In his work, Fabrice Clément tries to capitalize on the interactions within the “interdisciplinary triangle” that delimits his reflections. His research can therefore be categorized according to the way philosophy, sociology and psychology interact with each other, being in turn the “source” or the “target” of the questioning.
An important objective of Fabrice Clément’s research is to apply the analytical power of philosophy to some key notions of social sciences. This conceptual work is developed in his book, Les mécanismes de la crédulité (The mechanisms of credulity). It has also been used in order to critically examine the way in which the notion of belief is used in a certain kind of sociology [PDF5]. An analysis of the sociological concept of habitus is in progress, opening the way to experimental studies.
In the field of cognitive sciences, philosophy and psychology are deeply interconnected. Fabrice Clément’s research on the ontogenesis of consciousness belongs to this framework: developmental psychology data is interpreted in the light of a philosophical analysis [PDF7, 16]. The links between psychology and philosophy have also been investigated [PDF3] and a general introduction to the philosophy of mind proposed [PDF 4].
Finally there is a domain that is more and more important in Fabrice Clément’s research: philosophy of social sciences. This topic was already present in 1996, when he first published with Laurence Kaufmann a study on Wittgenstein’s concept of ‘form of life’ [PDF2], followed by a critical paper on the social ontology of John Searle [PDF1]. Today, they are both carrying on these reflections, editing a volume of the cognitive sciences journal Intellectica dedicated to Culture and Cognition. This promising volume will gather papers by researchers like R. Nisbett, M. Tomasello, P. Harris, P. Jacob, J. Zlatev, L. Quéré, C. Valsiner, P. Engel or L. Hirschfeld. This ongoing collaboration with Laurence Kaufmann also lead to the publication of a book, Le Monde selon John Searle (The World according to Searle), aiming at showing the coherence – and some of the weaknesses – of the American philosopher’s thoughts.
As a ‘naturalist’, Fabrice Clément thinks that it is useful and heuristic to bring social sciences and psychology together. For him, it is worth ignoring the disciplinary barriers because he bets that a better understanding of the cognitive and affective mechanisms implied in social activities will lead to a better comprehension of certain collective phenomenon. He applied this strategy in his book, Les mécanismes de la crédulité (The mechanisms of credulity).
Using the results from various evolutionary and developmental psychology studies, he developed a hypothesis around the kind of cognitive and affective mechanisms which could be implied in the religious conversions processes [PDF8]. In cognitive anthropology, he also proposed a theory explaining why the phenomena of witchcraft are so widespread in time and space [PDF9].
In order to understand credulity better, Fabrice Clément got involved in empirical research in developmental psychology. He has studied how children accept or refuse information communicated by others. This research, still under process, has already showed that children are not ‘cultural blotting paper’ gobbling up everything that is transmitted by their social environment [PDF13, 12].
If philosophy and psychology can be thought of as allies for social sciences, one should not ignore their own power of explanation. For example, in Les mécanismes de la crédulité, Fabrice Clément lays the foundations of an ‘social architecture of credulity’ which owes a lot to his former professor Georges Balandier. Sociology is also in a position to enrich cognitive sciences. This objective is at the core of an ongoing research project financed by the Swiss National Research Fund. With Laurence Kaufmann, Fabrice Clément started a research lab dedicated to the study of children’s social competencies. This set of experimentations, which exploits the methods of developmental psychology, aims at demonstrating that children are able to make complex social inferences without necessarily making a ‘detour’ via other mental states. These studies will effectively put into question some of the premises of contemporary developmental psychology [PDF11, 15].