Eva Illouz or the economy of feelings

On October 7, Eva Illouz was at home in Paris. She first believed in one of the multiple episodes of conflict between Gaza and Israel, before her youngest son, a student at Stanford, called her from the United States to tell her that the uncle and aunt of one of them her friends had been murdered. “That’s when I realized something serious was happening,” she says.

Three weeks after the Hamas massacres, came out Sexual Capital (Threshold), co-written with sociologist Dana Kaplan. Like all his books since the publication of Why does love hurt (Seuil), in 2012, his new work was awaited, and interview requests were numerous. But, suddenly, ensuring this promotion appeared to him “totally ridiculous”.

Since his first book, which is also his favorite, Consuming the Romantic Utopia (University of California Press, 1997, untranslated), sociologist Eva Illouz is interested in how capitalism shapes emotions. Born in Fez, Morocco, in 1961, into a Jewish family, arriving in France at the age of 10, Eva Illouz taught at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in Princeton, in the United States, at the School of advanced studies in social sciences (EHESS), in Paris, speaks three languages ​​– French, English and Hebrew – and is translated into around twenty others. It is in Germany, where her books have sold 250,000 copies, that she is most successful.

“It has a rather unique place, explains sociologist Arnaud Esquerre, who gives a course with her at EHESS. She is one of the rare sociologists who has this truly exceptional international dimension. » This notoriety opened the columns of newspapers around the world to her to express herself, this time as a citizen (i.e. “with the right to be wrong”she notes), on Israeli policy, of which she is a tenacious critic.

Going through the intimate to grasp a system

Eva Illouz entertains at her home, in the west of Paris, with jazz from the radio in the background and tea. After around thirty years spent in Israel, she chose to return to France three years ago. Over time, she realized that it was in this country that “the heart was lighter”. People who know her use the same words to describe her: endearing, cheerful, very demanding, loving to please while not afraid to displease, capable of changing her mind, generous.

Eva Illouz, at her home, in Paris, January 20, 2024.

In her living room, she listens with intensity, sometimes takes a moment to think about the right answer, then opens up, divided between the impulse to speak sincerely, and therefore necessarily about herself, and the desire to control her image. For a long time, she had the feeling of being placed in a “female niche” : in conferences, she was only invited to talk about love, she who believes that her analyzes relate as much to capitalism and modernity as to the intimate.

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