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Covers of different issues of Revue Recherches, the journal edited by CERFI

CERFI: Militant Analysis, Collective Equipment and Institutional Programming is a research book project exploring the overlooked legacy of the research cooperative Centre d'Études de Recherche et de Formation Institutionnelle (CERFI) – in English, the Centre for Institutional Study, Research and Development and its experimentation with collective research practices, analysis of the social unconscious, and militant action-research in institutional programming.

Created in 1967, the Centre d'Études de Recherche et de Formation Institutionnelle (CERFI) – in English, the Centre for Institutional Study, Research and Development – was a transdisciplinary research cooperative formed of psychiatrists, sociologists, video artists, educators, urbanists, architects and economists. Some of its core members and collaborators included Félix Guattari, Anne Querrien, François Pain, Liane Mozère, Olivier Querouil, Michel Rostain, Gaëtane Lamarche-Vadel, François Fourquet, Florence Pétry, Lion Murard, Hervé Maury, Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze, among many others.

Active until 1987, CERFI was concerned with the programming of local collectivities, organisations of cultural activity and social institutions, referred to as 'collective equipment'. Under the heading of 'institutional programming,' its ambition was to convert institutional processes into mechanisms of empowerment.

In 1971 CERFI received an invitation for a major funding call on the programming of collective equipment by the state. In the proposal, CERFI defined its research scope around the creation of a new institutional figure: the institutional programmer of collective equipment. It argued that the study of the relationship between supply and demand in public services cannot be properly achieved if the unconscious is excluded. The ambition was to identify new possibilities for collective equipment that would challenge instituted supply–demand logics and would thus be emancipatory for all involved.

CERFI’s first large-scale research project was developed in collaboration with Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze as a genealogy of collective equipment. A variety of research grants and social transformation projects were implemented, taking the form of action-research interventions that explored how the project of institutional programming could be extended to different scales of collective equipment and social organisation. Among others, these included research on the urban planning of clinical and educational equipment for the French New Towns of Évry, Marne-la-Vallée and Melun-Sénart; the development of sector-based models of psychiatric care; working with architects in the support of neighbourhood self-managed projects in Alma-Gare in Roubaix, and Petit Séminaire in Marseille; a proposal for a system of audio-visual education in Ivory Coast; and the design of mutualist educational methods, among many others.

Enabled by state funding up until 1974, CERFI developed independently and freely a dynamic of experimentation with interdisciplinary work, the diversity of which is only in part captured by the review journal Revue Recherches. The journal was edited by CERFI or by groups closely aligned with CERFI, such as groups within the feminist and gay movements, which existed outside the orbit of the universities and the CNRS. In 1975, on the occasion of the French recentralisation of research in the universities and the CNRS, CERFI wrote the political manifesto ‘The Right to Research’, defending the importance of research by citizens and non-academics, and unorthodox group research such as theirs, calling themselves a ‘group analytical enterprise’.

The case of CERFI offers a unique set of conceptual and practical resources for contemporary research concerned with working the emancipatory potential of institutional processes, as well as modes of transdisciplinary and social cooperation in research. CERFI’s rich experimental activity, both conceptual and social, points towards alternative horizons of militancy beyond one single sphere. It provides an example of a practice that does not leave aside the social unconscious and the project of tackling the connections between social, political and mental alienation so as to act on political subjectivity. It is this practice, where analysis, research and political struggle are fused, that this project rescues.

Until now, both in France and abroad, knowledge of the group’s work, both at the conceptual and practical level remains largely unknown. This research project addresses this gap in knowledge by providing the first comprehensive review of CERFI, with a focus on its approach to programming where the social, political and the mental are brought together.

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The research adopts a critical historiographical methodology. At its core are in-depth interviews and conversations with CERFI’s members and collaborators, and analysis of textual and visual archival material, as well as interaction with groups who have been influenced by the legacy of CERFI. The research is set out to construct a collective history of practices and concepts which is often told in an individualising lens separating concepts from practices, and alienating collective research practices.

The project receives periodical feedback and collective guidance from a group of people connected with CERFI’s work, original members, potential users of concepts and practices of third-sector organisations, and institutions supporting the project. A feedback mechanism between these and the project has been deemed essential.

The book will also feature translations of original texts and include a wealth of visual archival materials.

The project will publish the first monograph on CERFI's work, across its theoretical, methodological and practical dimensions.

A diverse programme of public events in partnership with SOA and Het Nieuwe Instituut is planned for 2021.


Susana Caló

Co-investigator, King’s College London

Cecile-Diama Samb

Research Assistant

Anne Querrien

Project Advisor, Sociologist and urbanist, Co-Director of the review Multitudes and former CERFI member

François Pain

Project Advisor, Film-maker, and media artist, former CERFI member

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Covers of different issues of Revue Recherches, the journal edited by CERFI

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