Sujet de thèse : Charlatanism : A Sociological Inquiry

Direction : Eva Illouz et Antoine Lilti

Truth and its discontents has become a recently popular intellectual theme. Contemporary socio-political orders are proclaimed to be subordinate to post-truth. Liars and those stoking alternative facts are now ennobled as political leaders, cultural icons and popular pundits. But rather than blindly condemn post-truth and those that capitalise it altogether, we should examine how it bends aspects of lived experiences. This is an enticing question to apply into sociological research. Not least because post-truth, and more broadly lies and deception, constantly produces social consequences ; thus challenging the methodological framework of positivism that existed in sociological research since its inception. Popular literature postulate that lies produce and subsequently devastate friend groups, labor relations and intimate relationships. Yet despite the obvious social significance of duplicity, lies have rarely appeared as a central theme in sociological literature, and largely remained the domain of philosophical and psychological investigation. But by individuating and atomising liars from their social environments, an incomplete story is narrated. If the topic of lies was to be applied in a sociological framework, unexpected and peculiar research is bound to emerge. A sociological research into the subject would transform the broad practice of lying into a fixed social category. In this case, the charlatan.

We could ask if there is, in fact, a social need for the presence of charlatans within a community. And if so, what social, economic and cultural purpose do charlatans serve ? Unlike the alleged contemporaneity of post-truth, a sociohistorical examination will point out to the everlasting prevalence of charlatans in diverging social contexts and throughout different epochs– be they false messiahs, art foragers or snake oil salesmen. In other words, the phenomenon of charlatanism is nothing new. Rather than stipulating that it is a novelty, this doctoral research wishes to question how the value of lying might be intrinsically linked to the economic values of capitalism by inquiring the social role of the charlatan. The convergence of the two is not coincidental. Both the charlatan and the logic of late capitalism are fixated on how fulfillment is achievable by economic investment in future revenues. In that sense, the charlatan could even be regarded as an embodiment of capitalism itself.

The following research proposal argues that modern definitions and practices of charlatanism are embedded with late capitalism, and that the result of such intertwining informs current economic practices, social ties and a commercialisation of truth. Therefore, I wish to conduct this line of research during my PhD, asking : how do the presence, forms and mechanisms of charlatanism intersect with the culture, economy and social organization of late capitalism ? Focusing on the current social importance of charlatanism encapsulates the popular tenets of late capitalism as well as post-truth, and thus bears extensive influence on commercial organizations and emotional articulation.