Towards a new humanity

The Uriage manifesto, 1945.

by Derek Robbins (Author)
Monographs XVIII, 326 Pages


Vers le style du XXe siècle (Towards a style for the 20th Century), by the «Uriage team» under the direction of Gilbert Gadoffre, was published by Seuil in 1945. It was the work of nine authors who had been involved with the «école de cadres» (leadership school) which ran from 1940 until 1945. At first the école was part of a programme initiated by the Youth Ministry of the Vichy government. After the German invasion of the «Unoccupied zone», the team cooperated clandestinely with the Resistance movement. The work offers their vision of how humanity should recover after the trauma of World War II.
Known for his studies of the work of Pierre Bourdieu (1930–2002), Derek Robbins attempts to put into practice Bourdieu’s injunction that all intellectual works should be understood «socio-genetically», that is to say as bi-products of the social positions and trajectories of their authors. Towards a New Humanity: The Uriage Manifesto, 1945 offers a translation of the Uriage text, but it offers much more. Robbins examines the social backgrounds of the authors and considers how they adjusted their views in their subsequent careers as de Gaulle normalised much of what they had wanted to challenge.
Produced during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, this book examines, as a case-study, the process by which nine privileged Frenchmen articulated a vision for the whole of humanity. Few of their proposals materialised, but their discussion is thought-provoking as we confront our future.

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgements
  • Table of contents
  • Preface
  • Part I.
  • Chapter 1.
  • L’École des cadres à Uriage: its origins and its originators
  • Chapter 2.
  • L’École des cadres à Uriage: its practice
  • Chapter 3.
  • Vers le style du XXe siècle: its authors
  • Chapter 4.
  • Vers le style du XXe siècle: brief synopsis and introduction to editorial practice
  • The translated text of Vers le style du XXe siècle
  • Table of Contents
  • Part II.
  • Chapter 1.
  • The subsequent careers of the authors
  • Chapter 2.
  • The French reception, 1960–2020
  • Chapter 3.
  • Editorial reflections
  • References

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Vers le style was a text produced at the end of World War II by a team of thinkers who had worked and lived together during the war in a ‘leadership school’ (l’école des cadres à Uriage). The école was established at the end of July, 1940, as part of a programme initiated by the Vichy regime to develop the kinds of leaders that it thought would be needed to implement the ‘Révolution nationale’ which it sought to introduce in ‘Unoccupied France’ in order to revive the country after its ignominious surrender to German forces. The prime movers of the école were demobilized soldiers and radical Catholic priests. The founder and ‘chief ’ was Pierre Dunoyer de Segonzac. The institution ran short courses of varying lengths and large numbers of young men followed these ‘stages’ and were influenced by them. It attracted young ‘intellectuals’ as tutors and its ethos was that it generated a communal context within which diverse attitudes and opinions could be represented and discussed. Although the école was at first sponsored by the Vichy government, it quickly found government oversight too intrusive. At the end of October, 1940, the école moved from a château in Gannat, near to Vichy, to a château in Uriage, near to Grenoble. At the end of 1942, the école was formally abolished by the Vichy government. Preparations had been made in advance of this expected abolition. The école became clandestine and, in the Spring of 1943, a proportion of the members moved to ‘la Thébaïde’ at Murinais, near to Saint-Marcellin on the edge of the Vercors, from where they ran courses for the Resistance. On 13 December 1943, la Thébaïde was invaded and destroyed by the German army, the Gestapo, and the French milice. From the beginning of 1944, dispersed members met occasionally to salvage the text which had emerged from their discussions in the previous years. This ‘summa’, edited by Gilbert Gadoffre who was the leader of the école at Murinais, was published in 1945 by Éditions du Seuil as Vers le style.

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I first became interested in the école des cadres à Uriage in the early 1970s. My PhD, received in 1972, had been supervised within the Cambridge English School by Raymond Williams.1 His influence led me towards the ‘sociology of literature’ which was emerging at that time and towards the work of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham under the direction of Richard Hoggart.2 I read Jacques Charpentreau and René Kaës, 1962, La culture populaire en France, Paris, Les éditions ouvrières, which drew my attention to the work of Joffre Dumazedier and caused me to embark on a cross-cultural comparison between the work of Hoggart and Dumazedier. I had become involved from 1973 in a pedagogical innovation3 at my place of work – the University of East London (then North-East London Polytechnic) [NELP/UEL] – and it became clear to me that I needed to explore the institutional conditions of possibility for the introduction of radical educational change. This realization caused me to want to analyse the context within which Dumazedier developed the orientation which was pursued in Peuple et Culture, which he co-founded in 1945. That context was the école des cadres à Uriage.

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In 1977, I received a West European Research Grant, jointly sponsored by the British Academy and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, to work in the Bureau des Archives Départementales de l’Isère at Grenoble which held documentation about Uriage. I received funding from the same sources for a follow-up research visit in 1982. Between these two visits, I had one year of secondment from NELP as Morris Ginsberg Fellow in Sociology at the London School of Economics in which I explored theoretically the character of higher education institutions, considering the relationship between the sociology of knowledge and the sociology of organizations as conceptual instruments for understanding variations in curriculum content. The outcome of the two research visits was, firstly, an article on the école in Higher Education Review in the Autumn of 1982,4 and, secondly, a paper on ‘French Sociology, 1940-1944’ given at a conference on ‘Vichy France and the Resistance: Ideology and Culture’ held at the University of Sussex in 1984. When the proceedings were published, this became: ‘Uriage: the influence of Context on Content’.5

My early interest in Uriage, therefore, arose from the extent to which the work of the école, and the thought of authors within the école, supplied an objective correlative for my reflections on my involvement in the introduction of an educational innovation within an institution which was relatively marginalized within the UK higher education system. In the mid-1980s, I discovered the work of Pierre Bourdieu. I found that the educational research which he undertook with Jean-Claude Passeron in the 1960s (Bourdieu and Passeron, 1964, 1979; 1970, 1977) provided me with a conceptual framework to analyse ‘independent study’ and then that Bourdieu’s La Noblesse d’État (Bourdieu, 1989, 1996) also gave me a way into thinking about the nature of educational institutions. I was able to draw on the sociological analyses of Bourdieu and Passeron to understand my own experiences with the result that this usurped my interest in elements of precedent in the circumstances of the Uriage team.

For over thirty years I have concentrated on attempting to understand and adequately communicate the full range of Bourdieu’s work, in its sociological, anthropological, and philosophical dimensions. The emphasis of my most recent book on Bourdieu6 was that the balance which he achieved between intellectual endeavour and socio-political activism is paradigmatic. The essence of his conviction was that we need to encourage in everybody a reflexive analysis of the conditions affecting the development of beliefs, values, and actions in such a way that our responses to others are not distorted by a mistaken belief in the autonomous validity of intellectual discourse about them.

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During this period, I had always regarded my research on Uriage as unfinished business. In the past, my research had been shaped by an interest in the similarities and differences between the educational innovations of the Uriage team in 1940–1945 and those of the staff involved in developing and implementing procedures for ‘independent study’ at NELP/UEL from 1973 until 1990. Originally, I had investigated the regime of the école and had focussed on some of the ‘cahiers’ produced by members of the Uriage team.7 After completing The Bourdieu paradigm, I decided that I would like to revisit my work on Uriage by focussing on the text produced by the Uriage team in the closing months of the war. I was driven by a sense that the thinking of the Uriage team before the establishment of de Gaulle and the construction of a new constitution has relevance in relation to our current anxieties about the capacity of political systems in nation states to respond adequately to the challenges confronting the whole world. I secured a contract and started work towards the end of 2019.

Then the Covid-19 pandemic struck. I have completed the translation and the commentary during lockdown. Suddenly, the relevance of Vers le style becomes pronounced as people everywhere consider whether the crisis is an opportunity to set humanity on a new course or whether the ‘new normal’ will just be a restored ‘old normal’.

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This book does not seek simply to re-present in translation the text published in 1945 as if in the belief that its arguments have intrinsic value which make it transhistorically pertinent after a period of seventy five years. Instead, the book offers an abridged text which is enclosed within contextual information. The intention is that the text should be understood ‘socio-genetically’, following Pierre Bourdieu’s injunction as expressed in his ‘Concluding Remarks: For a Sociogenetic Understanding of Intellectual Works’ in Calhoun, Lipuma, and Postone, eds, 1993, Bourdieu: Critical Perspectives. Generalizing from his perception of the ways in which his own works were being received, Bourdieu argued that adequate responses to all intellectual works depend on making the effort to understand the social and epistemological conditions of their production or, as he puts it, ‘the epistemological and social conditions under which (that is, at the same time, with which and against which) the intellectual project whose product is the work in question was elaborated’ (Calhoun et al., 1993, 264). For Bourdieu, social and intellectual trajectories are inextricably linked and they have to be seen to be mutually reinforcing. To borrow words from the title of an article by Laurent Thévénot and Luc Boltanski, both of whom had been influenced by Bourdieu, we are all involved in finding our ways in social space (Thévénot and Boltanski, 1983). We are all born into situations which give us unique dispositions to act and think, and these immediately inter-act with the objective conditions in which we develop and the discourses of explanation of them which are at our disposal.

The purpose of this edition of Vers le style, therefore, is to situate it in its socio-historical context and in the trajectory of its authors, and, in doing so, to raise questions about the relevance today of the thinking which it contains by encouraging readers to reflect both on the objective conditions of their societies and on their individual trajectories within those societies. It is important that this book is not read simply as a ‘re-presentation’ of an old text but as a package in which the context of the text and its authorial intentions are integrally related so as to generate, by reference to one historical case-study, socio-analytical thinking about the process leading to the production of a ‘summa’ or ‘manifesto’ for our consumption, and reflection on its content.

This socio-historical orientation has two practical consequences. It dictates the form of the presentation, and it also demands some familiarity with the thought and politics of mid-twentieth-century France.

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The abridged text is deliberately situated between commentaries which are offered in two Parts. Part I might be called the ‘pretexts’ of Vers le style. It is divided into four chapters. The first discusses the circumstances which led to the establishment of l’école des cadres and examines the motivations of the two primary originators: Pierre Dunoyer de Segonzac (1906–1968) and the abbé René de Naurois (1906–2006). The second is devoted to the practice of l’école des cadres. Following the comprehensive account provided by Bernard Comte (Comte, 1991), this part attempts to describe the communal life of the école, the nature of its ‘stages’, and its publications during the four years of its existence. According to Pierre Bitoun (Bitoun, 1988, 134), the first impression of Vers le style specified the names of eight authors under the direction of Gilbert Gadoffre. The third chapter focuses on the backgrounds of these nine authors. The fourth chapter provides a brief synopsis of Vers le style. This is intended as a brief guide for the reader, an elaborated version of the actual Table of Contents of the book (see pp. 59–63). The section also offers some comments on the practices I have adopted in making the translation.

Part I precedes the translated and abridged text. Part II follows Vers le style, and it is offered in three chapters. It might be called ‘postscripts’. These are the postscript careers of the authors (Chapter 1), the postscript reception of the text (Chapter 2), and my postscript reflections on the total presentation of the book (Chapter 3).

Fully to appreciate Vers le style and this presentation of the text, some further or background reading is advisable. I can make some introductory recommendations of books in English:

Halls, W. D., 1981, The Youth of Vichy France, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Jackson, J., 2019, A Certain Idea of France. The Life of Charles de Gaulle, Harmondsworth, Penguin.

Kedward, H. R., 2005, La Vie en bleu. France and the French since 1900, London, Allen Lane.

Kedward, H. R., 1985, Occupied France. Collaboration and Resistance 1940-1944, Oxford, Basil Blackwell.

Vinen, R., 2006, The Unfree French. Life under the Occupation, London, Allen Lane.

These are scholarly books. For a different way in to the confused emotions, events, and ideological allegiances in the period, I recommend the quartet of novels, set in Bordeaux, by Allan Massie:

Massie, A., 2010, Death in Bordeaux, London, Quartet.

Massie, A., 2012, Dark Summer in Bordeaux, London, Quartet.

Massie, A., 2014, Cold Winter in Bordeaux, London, Quartet.

Massie, A., 2015, End Games in Bordeaux, London, Quartet.

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Finally, the footnotes in Parts I and II run independently. The footnotes in the translated Vers le style are separately numbered. Within the translation, I translate the footnotes of the original but I also add my footnotes. All my additions are in bold and enclosed within square brackets. Where I omit passages from the original, I indicate this in the following way: [……]. All the references in Vers le style are given as in the original. References in this Preface and in Parts I and II are given according to the Yale system of reference. Full publication details of texts cited in the Preface and Parts I and II are given in the References section at the end of the book.

1 Raymond Williams (1921–1988), author of Culture and Society, 1958, and The Long Revolution, 1961.

2 Richard Hoggart (1918–2014), author of The Uses of Literacy: Aspects of Working Class Life, 1957.

3 See Robbins, 1988, and my contribution to Poynter and Rustin, eds, 2020.

4 Robbins, 1982.


XVIII, 326
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2021 (May)
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2021. XVIII, 326 pp., 2 tables.

Biographical notes

Derek Robbins (Author)

Derek Robbins is Emeritus Professor of International Social Theory at the University of East London. He is the author of The Work of Pierre Bourdieu (Open University Press, 1991), Bourdieu and Culture (Sage, 2000), On Bourdieu, Education and Society (Bardwell Press, 2006) and French Post-War Social Theory: International Knowledge Transfer (Sage, 2011). He has published many articles and book chapters on the work of Bourdieu. He edited and introduced Jean-Claude Passeron’s Sociological Reasoning, (Bardwell Press, 2013). Most recently, he published Cultural Relativism and International Politics (Sage, 2014) and edited and contributed to the volume on Bourdieu in the Anthem Companions to Sociology series (Anthem Press, 2016). His The Bourdieu paradigm. The origins and evolution of an intellectual social project was published by Manchester University Press in July, 2019.


Title: Towards a new humanity