Dominique Schnapper was born in Paris on November 9, 1934, the daughter of sociologist Raymond Aron (1905–1983) and Suzanne Gauchon (1907–1997). Her father, one of France’s premier intellectuals, attacked President Charles DeGaulle for his statements about the Jews in his notorious press conference after Israel’s Six-Day War (1967). In 1957, she received a degree in history and political science from the Institut d’Etudes Politiques (Institute of Political Science) in Paris. She holds a Ph.D. in sociology from the Sorbonne (1967) and a Doctorate-ès-lettres from the University of Paris V (1979). She served as Assistant Professor at the Institute of Political Science from 1972 to 1980, when she was appointed Director of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences) in Paris, where she was the driving force in the creation of a center for Jewish studies.
Dominique Schnapper has served on a number of commissions: the Commission on Nationality which was set up in 1987 and chaired by Marceau Long (1987), the 2000 Commission of the National Plan Supervisory Committee (1988–1989), the Review Commission (May 1993), the Commission on Drug Issues (1994), the Working Group on Military Service (1995) and the Education Commission (1995–1996). She was president of the French Sociology Society from 1995 to 1999. Among her numerous awards are The National Assembly Prize (1994) and the Balzan Prize (2002). A Chevalier of the Legion of Honor and Officer of the Arts and Letters, she has been a member of the Constitutional Council since 2001.
Schnapper’s specialties cover numerous fields: her works, which may be categorized as historical sociology, deal with the study of minorities, unemployment and labor and, above all since the early 1990s, the nation and citizenship, all of which have been accompanied by constant epistemological inquiry. Dominique Schnapper first conducted a number of field studies on groups affected in one way or another by marginality: Italian immigrants, then Jews, and lastly the unemployed. After her participation in the Long Commission she conducted a broader investigation of the issues involving integration into the nation. Defining herself politically as a centrist, she has consistently defended the republican model and its universality as the ideal and virtual goal. Today the national model is being challenged from without by restrictions (in particular economic ones) on national sovereignty, and from within, by ideologies centered on the individual rather than on the citizen. However, according to Schnapper, the nation, in its republican and democratic definition, has up to now been the sole political framework capable of simultaneously taking on several functions: guaranteeing true equality and not only the formal equality of the individual, granting political rights to a steadily growing number of individuals, fulfilling the economic and social needs of all through the welfare state, and ensuring the recognition of cultural rights.
Her work on French Jewry shows that its history from the time of the French Revolution until 1940 was one of assimilation into the French nation. Since then, however, Jewish awareness has taken on new forms which prompted Dominique Schnapper to suggest a three-category typology: 1) the observant Jews, who respect the specific forms of observance as defined by the metaphysics and ethics of Judaism; 2) the activists, who after contemporary historical events (and in particular the Holocaust and the creation of the State of Israel) have shifted most of this ethic to the political arena, and 3) Israelites, who are neither observant or activists, yet nevertheless maintain a form of identity and sense of belonging.
In 1958 Dominique married Antoine Schnapper (b. 1933), a professor of history of art. The couple have three children: Laure (b. 1960), Alain (b. 1963), and Pauline (b. 1968).
Italy Red and Black: An Essay on Cultural Lifestyles in Bologne. Paris: 1971; The Sociology of Italy. Paris: 1974; Jews and Israelites. Paris: 1980; The Test of Unemployment. Paris: 1981, 1994; France’s Integration: The Sociology of the Nation in 1990. Paris: 1991; Immigrant Europe: An Essay on the Politics of Immigration. Paris: 1992; Community of Citizens: On the Modern Idea of a Nation. Paris: 1994; Against the End of Work. A Conversation with Philippe Petit. Paris: 1997; Relations with the “Other”: The Heart of Sociological Thought. Paris: 1998; Sociological Comprehension. Paris: 1999; What is Sociology? (in collaboration with Christian Bachelier). Paris: 2000; Questioning Racism (with Sylvain Allemand). Paris: 2000; Providential Democracy: An Essay on Contemporary Equality. Paris: 2002.