Les Lumières. Une anthropologie des échanges.

Before being exclusively an economic concept and a word that designates commercial exchanges, “commerce” first signified the way in which women and men relate to each other, that is to say, life in society, conversation, the debate of ideas, and even the reading of works of literature which in the classical age were then called les Belles-Lettres. We will therefore wonder how, even before the development of economic science, the “commerce”, taken in the broad sense, became the paradigm of a way of thinking about civility, intellectual exchanges, and everything that will constitute culture and French civilization of the 17th and 18th centuries.

If it is in the nature of men to exchange (the 18th century sees the promotion of the idea of ​​sociability), we can say that the Enlightenment invents a new anthropology where exchange appears as a line of force.

The “commerce” of men and ideas thus corresponds to a set of cultural and social practices, but it is prolonged in a way and is staged in literature. The notion of “commerce” opens up a space for experimental writing (through genres such as the novel by letters or the dialogue of ideas) which has its source in reality and which is actualized in fiction. The “commerce” also becomes a space for conceptual elaboration which participates fully in the intellectual dynamics which characterizes the Age of Enlightenment.

The course will cover the following corpus :

  • The dictionaries of the Ancien Régime, as well as the Encyclopedie of Diderot and d’Alembert
  • Treaties of sociability
  • Emerging reflections on anthropology
  • Emerging reflections on the economy
  • Correspondences (real and fictional)
  • Dialogues of ideas as a literary and philosophical genre

This course aims to offer analytical tools that articulate literary history, cultural history and anthropology.