Luc Boltanski is widely regarded as one of the most influential French sociologists of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. He is one of the leading figures of the ‘pragmatic’ tradition within contemporary social and political thought. More specifically, he is – along with Laurent Thévenot – one of the founding figures of an approach that he himself characterizes as the ‘pragmatic sociology of critique’.
Boltanski was born in 1940. He is the brother of the artist Christian Boltanski and of the linguist Jean-Élie Boltanski. He studied social sciences at the University of Paris, La Sorbonne, and completed his Thèse de troisième cycle in 1968. This dissertation – entitled Prime éducation et morale de classe – was supervised by Raymond Aron; it was published by Mouton Publishing Company (152 pp.) in 1969 and subsequently translated into Italian (Guaraldi) and Spanish (Laia). Boltanski was awarded his Doctorat d'État in 1981 for his thesis entitled Les cadres : La formation d'un groupe social; this study, completed under the supervision of Pierre Ansart, was published by Éditions de Minuit (523 pp.) in 1982.
Throughout his career as a professional academic, Boltanski has been based at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), Paris, France. At the EHESS, he has held three major academic positions: Chef de travaux (1965–69), Maître de conférences (1970–81), and Directeur d'études (since 1982).
Between 1965 and 1984, he was a member of the Centre de Sociologie Européenne (EHESS/CNRS), directed by Pierre Bourdieu. In 1985, he co-founded – together with Laurent Thévenot – the Groupe de Sociologie Politique et Morale (GSPM, EHESS/CNRS), of which he was the Director between 1985 and 1992. At the GSPM, he carried out several research projects and led numerous research programmes until its closure in 2013. He has been a Visiting Professor at various universities, both in Europe and in the United States, and he was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University during the academic year 1991–92. Currently, he is a member of the Institut de Recherche Interdisciplinaire sur les Enjeux Sociaux (Sciences Sociales, Politique, Santé) (IRIS, EHESS).