York honours French sociologist Alain Touraine

Eminent French sociologist Alain Touraine is perhaps best known for his pioneering work on social movements and for popularizing the term "post-industrial society". An internationally recognized social theorist, Touraine’s work has changed the face of sociology.

For over four decades, Touraine has studied what he calls "the science of social action". Currently, he is a research director at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in Paris, where he founded the Centre for the Study of Social Movements in 1970.

Right: Alain Touraine

Tomorrow, Touraine will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree from York at a ceremony on the Glendon campus. Touraine is the honorary president and keynote speaker at an international colloquium titled "Canada and the Americas: Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Transculturality", on today and tomorrow at Glendon (see YFile April 21).

"In awarding this honorary doctorate, we are recognizing the importance of Alain Touraine’s work as a sociologist, not only in France, but in Europe, Latin American and Canada," said York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri. "We are fortunate to count Professor Touraine as a long-time friend of York and Glendon College."

It was during the 1950s that Touraine began studying social movements in France, Latin America and later Poland, including the student uprisings across Europe in May 1968 through to the rise of Poland’s Solidarity movement in 1980. From 1952 to1953, he was Rockefeller Fellow at Harvard, Columbia and Chicago universities. He founded the Research Centre for the Sociology of Labour at the University of Chile in 1956 and the Industrial Sociology Workshop of Paris in 1958.

He was also a researcher at the National Centre for Scientific Research until 1958 when he became acting director of studies at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences for two years. In 1981, Touraine founded the Centre for Sociological Analysis and Intervention.

Touraine has been interested in the sociology of labour and workers, social movements and social issues that arise as a result of development. He continues to be a keen analyst and political commentator on social movements in France, the United States as well as Latin America.

Considered by many as a maverick, Touraine has been called a bridge builder between empirical work and social theory, between university students and university authorities, and between commitment to political cause and fierce independence of mind and spirit. He has experienced the plight of the worker first hand – having left school to work in the mines for a period of time – as well as the life of an academic. He also spent time in Hungary with the intent to view the transition to socialism first hand.

Touraine has written over 30 books, a number of which have been translated into English, including A new paradigm for understanding today’s world (Polity Press, 2007), Beyond Neoliberalism (Polity Press, 2001), Can We Live Together?: Equality and Difference (Stanford University Press, 2000), Critique of Modernity (Blackwell, 1996) and Workers Movement (Cambridge University Press, 1987).

His latest book, Penser Autrement (Fayard, 2007) or Thinking in a Different Way, not yet published in English, is particularly relevant today. It discusses the need for transformation in the light of changes that have affected private and public life as well as the collapse of social structures brought about by globalization.

Touraine is an officer of the Légion d’Honneur and of the Ordre National du Mérite.