Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

History of Art

First Advisor

Christine Poggi


The social sciences rarely figure in histories of 1960s and 70s art despite the fact that sociology, anthropology, and psychology inspired novel artistic practices in that period. This dissertation is the first comprehensive study of "sociological art," a movement and artist collective that developed in France following the upheavals of May and June 1968 and declined by the election of the Socialist François Mitterrand in 1981. Artists and critics associated with the movement, including artists Fred Forest, Herv<é> Fischer, and Jean-Paul Thenot, who founded the Sociological Art Collective in 1974, and critics François Pluchart, Pierre Restany and Bernard Teyss≤è>dre, sought to make art more responsive to the world by combining sociological methods and theory with new artistic currents and media. This dissertation draw on significant archival resources to chart the formation and work of the Sociological Art Collective and to identify dynamic and constitutive relationships between the emergence of sociological art and contemporaneous intellectual, social, and political changes. Structured around four key actions--organizing, questioning, animating, and teaching--the chapters lead readers chronologically through the history of sociological art, seeking, at each turn, to expand art historical interpretation beyond the objects produced to the processes initiated. In its historiographic dimensions, this dissertation examines the concurrent "cultural turn" in the social sciences and "social turn" in art and art history in the 1970s, methodological shifts that led to a dramatic re-conception of art. Rather than rarified objects made by individuals, art would be increasingly envisaged as a cooperative process of communication operating within an enlarged visual field. Furthermore, this project positions sociological art as an important yet unacknowledged historical precedent and foundation for the recent rise of "relational" and "socially-engaged" art practices since the mid-1990s. Originating at the shifting interfaces between the arts, humanities, and social sciences, sociological art advances a hybrid and interdisciplinary model for future histories of art.

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