them does not constitute a knowing that it would be added as an addition to the knowledge of the social structures, but a knowledge that is strictly necessary for the understanding of the social relations themselves. In short, the clinical sociology revives the project of building a true anthropology, a science of man in society, which leads us to reconsider the boundaries of disciplinary, particularly between the sciences, humanities and the social sciences.

A different way of doing sociology

The clinical reference means to do sociology in a different way

But the most specific of the clinical sociology is not so much his object as its practice. The clinical reference means to do sociology in a different way: break with the position of expert researcher, to integrate the issue of transference and countertransference in the centre of the analysis, to transform the relationship between the researcher and his interlocutors, to reconsider the issues of neutrality and objectivity, to rethink what is at stake around the involvement and the commitment and rethink the relationships between research and intervention.

This position collides against resistance is very strong within the scientific community. The clinical procedure is perceived to be input as antinomian posture sociological, in reason of the predominance of a model founded on axioms that are strongly structuring. Let’s remember a few tips methodological Durkheim: ignore the prejudices, discard the prenociones, let go of the feelings, to eliminate the beliefs in, zoom out the personal desires, to quiet the passions disturbing, to provide proof of serenity and cold blood. Let us remember also the postulate of the neutrality axiological defended by Max Weber, however, was anti-positivist, considering that capacity that the researcher would have to be able to separate, exposing the results of his scientific activity, facts and values, the findings and the judgments.

This position is illusory, and perhaps even mystified. The researcher is part of the social world and cannot pretend to reach a position of pure exteriority with respect to their field of research. The clinical sociology shares this critique with other currents that have preceded it. Considered to be-the inside of the researcher and their ability to be affected are not a bias that would have to be reduced, but that may be a tool of knowledge, provided that they are ability to integrate into the job within the device itself of the empirical research or the intervention. Recognize that ” being-here of the sociologist does not mean to admit a powerlessness, denying in advance all objectivity, all scientific learning that could build on the social, or resign because the difficulty would be insurmountable, and, finally, to abandon the whole project of knowledge in the field of the social.

Means, on the contrary, open up a new avenue of investigation to arrive at objectivity, where it is not to eradicate or neutralize the subjectivity but, on the contrary, in analyze to what extent the subjectivity involved in the process of construction of knowledge. On that point, the clinical sociology owes much to psychoanalysis and particularly to the discovery freudian of the counter-transference, a key notion taken up by the etnopsicoanálisis, psychotherapy, institutional and psycho-sociology. Georges Devereux is a precursor on this aspect when he suggests to extend the analysis of the countertransference to the deformations that affect the perception and reactions of the researcher, the anguish that awakens your work, “the roots of social scientific”, their ideology, their status as ethnic and cultural background, membership of class and their professional positions.7

A plural identity

Social phenomena are never “purely” social. Always are complex and multidimensional.

The clinical sociology has a plural identity whose modalities make sociology come from multiple theoretical currents and disciplines. It crosses the barriers of disciplinary to the extent that studies social phenomena by referring to different registers theorists from various disciplines. Some have evoked the respect of “the taste for the indiscipline”. It is more of an open conception of research in social sciences, where the phenomena studied are determined by the theories of reference and not the reverse. Social phenomena are never “purely” social. Always are complex and multidimensional. While his first feature, then, should be explained through other social facts, such an explanation should be combined with other elements, in particular the psychic. Not to oppose a system explanatory of another, but to combine them, to demonstrate the reciprocity of the influences of a record on the other, to study the effects of interaction, opposition, or complementarity. The greater part of the social facts are facts sociopsíquicos. This observation should lead to the sociologists to assimilate the theories with which to analyse the dimensions of psychic phenomena social. Get as close as possible to the lived experience of the actors leads to question the boundaries between psychology and sociology, exteriority and interiority, objectivity and subjectivity, reality and representation. The existential dimension of social relations is an essential part that should be taken into account. The “experience” ceases to be considered as the curse of the sociologist, as a dimension cloudy, and becomes a dimension irreducible to what it does to the society.

The dialogue with psychoanalysis is, therefore, unavoidable in order to understand the phenomena intrapsíquicos and the dimensions psychological of social processes. The issues of the unconscious and the importance of sexuality in social life are essential. All sociology is based on psychology implied, in the same way that most psychological approaches are based on theories of the social is rarely explicit. These are not-these and these obcecaciones are explained because of the epidemic of identity in disciplinary, related to institutional issues rather than epistemological. The inability to dissociate the psychic dimension of social life and the social dimension of the psychism should lead to explore the consequences of these rigidities sociomentales. The logic of disciplinary cause, on the one hand, “sociologicen” the mental processes and, on the other, “psicologicen” the social phenomena.

The prologue of The sources of the vergüenzto of Vincent de Gaulejac (Marble Left/Publishers, 2008) can be downloaded in PDF via Mabel Meschiany at the following link:

Prologue of The sources of the vergüenzto


  1. Vincent Gaulejac, born in 1946 in Croissy-sur-Seine, is a sociologist, professor of Sociology in the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Paris. He is the author of twenty books and articles on clinical sociology. Directs the Laboratory of Social Change at the University of Paris VII since 1981. Chairman of the Research Committee on Clinical Sociology of the International Sociological Association. It is one of the main initiators of this scientific orientation which focuses on the existential dimension of social relations. Has developed groups of intervention and research in a dozen countries in Europe, North America and South America. [↩]
  2. Gaulejac, Vincent de (2008) The sources of the shame. Buenos Aires: Marble/Left Editors. [↩]
  3. Etymologically, the Greek term “kliniké” means “at the bedside of the sick in bed”. Designates the time at which the medical leave to be interested only in the sick body, and care for the patient and what it could say about your illness. In sociology, it is interested in the lived experience of the social actors and hear what they have to say about the social phenomena that involve them. [↩]
  4. E. Durkheim says as a rule of method sociological need “to treat social phenomena as things, in order to free itself from ideological approaches that do not consider social facts for what they are, but in terms of what you would like them to be. His claim was based on the desire to give a scientific character to the sociology (E. Durkheim, Les règles de la méthode sociologique, PUF, Paris, 1937). [↩]
  5. Pichon-Rivière, E., group process, psychoanalysis, social psychology, expanded Edition, New Vision, Buenos Aires, 1988. [↩]
  6. Let us mention in particular the book L’analyse clinique dans les sciences humaines (Enriquez, Houle, Rhéaume and Sévigny, 1993) and, in English, a number of the journal International Sociology (Gaulejac, 1997) fully dedicated to clinical sociology. Among the more recent publications, let us mention the emergence in Mexico of the book Stories of life, psychoanalysis and clinical sociology (Gaulejac, Taracena and Rodríguez, 2006), in Canada Récits de vie et sociologie clinique (Mercier and Rhéaume, 2007) and in France La sociologie clinique, enjeux théoriques et méthodologiques (Gaulejac, Hanique and Roche), to Intervene, par le récit de vie (Gaulejac and Legrand).

    5 These three theses were published: Le sens du travail (Hanique, 2004), L idéal au travail (Dujarier, 2006) and L homoparentalite, côté pères, E. Gratton, forthcoming, PUF, 2008. [↩]
  7. Deveureux G., De l angoisse à la méthode, Paris, Flammarion, 1967. [↩]

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