Welcome to "post-modernity" with Michel Maffesoli

💡 Technological transformation, multiplication of communities, renewal of values… Our times are indeed changing! How to address its different public ? What is the state of mind of our targets? Questions that torment all communicators.

Le Club We Are COM had the honor and the pleasure to receive Michel Maffesoli the time of a masterclass at ISCOM. Professor emeritus at the Sorbonne, he is the author of numerous works including The time of the tribesThe re-enchantment of the world et Nostalgia for the sacred. He is also co-founder of Center for Studies on Current and Daily, which deepens the field of research on new forms of sociality and the imaginary. A keen observer of our society, Michel Maffesoli explains to us the foundations of "post-modernity" and the paradigm shift that is currently taking place. To your pens! 📝

Hello Michel, thank you for having accepted our invitation 🙏 What vision do you have on communication? 

We live in a world in constant movement, in which it is necessary to position ourselves as true observers. Only good observations can enlighten us. We are voyeurs, we can become seers!

Each era and each society is told. It is constituted by the means of the discourse which it holds about itself. There is indeed a common matrix at the origin of all community formation, the structure of which will result from a specific system of thought. Communication is the way to name this story that is told, allowing a group of individuals to know each other, but also to recognize each other. Two great XNUMXth century philosophers have studied this phenomenon: for Michel Foucault it's'episteme ", while Thomas kuhn tells us about " paradigm ».

Today we no longer observe large, concise stories. We are witnessing a shift in History with a capital "H", to stories. Communication now needs to identify these little stories that forge the tribes. Large systems are well and truly over, and this is where adjustment can be very difficult. All of this is based on the notion of “imaginary”. Gilbert durand, a great specialist in anthropology, used to compare this notion of "imaginary" to the atmosphere, to the climate. I like to put the current “climate change” into perspective, like the one happening within our society. As for the sociologist José Ortega y Gasset, he speaks of “atmospheric imperatives”. It is therefore essential to understand these new constraints. Know how to sniff what comes, in order to adjust your message; all with great humility. This is what humbly seems to me to be the stake of communication. 

Can you explain to us what post-modernity is? 🤓  

The universal formative myth is based on the theory of "progressivism". Humanity and history would evolve in a linear fashion, inevitably leading us to the world we know today. To put it another way, we would go from the wild homo sapiens of the caves to the blossoming connected man. This is what our reptilian brain dictates to us, what our culture imposes on us. Conversely, there is common sense! History does not consist of a single movement but is built by a succession of autonomous eras. An era constitutes a parenthesis ranging from three to four centuries, which sees the birth of a completely different society, guided by new values.

Before talking about post-modernity, let's define what modernity is. It is the historical parenthesis whose genesis dates back to the XVIIrdcentury, with Cartesianism and the Protestant Reformation. Enriched by the philosophy of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, this period does not come to an end until very recently. The great systems of thought which build it are based on the following tripod: individualism, rationalism and progressivism. 

When one era ends, another is born. Obviously, there needs to be a period of gestation, of transition. We qualify this as a “period”, a necessary level of several decades allowing a shift from one era to another. So, a real paradox takes place between the different values, those in the process of disappearing in which some individuals struggle to recognize themselves, and those in which others do not yet recognize themselves. In the same way as in astrophysics, we still see the light of a dead star for a long time.

Post-modernity is based on another tripod: tribalism, emotional and presenteeism. (what we call more commonly, the "here and now"). However, the definition of "post-modernity" remains vague, because much remains to be discovered. If today we have the capacity to extract the main characteristics from it, we do not yet know anything about the various values ​​which could result from it. Note that the name "modernity" only saw the light of day from the pen of Baudelaire in 1848. We used to speak of “post-medievality”. 

And what characterizes a tribe? 

I summon the philosopher for you Auguste Comte. He spoke of his time in these terms: “ reduction ad unum ". Translate, “reduce to one”. Today, this unified society is over, a real change is taking place, making this pattern of the past obsolete. 

In its origins, the term tribe refers to a community group that sticks together to survive and struggle in adversity, with a strong sense of belonging. While today it simply designates a community which shares the same taste whatever it is: consumer, cultural, sexual, sporting ... One of the peculiarities of this "post-modern tribe" lies in its often ephemeral character. Thus, the individual as such no longer represents anything, he spins around, identifying himself with different tribes according to the vagaries of his existence. He successively dons real masks, which he accumulates according to his desires and circumstances.  

I am another.

Arthur Rimbaud

So for the marketing and communication, it is necessary to rethink everything: the tribe is your new target. If this is valid for a device external, it is just as much for theinternal. Within a company, there are several tribes giving birth to a large mosaic. The whole art of management therefore lies in the ability to harmonize these different groups with one another. As I like to say, the company (like the Republic) was previously “one and indivisible”. Today, it is essential to come to terms with this mosaic, in order to bring it coherence and cohesion. 

(I.e. Can “millennials” enlighten us on the changes to come?

Without appreciating these new practical jargons, it is true that each era must be embodied by a figurehead. The personification that we can relate to modernity is that of the serious, rational and productive adult. He must succeed, approaching ever closer to the archetype of the "good bourgeois". If we had to designate the garment and following the best practices of this incarnation, we would easily go for the three-piece suit. 

The emblematic figure of post-modernity is quite different. It is that of the eternal child, of the young in ceaseless becoming, thus passing from the strong image of Apollo, to that of the lightest Dionysus.. There is thus a return to values ​​such as playfulness, dreamlike and festive. Regarding his clothing and following the best practices, I would happily opt for the blue jeans

We must not perceive this shift as an end in itself. In sociology, Pitirim Sorokin speaks of a phenomenon of "saturation", the definition of which is very similar to its namesake in terms of chemistry: when a body disintegrates, the molecules that compose it do not disappear, they simply disperse. Post-modernity is in no way an expiration of modernity, it is more of a elsewhere.

According to historians, there was once a form of symmetry between the evolution of Europe and that of China: the correlated inventions of gunpowder and printing are prime examples. However, in the XNUMXth century, their paths separated. Europe then embarked on the path of rationality, the “via recta”, abandoning certain essential notions such as dreamlike or playfulness. This “impedimenta” baggage, abandoned along the way, is now being rediscovered and re-exploited by post-modernity. 

Take the value of work as an example. The rationalism of the “modern individual” most often led him to favor remuneration in his career choices. While the emotionality of this "post-modern child" leads to a greater appetite for a value such as creativity.

How important to you is technological development? 💻

In my opinion, post-modernity represents "the synergy of the archaic and technological development", the synergy designating the multiplication of effects, and the archaic referring to what is fundamental. In other words, it is the multiplication of the effects between factors of past time and fundamentally new values. 

The traditional press is seen more and more neglected in the face of Social networks. The foundations are both identical and innovative. However, today, cyber-identity is gradually taking over the image of journalistic authority. I personally find, unlike Max Weber for whom technology would disenchant the world, let it succeed in re-enchanting it. We have the opportunity to rethink our rituals in their foundations, but also to increase the number of new encounters. The virtual is indeed not simply an abstract world, it often happens to materialize.  

Let us take a historical example from the Roman decadence, a period comparable to ours, more commonly called Late Antiquity. The empire was then divided according to three main dogmas: the cult of Mithras, the cult of Orpheus and Christianity. Historians agree that Mythra, the religion of nobles and officers, was called to dominate. However, it was Christianity that triumphed. It had the advantage of generating strong interactions, through its principle of “communion of saints”. Thus, a small Milanese church felt itself united in spirit to another small church in Lutetia, Lugdunum, Narbonne or whatever. This is what I call a “dotted connection”. 

WhatInternet offers us, it is this post-modern “communion of saints”, and it is in this that it stands out as an extraordinary tool. One tribe has the possibility of coming into contact with another, in a relatively simple and fast way.

Should the company succumb to the reign of emotions? 

Emotion, you have to do with whether you like it or not, it is substantive! The company is no exception: the emotional is accomplished in the atmosphere, in the atmosphere. "Succumb", no, but take it into account, yes. It is even a necessity.  

Modernity is marked by autonomy (from the Greek “auto”, “nomos”: its own laws). This is what explains Rousseau in his Social Contract: a human being forges himself during his youth, to become an autonomous adult, capable of associating with other individuals who are themselves autonomous: emotional, economic, political relationships, etc. The rational remains at the center of this process. 

Beyond the rational contract, emerges the emotional pact. From now on, it is the other who dictates our behavior, our clothing, our gestures ... In other words, today there is a real shift between autonomy and heteronomy. (the law of others). This is where the whole stake of the gestation between the rational and the emotional lies. Individuals, who we could qualify as “post-modern” fundamentally upset this process, emphasizing interdependence. 

I was recently marked by a study of MEDEF on employee turnover and the attractiveness of employers, showing the importance of a company's “fun” capital on the motivations of employees to stay in their jobs or join another employer. The decision is based in part on research website, reading comments and peer reviews. Thus companies are not immune to this "climate change" mentioned above. Currently professional prospects also depend on the emotional. 

What is the future of "marketing"?

Private relationships have, throughout modern times, followed a vertical topical. The psychiatrist Jacques Lacan spoke of "the law of the father", because the hierarchical power was authoritative and prevailed there. Today, we would rather speak of a horizontal topical, caricaturally speaking, "a law of the brothers". 

In marketing, the shift that takes place is identical. The law of knowing, be it the expert, the boss, the teacher or any other, is prescribed. The idea of ​​transmitting knowledge is no longer done in a fundamentally hierarchical way, but rather in the form of support. The initiation brings out the treasure that lies dormant in everyone, very far from the old “I know, you don't know”. The key words now are sharing, solidarity and collaboration. Note also that the prefix "co-", more and more present in our daily life, comes from the Latin "cum", meaning "with". This brings us once again to this ideal in gestation, both community and horizontal.

🚀 What advice would you give to communicators?

You have to know how to get out of your way! When we see changes like this, it is necessary to adjust to the new values ​​while learning to adjust our behaviors. The famous anthropologist and ethnologist Claude Lévi-Strauss used the term "DIY". It is true that we must constantly learn to compose and recompose.

Thus, it is essential to obtain competence through appetite. Today, we no longer want to waste our life winning it! To mobilize and federate, it is necessary to put more forward the idea of ​​creation rather than the idea of ​​work. Once again, let's think about the tripod: playfulness, dreamlike and festive. I find this period particularly exciting, full of fascinating lessons. It is for communicators to succeed in exploiting all these new opportunities.   

What you must remember ? Your targets are no longer the same! Polls tell us less and less. The socio-professional categories, still studied on the benches of the school, do not mean anything any more. We are no longer addressing individuals who have an identity, but tribes carrying identifications. We must rethink communication through all of these changes. 

To conclude, one last personal question: what fascinates you the most in our society?

These are the vitality and energy deployed in the current catastrophism. It really fascinates me. I will conclude with the famous adage of Nietzsche :

What doesn't kill me makes me stronger.

3 things to know about Michel

  • > Anti-conformist, he attended the Lycée Henri-IV in… Béziers.
  • > 76 blown candles. Michel is happy: he is (finally) his age!
  • > 7:30 am? The hour has come for a morning stroll in the Latin Quarter.

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