In Bed with Pascal Dibie : «Ethnologie de la chambre à coucher»

Still digging into my ‘French Anthropologists’ box, Pascal Dibie’s ‘’Ethnology of the bedroom’’ is a nice find to give this Monday a smooth start… with an air filled with the scent of linen (or if you ask me, of fresh straw-mats!)

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While the book was apparently translated in many languages I wasn’t able to track it down into English (please, feel free to post the reference if you have it), so I just assume the title would be something like ‘’Ethnology of the bedroom’’. I told you… there is a whole week – very tempting – program just lying there in the title! Since I have just found the book, and haven’t read it yet, I won’t be able to comment on it here, but as I was nosing around the author, I grew found of him and will share bits and bites on Pascal Dibie and his research while longing for the reading.

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On objectively having a crush over Pascal Dibie

Yes … Completely objective… It’s not like Pascal Dibie did things I myself became slightly infatuated with… He started off nicely studying Chinese and getting his degree in Southeast Asia history at Paris’ INALCO (National Institute of Oriental Languages & Civilisations – just where I would be later on studying Khmer and getting my 1st master). Then, in 1975 he did his dissertation in ethnology, on the ‘’thin borders separating history and ethnology’’. That’s probably where I fall in love… And just when I thought this man couldn’t get any sexier, he co-founded the laboratory of Visual Anthropology at Jussieu University, Paris 7. Was I really even supposed to resist?! But enough about gorgeous Dibie’s self, let’s pick up his brain and see what he has to say. Oh and just so you know, no, I have never ever even met Dibie.

An anthropology from within or of the ‘inside’[i]

‘’I was one of the first to do an ‘’anthropology from within’’ / ‘’anthropology of the inside’’ which is to break the taboo of this famous mandatory ‘’scientific distance’’ (…). It’s true, I did all my fieldwork in my very own village [in Bourgogne, France] and I completely assume it’’ (p 68). Here I really like that « Ethnologie de l’intérieur » in French translates both as ‘’anthropology from within’’ and ‘’anthropology of the inside’’. It’s like a double exposure of Dibie’s project of not only paying attention to our closest ‘insides’ (the village, the bedroom, the door…) but also to what we view as our very own interiority (the ‘us’, the daily, the self…), and therefore their limits.

‘’In the end, anthropologists are just aiming to enunciate the obvious. When it is about other societies it may appear satisfactory or ok, but when we look at ourselves it is neither something that easy or even something that valid. When I came back from the Hopi Indians, I did chose, ethically chose, to never work or write on nothing else than my very own society, on us. You have to understand my approach as camping[ii] on the fringes of myself. (…) A tentative to make all that constitutes myself (my culture) an object of study. (…) By extension, [questions such as] how to render or return to your owns what we are? Or even to go further: anthropology… what’s it for?’’ (p 69).

Sense and… banality

‘’Never break from your own sensitivity to observe Man, whether in the past or the present’’ (p 65). About the inspiration he took in 19th century historian Jules Michelet.

‘’I [hope] to have shown that banality is in fact never banal. The anthropologist’s work is, beyond this horizontal ‘watch’[iii] that links us to the other, to dig up the vertical ‘watch’ which is the total and complete anthropological dimension of our (hi)story[iv], and to manage to highlight the complexities of our daily actions. (…) I am really interested in the truisms, everything that may seem obvious – the famous common sense – which of course never is [obvious]’’ (p 71).

‘’My generation naturally revolved around questions of desire to ‘’live here and now’’. I can remember the blackboard of our classroom in Jussieu. It was inscribed in permanent ink ‘’you can’t stop spring’’… And indeed, I never stopped the spring: I think anthropology was and is still a part of this never ending summer party’’ (p 67). About the May 1968 movement heritage… Or even probably more… on anthropology period.

Anthropology (and) Today

‘’In 1976 I funded « La brochure ethnologique »[v] (…) for an anthropology of the modern world open, poetic and even interventionist. (…) I was interviewing anthropologists and writers who seemed to me to have an anthropological view on our world. (…) The germ of our ideas was this shared anthropology, this offer of re-reading our discipline closed on itself and to bring it back to an open system, to a porous conception of the world where the researcher starts to recognize that nothing is never definitively constituted, neither entirely determinated’’ (p72).

‘’[Nowadays] I am indeed in some panic when I see that exactly when anthropology is so needed again, we are suppressing it. (…) Yet, how can one live with the other has indeed become the most essential question of our time. And fundamentalisms are on the rise. Anthropology should be at the centre or our hyper-complex society to defuse the misunderstandings. We have to recognize that we anthropologists didn’t do too good… We have spent our time in the isolation of our respective specialties or fields. Each one of us has worked on his / her own good savages to the point of cultivating the cult of authenticity. And yet our daily life lies in an absolute mix. We are all mixed. Our views on the other is absolutely subjective. But several accounts put and crossed together can forge other views somewhat objective on the described societies’’ (p 77).

Looking forward to read ‘’Ethnology of the bedroom’’ … a lot!

Phnom Penh, April 29, 2013, Emiko Stock.


[i] The following notes are my own interpretation of Dibie’s interview in the book « Comment je suis devenu ethnologue » (Anne Dhoquois, 2008, Le Cavalier Bleu) and some of its passages can also be found on his blog.

[ii] « Camper » in French means both ‘’To camp’’ and ‘’To portray’’.

[iii] « Regard » in French.

[iv] « Histoire » in French refers to both the (individual) story and the (group) history. Here Dibie could refer to either the nation history, or the stories of anthropologists (as individuals or as professionals) which make the discipline history.

[v] « La brochure ethnologique » lasted for 20 issues until 1985.

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