Like most other European institutes for advanced study (Berlin, Wassenaar, Uppsala, Budapest, etc.), the French IAS give priority to the humanities and social sciences in their invitation policies, while allowing extensive possibilities for interaction with other sciences (materials, physical and life sciences), as long as they do not require research laboratories. The activity of the IAS, based on giving priority to individual mobility, is thus consistent with some major European mobility programmes that are structured according to researchers’ career paths rather than to academic programmes, which are the prerogative of thematic operations. To pursue their academic policies on research, innovation and scientific renewal, the four French IAS have three common characteristics that designate the independence of the institutes as a fundamental value:
1. Each institute has an independent juridical existence, which gives it full autonomy of governance
The institutes have the legal form of not-for-profit associations (Lyon, Marseille, Paris) or foundations (since April 2008, the Nantes IAS has had the status of a foundation officially recognised as being in the public interest), and they are perfectly free to establish clear institutional and contractual relations with their partners, who may be local or regional authorities, institutions of higher education and research, or private-sector firms.
2. The institutes have full control over the definition and management of their academic projects
Each institute is managed by an internationally recognised scholar (see Appendix 1), either the person behind the creation of the institute (the jurist Alain Supiot for the Nantes IAS, the historian Robert Ilbert for the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Research in Marseille), or a prominent external scholar hired through an international call for applications (the linguist Alain Peyraube at the Collegium de Lyon, the archaeologist Alain Schnapp and the sociologist Patrice Duran appointed by the founding members of IAS-Paris, simultaneously with the establishment of an internationalsearch committee to recruit the director of IAS-Paris as from 2012). All of the institutes’ directors have international stature, openness to interdisciplinary research, experience in institutional development, and availability, and they enjoy a great deal of independence in conducting the affairs of each IAS throughout their terms of office.
The quality of the institutes’ selection procedures for fellows, marked by transparency, peer evaluation, and international, multidisciplinary scientific advisory boards, is regarded as a very important achievement of the French IAS since their creation. The scientific advisory boards of the four institutes represent considerable international expertise, bringing together some 60 high-level academics representing 32 disciplines (including 11 in the materials, physical and life sciences) and 23 nationalities (including 11 outside Europe). The international reputations of the chairs of the four scientific advisory boards (French sociologist Yves Grafmeyer in Lyon, Italian historian Giovanni Levi in Marseille, French Japanologist Jean-Noël Robert in Nantes and German historian Wolf Lepenies in Paris) give additional legitimacy to the selection processes used by the four institutes. The selection criteria are based on researchers’ academic excellence and intellectual innovation.
Owing to their high-quality and highly selective procedures, the four French IAS are rapidly becoming key players in the international mobility of scholars, in a context of intensifying competition on the global market for academic excellence.
3. The IAS have property assets of very high quality, allowing them to offer an exceptional working environment (in terms of space, scientific support, and documentary, administrative and logistic services) and the best conditions for sociability among researchers within the temporary, multi-disciplinary and international academic community and for contacts with eminent or promising French researchers.
The scientific and intellectual freedom that fellows enjoy during their stay enables the IAS to perform the function of an incubator and to create the conditions required for the emergence of the most innovative, and possibly unexpected, research work, avenues for research and collaborative arrangements.
This crucial aspect of the activity of the IAS requires in particular that buildings be constructed specifically for or dedicated to the institutes, offering individual and collective workspaces with nearby living quarters that are suitable for long stays. The four French institutes have resolutely set out to meet this need. In Nantes, for example, a contemporary building of 6,000 m2 was built to accommodate the premises of the IAS and those of the Maison des sciences de l’Homme Ange-Guépin. The building, inaugurated in October 2008, is located close by the living quarters, which were also built specifically for the occasion. In Marseille, the IMéRA occupies a large part of the former Marseille-Provence Astronomical Observatory, located in Parc Longchamp. The renovation of the premises, financed by a project contract between the central government and the region (contrat de projet État-région – CPER), will be completed in 2011. In 2013, IAS-Paris will occupy its new premises in the prestigious Hôtel de Lauzun-Pimodan on the Ile Saint-Louis, currently being renovated to meet the needs of contemporary research, and will have housing for fellows at the Maison Suger, a few hundred metres away. In Lyon, a high environmental quality fellows’ residence is under construction as part of a CPER (delivery in 2013); working spaces will be located in a building in the Ilot Saint Joseph area.
None of the IAS is restricted exclusively to the humanities and social sciences. Each institute attributes 10% to 30% of its fellowships to researchers in the exact sciences, particularly cognitive and life sciences, on the interface with the humanities and social sciences.
The French IAS are sharply differentiated in terms of their scientific programmes, their policies on invitation and on contacts with the local scientific and academic community.
Each institute has its own policy on fellows’ invitations, and this policy has a national and international –not merely local or regional– scientific dimension. With the differentiation of their scientific programmes, the individual institutes are becoming actors in their own right on the French scientific scene, while also making their distinguishing features known on the international market for mobility of top international researchers. The French IAS are thus complementary to one another rather than competitors, and they jointly represent a broad range of opportunities for fellowships in an IAS meeting the needs of the best international researchers.
The identity of the Nantes IAS is based on two major scientific policies. The first is to help open up the study and knowledge of humanity to non-Western points of view. The Institute seeks to foster a new style of intellectual relations between “Northern” and “Southern” countries. Each year, it assembles a scientific community made up of scholars from very different intellectual and cultural backgrounds, but whose work and research interests intersect to some extent. The experience of the first two years’ fellows testifies to the success of this method. The second policy specific to the Nantes IAS is that of giving priority to research relating to the dogmatic framework of societies, i.e. everything that is indemonstrable in the meaning that each society attributes to human life. The Institute has undertaken to help scholars from all continents to take a different view of these dogmatic systems, considering them not as vestiges of irrationality in a world destined to become transparent and manageable, but as essential supports for the institution of reason in a world doomed to remain diverse and unpredictable. This dogmatic dimension of human life is found in particular in languages, law, religion and aesthetics, which have in common that the meaning they signify is given rather than demonstrated. It also relates to the philosophy and sociology of science, as well as to medicine, to the extent that the latter remains a human science. This marked openness to medical issues explains the Institute’s close collaboration, on questions of the identity and integrity of the human body, with the medical research teams that are heading up the project for a hospital-university institute (institut hospitalo-universitaire – IHU) in Nantes.
IMéRA aims to offer an “inter-collegial” environment enabling scholars to question and examine the soundness and value of their work, not only with regard to the (legitimate and productive) requirements of their own disciplines, but by exposing their work, methods and questions to broader inquiry from related disciplines. The research efforts hosted at IMéRA privilege the interactions that can develop from the relations between disciplines or may arise from specific objects of study. The watchword that sums up the Institute’s policies is that of the human nature of the sciences, defined on the basis of: (i) the human activity of research, as the link between human creativity and the ability to prove ideas through demonstration and experimentation; (ii) the inclusion of science (its theories, models and technologies) in the social human condition, as a link between the partial neutralisation of social issues, which is necessary to the objectivity of research, and the incorporation of its findings in issues of social history; (iii) the relations between the arts and sciences, because although “science refuses to inhabit things”, one of the distinctive features of contemporary artistic sensibilities is to make us aware of the “inhabiting” consequences of the technical and scientific devices that form the core and the future of our modernity; (iv) the relations between the exact sciences, the arts, and the humanities and social sciences, via analysis of how they redefine and renew themselves through scientific innovation, testing through experiment and technical achievements, and their reception by society.
Although the Collegium de Lyon has so far hosted relatively few resident fellows, analysis of the research topics pursued by most of the fellows since 2008 (languages and linguistic expression, perception, consciousness, memory, reason, representations of knowledge) reveals a dominant characteristic that can easily be described as the sciences of cognition and complexity –a field par excellence in which the boundaries between disciplines (linguistics, philosophy, psychology, anthropology, cognitive neurosciences, artificial intelligence) become blurred. This is certainly due to the fact that the Rhône-Alpes region of France counts a number of high-quality research centres and teams working in this sector: the “Dynamics of Language” laboratory at the University of Lyon-2, the Complex Systems Institute of the ENS de Lyon, the “Language, Brain, Cognition” laboratory of the Cognitive Sciences Institute of the University of Lyon-1. Research in this field will be stepped up, because it is probably one of the few areas in a position to participate in the epistemological revolution that could result from synergies among the four major scientific advances of the 21st century, known by the acronym NBIC: N for nanosciences and nanotechnologies, B for biology and biotechnology, I for information (computer science and other information and communication sciences and technologies), C for cognition. Another distinctive trait of the Collegium de Lyon, which is very recent but will be stepped up in the coming years, is to invite young researchers from East Asia (mainly China, but also Japan and Korea), for whom Lyon offers, in the “Dynamics of Language” laboratory and the East Asian Institute (ENS de Lyon), the expertise they need to pursue their research. It is moreover for this reason that the team led by Hilary Chappell, under the Hybrid Syntactic Typology of Sinitic Languages (SINOTYPE) project of the European Research Council, wanted to establish a special relationship with the Collegium de Lyon. In addition to Hilary Chappell, who elected to associate her project with that of the Collegium, the team is made up of five postdoctoral researchers and four Chinese doctoral students. Several joint workshops with researchers in the Lyon areas are scheduled in 2011.
Considering the diversity of IAS-Paris’ partner research institutions and the broad range of disciplines that they cover, the Institute could not, without being arbitrary, designate one or more lines of research that might be relevant for all of them. Its objective is to participate in the production, if not of cross-disciplinary paradigms, at least of general frames of reference for the mingling of disciplines. IAS-Paris is thus moving in the direction of studying the types of explanation that are appropriate in the humanities and social sciences by combining three dimensions: a connection with history, interest in modelling and integration of the humanities. In this vein, reflection on action and a theory of action might be a fruitful line of research. Considering the exceptional richness of the academic community in and around Paris, however, IAS-Paris must continue to avoid placing restrictions on the disciplines, topics and cultural contexts studied in order to become, in the words of the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, a “breeding ground for new ideas”, a unique venue of intermediation between fields of knowledge and researchers.