Université de Strasbourg

Marie Balas


Marie Balas

Marie Balas is a member of the Laboratory for Interdisciplinary Cultural Studies (LinCS), and associate professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Strasbourg (France), to which she was first recruited in 2014.

For more than ten years, her research has combined the sociology of religions and political sociology, and explored the repertoires of associative and/or militant action in contemporary Catholicism. In the framework of the project supported by USIAS, she continues to explore intensive forms of commitment while inscribing her work in the theme of rescue work in sensitive environments.

Her thesis was prepared at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (Paris, France) and examined the Italian Community of Sant'Egidio, an influential actor in international mediation. Her research uncovered, on the one hand, the complex heritage of the Sessantotto in the group's political and ecclesial career; and on the other hand, the conditions of possibility - and the operational or political limits - of a non-governmental diplomacy.

In recent years, Marie Balas has investigated the politicisation processes in the wake of the Manif pour tous (protest for all) and the resulting mobilisations. Her investigations have focused on repertoires of action in the public space, notably by studying activists' urban appropriations and their ideological matrix. Her work is firmly grounded in empirical research, and explores the contribution of ethnography to the understanding of complex organisations and processes.

Marie Balas has published in various peer-reviewed journals such as Politix, Social Compass, Les Champs de Mars or Terrain. She is co-director of the master's degree in Religions, Societies, Public Spaces (ReSEP), a member of the LinCS council, and a former scientific assessor of her faculty as well as a member of its committee of experts.

Fellowship 2023

Dates - 01/09/2023-31/08/2025

Project summary


The project examines mountain rescue, focusing on the most established French organisation in the field, the Pelotons de gendarmerie de haute montagne (PGHM). A military institution founded in 1958 and considered an elite unit, the PGHM will be analysed as a double sociological observatory: of the mountain environment's appropriations and evolutions (climate change, recreational practices and territorial administration); and of an intensive commitment in its regalian declination. While research in the sociology and anthropology of military institutions benefits from a young generation's stimulating work, and although the PGHM is a highly publicised institution, it remains relatively undocumented in social sciences. The project therefore aims to shed light on a range of contemporary issues related to the object.

The PGHM demonstrate a certain singularity: first, a hybrid professional identity, which embodies both military discipline and mountaineer ethos. Secondly, a prestigious profession that recruits partly from working and middle classes, offering status mobility and a vocational career that are as significant as they are costly and demanding in human terms. Lastly, the activity is based on highly contrasting missions and skills that shape the rescuers’ commitment in a sensitive configuration. On a larger scale, the PGHM offer a unique insight into the complexity of their operating context: by adopting an ecological approach to alpine rescue, the project aims to provide an original contribution to mountain territory mapping and transformations.

The main objective of the first axis of research is to specify the PGHM’s networks and scope of action in an alpine milieu that is undergoing change. Focusing on the commitment of mountain gendarmerie, the second axis will study its levers: through a longitudinal sociology of rescuers’ careers; and by studying the concrete practices that form the routine of an activity that is marked by continuous adaptations and risk management. The survey is ethnographic and includes a local and international comparative perspective. By tackling a hitherto unexplored subject, the project places itself at the intersection of several branches of the social sciences: the sociology of the military, by examining the importance of the institution but also its challenges,; the sociology of commitment and care in an extreme context; and in several ways, the sociology of rurality and the social sciences of the environment. On this point, the attention to scale interplay (from local to international), and to the relationships between various protagonists and their alpine environment will contribute to asserting the value of ethnography in the ecological study of social organisations.

France 2030