The MSH Foundation and French Research
The Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme (FMSH, literally “House of the Sciences of Man”) is officially recognized as being an institution of public interest. According to official decree from January 4, 1963, its objective is to “promote studies of human societies that focus on current social realities and contexts.”
Understanding the Contemporary World without Dogmatism
The ambition of the founding members was to help better understand the evolutions occurring in the contemporary world by putting a particular focus on the historical depth and diversity of cultures.
Gaining this type of understanding meant addressing some key questions. Finding answers to these questions required combining all disciplines related to the humanities and the social sciences. This “academic synergy” was built without bias in a spirit of openness and rigorous reasoning.
The objective of the founding members was to combat not only conformism, but also dogmatic thinking by creating a place of freedom for research in the human and social sciences that fostered rigorous thinking and reasoning.
An Ongoing Ambition
The need to open research activities to the world is even more pressing in the context of the globalization movement. In this enlarged space of exchange, all the planet’s societies and cultures are encountering – and in some cases challenging – each other. It also seems that disciplines, which have become divided into increasingly narrow sub-sections due to more marked specialization processes, must now become more open to one another. Historically, these disciplines were built upon categories and research subjects, but their breakdown is being called into question, and even challenged, by the major trends in society.
This is why it is now critical for the Foundation to align itself with these trends of openness and questioning and to ensure its presence in debates while bringing to the table that which gave the Foundation its originality and international recognition.
In order to increase the influence of French research in the social and human sciences, it is crucial that an internationally recognized institution like the FMSH be maintained in France’s system of higher learning and research. This international recognition stems from the Foundation’s capacity to host foreign researchers with its own means, as well as its ability to help such researchers get integrated into teams and circles (in and outside Paris) that are best adapted to their research needs.
In addition, it is also important to maintain a place that all actors see as open for hosting meetings and debates that would be difficult to organize elsewhere.
While it was originally designed using the institutional model of the National Political Science Foundation (FNSP), the FMSH has two fundamental differences:
- it does not manage an institute of higher learning,
- it does not have its own dedicated research team.
These two key differences are what give the FMSH a high degree of flexibility. It was actually using the model for “network project management” before the term even existed.
A hub of national and international networks, the FMSH helps forge relations between institutions, researchers, and research teams in order to facilitate research in all the human and social sciences. No one discipline is given priority and there are no territorial limitations.
While it was used as a model for creating other MSH institutions and is an integral part of the national MSH network, the FMSH has remained completely unique in France’s national research system both in terms of its institutional framework and its missions and operations.
Raising the Visibility of France’s Social and Human Sciences
The Founders wanted the FMSH’s primary goal to be to only act through the subsidiarity principle: the Foundation initiates, supports, sponsors…but never monopolizes. The research projects the Foundation initiated are intended to become independent.
The FMSH is creative in that it “listens” to the major questions about society, to researchers, and to decision-makers and then takes the risk of supporting innovative projects.
This was the case of the concepts of sustainable development and eco-development, which the FMSH began investigating in the 1970s alongside Ignacy Sachs, who recently drew attention when he created the Observatoire international des réalisations de l’économie sociale (OIRES).
Its second mission is to promote hybrid operations that combine disciplines, French and foreign researchers, and French and foreign institutions.
In doing so, the FMSH plays a large role in gaining international recognition for France’s social and human sciences. This is done by diffusing the French scientific culture, publishing activities, and exchanges of ideas and people.