Intelligence as a cause

How intellectual superiority in children became a category of French public action (1971–2005)
By Wilfried Lignier


According to a specific model of social justification, in which principles matter above all else, no representation of the social world can find any public legitimacy as long as it relies upon intrinsic, irreversible inequalities. However, the empirical study of a case where an inegalitarian public action—that of legitimizing the “intellectual precocity” (giftedness) of children in France— has become publicly legitimated, proves that a strictly inegalitarian categorization can obtain a high level of public—and even state—legitimacy. Such a legitimacy depends not only on semantic reformulations, but also primarily on social relations that favor a logic of symbolic imposition. This logic is socially efficient thanks to the mobilization of certain activists (the more social resources they have, the more effective their actions are). Autonomous structural and institutional evolutions also play a role, by increasing or decreasing the probability that the activists’ cause is considered publicly relevant.
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