Tributes to Francois Dépelteau

Aug 30 2018

The Canadian Sociological Association honours Francois Dépelteau

Francois Depelteau, editor of the Canadian Review of Sociology / Revue canadienne de sociologie, passed away suddenly on August 3, 2018. Francois was diagnosed with terminal cancer in the late spring, and subsequently stepped away from the journal, to spend more time with his wife and children. He died in Campinas Brazil near family and friends, after emergency surgery.

Francois Depelteau was a full professor in the Department of Sociology at Laurentian University. In his research he specialized in sociological theory and relational sociology as well as research methods, social movements, and environmental sociology.

Francois was active in the CSA where he helped to launch the Relational Sociology research cluster. He edited the Canadian Review of Sociology for approximately two years. His vision for the journal was bold: he sought to stimulate discussion and debate among sociologists, and to extend the journal’s reach beyond Canada to a global audience. One innovation was to establish ‘themed sections’ edited by academic leaders in various sociological subfields. At the same time, he continued to protect space for original articles by Canadian scholars. As a result of these innovations, journal issues expanded in length and in international reach. Under Francois Depelteau’s editorship interest in the journal from scholars abroad expanded, and the number of articles submitted to the journal increased as well.

Those of us associated with the journal and the CSA who had the opportunity to work with Francois, will miss him very much. He was a passionate and energetic scholar, with a strong commitment to the value of ideas, and a belief that academics needed independence to express those ideas. He was committed to mentoring and supporting emerging scholars. Moreover, he was kind and had a wonderful sense of humour. Both of the latter characteristics were very much in evidence after his terminal diagnosis as he reached out to colleagues in the CSA and elsewhere to wish us well (and share the occasional joke).

The final issue of the CRS containing articles accepted under his editorship will appear in November, along with a brief tribute to him.

Tracey L. Adams, Western University

Outgoing Managing Editor, Canadian Review of Sociology

Note: The texts below were read in public at the seminar “Relational sociology as a way of life” held on August 15-16, 2018 at Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina (UFSC) in Brazil. The event was co-organized by Francois and Marcia Grisotti before his death.

Remembering François Dépelteau

I can say I became friend with François in summer 2014 during the Canadian Sociological Association’s congress. That day, I presented a paper in a session that François organized with Chris Powell on (surprise!) relational sociology. Later in the evening, I invited François to have dinner with me. It turned out we had a lot in common. We were both Québécois, of course. Both of us completed our studies in the same program (political science) at the same university (Laval University, in Québec City) under the same supervisor (Carol Levasseur) (at different time periods though). Last but not least, we both had a strong passion for sociological theory.

Maybe a month later, François asked for my help to launch a new research cluster on relational sociology within the Canadian Sociological Association. At that time, I was not familiar with the field yet and while honored I also felt a bit intimated, not wanting to disappoint François’ expectations toward me. When I expressed my hesitation, François replied that it only depended on my willingness to learn. This answer – conjuring one’s own will to challenge oneself, to develop and to grow in a spirit of openness and curiosity – genuinely touched me and thus I agreed to work with him.

I say “work with” but I must admit that it often felt like François was by far doing most of the work. He certainly took the lead of the research cluster’s activities and what a lead he took! In the course of the next few years, he sent more messages that I can remember about potential research themes – Trump, pragmatism, methodology, micro and macro, etc. – asking if I would be interested to participate or if I could contribute. I think that François managed to be so proactive because he was not afraid of failure. What is afraid of was wasting his time.

On François’ own account, the creation of the research cluster on relational sociology proved to be a stepping stone that made possible many subsequent projects, including the recent publication of the Palgrave Handbook on Relational Sociology and the creation of a book series dedicated to relational sociology supported by Palgrave Macmillan. As an academic myself, I see real value in these achievements. I think François can be proud of what he did. I know I am. Still there is more.

François had a vision of what relational sociology could be and what I was happy, even grateful, that he let me be part of that vision. Yet for all his great professional and intellectual ambitions, François remained very humble as a person. He was not interested in setting up a school of thoughts. He was not searching for disciples, but for colleagues or even friends – not people to boss around, but people to cooperate with as equals.

When François announced that he could not attend the World Congress of Sociology to be held in Toronto earlier this year, I offered to replace him. By that time, all there was left to do was to show up to the sessions that François already organized. Since I was François’ substitute, numerous people came to me during the congress as they would have come to François. They wanted to thank me (that is, to thank Francois) for their experience. Above all, they appreciated the convivial atmosphere that purposely made room from different intellectual approaches within relational sociology. This too is a real achievement that Francois can be credited for.

Jean-Sébastien Guy, Dalhousie University


In Memory of Francois Dépelteau

Late in the evening of February the 1st, 2016 I was randomly googling for “relational sociology” and ended up with the research cluster with the same name of the Canadian Sociological Association. On their webpage I found an add of the upcoming Annual Conference of CSA and the call for abstracts for the two sessions of “Conceptualizing and Applying Relational Sociology”. And the deadline for abstract submission was – well, February the 1st, 2016. And the organizer of those sessions was none other than Francois Dépelteau, the author I had been citing and quoting the most in my recent papers during the preceding time period of roughly four years during which relational sociology had become the most important topic of my research. And this included papers that were just published, forthcoming, rewritten and resubmitted, and also rejected papers and unpublished manuscripts still waiting for their time. There was Dépelteau all over the place in my writings. And now I was about an hour away from missing an opportunity to meet him in person. I had to come up with something for an abstract. And I did. Actually, it helped quite a lot that I found out at some point that the deadline for submission was February 1st according to the local time (Calgary, Alberta) which was 9 hours behind the time of Tallinn, Estonia (where I was doing my googling).

So I came up with an abstract. And what followed was probably the most rapid leap in my intellectual development – and I could say, for the most part, thanks to Francois. He accepted my abstract, invited me to be a member of the cluster, and directed me to quite a few other important contacts. And in late May the same year we met in person in Calgary. Francois himself recalls it in The Palgrave Handbook of Relational Sociology as follows:

Peeter Selg (from Estonia) came to Calgary to the congress of the CSA to talk about relational sociology during the day and drink beers with us at night. Due to his enthusiasm and competency (for relational thinking), Peeter joined us as a ‘co-manager’ of the research cluster. Estonia became ‘officially’ integrated to the network. It will not bother V. Putin and his hegemonic aspirations, but it made the network broader and richer and the movement even more promising. (p. ix)

I was always fascinated by how quickly he organized things and how unfeigned his working style was. I dare to say that we became friends immediately, spending long hours in the pub and actually discussing – not just presenting – different viewpoints on sociology and wider issues. He was far from matching the US created stereotype of Canadians as “nice people” (which is, of course, just a euphemism for “boring people”). – Our debates would sometimes get quite heated, almost on the verge of shouting at each other. But that’s how it is supposed to be between equals: you don’t condescend, you don’t dismiss the argument by quickly finding it “interesting”; you actually take it seriously and engage in an agonistic debate with it with passion, irony and witty humor. Those discussions were a true breath of fresh air. And given, of course, our geographical distance, most of the year we contacted via e-mail correspondence. Consequently, even though I only knew Francois for three years, I am not exaggerating when I say that I have lost the best friend abroad.

There’s a lot to add when it comes to Francois’ legacy – and there are many people in the world who have years of work ahead of them to untangle it properly. I am planning to be one of them. But at the moment, let just recall his passion for what he called “deep relational” or “process-relational” thinking. In view of this should we ask: Who was Francois, really? Does it matter in the end? As Francois would probably say: There cannot be any true Francois. There are only relations - trans-actions - that make up Francois. And that's the whole point: we should hold on to our constantly changing relations to Francois. That's the only way he existed and still exists.

So, yes, it is true that we miss him. - But let's not make missing the only relation we have with him now that he has deceased. Let's take heed of his dream and have other relations with him too! Why not make it a part of relational sociology as our way of life?

Peeter Selg, Tallinn University

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