Discussing Luc Boltanski's research is a particularly delicate task for the person who co-authored works and articles with him that have given rise to a new sociological paradigm and led to the creation of the Groupe de Sociologie Politique et Morale. I could have avoided the difficulty by choosing a masterwork of his that is quite different from the works we wrote together, such as the admirable La condition fœtale (Boltanski, 2004). Yet, I have chosen instead to confront it in the spirit of the long, friendly, and ongoing conversation between us, renewed this past year. I would like to bring to light differences which, though invisible in works that fully integrate our perspectives on a single object of study, may yet be discerned in our respective earlier and later writings. I have chosen to take up the question of enlarging critique, in connection with our respective explorations of critical tests and what they contribute to critical theory.
In the first part, I evoke the before and after of the ‘critical reality test’ concept that Luc and I modelled in Economies of Worth (Boltanski and Thévenot, 1987; hereafter EW; original title Economies de la grandeur) and in On Justification (Boltanski and Thévenot, 2006 ; hereafter OJ). Here, ‘before’ and ‘after’ are to be understood in two ways: what happens before and after the critical test, and what can be contributed by analytical categories related to the test model and developed by each of us in works either preceding or following our collaboration. The second part approaches the language that is appropriate for expressing what is experienced in such trying moments. This leads to an encounter with literary works that brings us back to Boltanski, in this case to his theatrical work.
1. Before and after the ‘Critical Reality Test’
After analysing in detail the various ties between sociology and criticism, Boltanski, in On Critique (hereafter OC), enlarges the model of critical test that we put forward in EW, distinguishing three types of test (Boltanski, 2011 ).