Reading Pierre Laborie’s words… “because they were a story of their own”

Readings of Pierre Laborie
By Olivier Loubes

This paper presents two ways of reading Pierre Laborie’s words. Firstly, by analysing their essential functions in his specific way of writing history. Then, by proposing a selection of definitions of words drawn from Pierre Laborie’s texts. For Laborie, as an historian of the social imagination, words are crucial because opinion phenomena—the focus of his scholarship—resist straightforward interpretation. More than other approaches, Laborie’s approach must ‘make words speak, rather than speaking about words’. If we add that, in light of his personal history, words help to ‘postpone the burial by death’, we understand that they play a crucial role in his œuvre as advocates for the unfamiliar (Carlo Ginzburg). This is because, for Pierre Laborie, words act as screens for temporalities, i.e., they allow us to restore the sequence of time in the events of the societies being studied, including the future tense as seen from the past. As such, words are ‘a story of their own’.

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