“Elective Affinities” and Development of “Normal Science”: What Kind of Regulation? The Example of Hans Selye (1907–1981)

  • Guillaume Lecoeur


The purpose of this article is to study how religious beliefs played a role in the development of science. Science is studied by using the T. S. Kuhn theory of “normal science”. Kuhn describes the mechanism of “normal science” as “the regular work of scientists theorizing, observing, and experimenting within a settled paradigm” (Kuhn 1962). Hans Selye dedicated much of his life to disseminating the notion of stress and was instrumental in introducing it into the medical discourse. He publicized his own notion of stress and built a new paradigm. Through his archival research, Guillaume Lecoeur was able to divide the itinerary of Selye’s elective affinity into three “ages”: childhood, maturity and profession. Hans Selye’s “elective affinities” are rooted in his Catholic origins and his life in Hungary. His meetings with other scientists such as James Bertram Collip and Walter Cannon, a protestant, played a major role in the formalization of his “affinity”. The last part studies the age of profession which corresponds to the realization of Selye’s elective affinity. Selye spread his “invention” and popularized the concept of stress. His professional ethics were echoed in newspaper articles and ultimately helped disseminate the notion of stress.


Stress Elective affinity Normal science Regulation Social trajectory 


  1. Becker, H. (1973). Outsiders: Studies in the sociology of deviance. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  2. Benison, S., Barger, C., & Wolfe, L. E. (1987). Walter B. Cannon: The life and times of a young scientist. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Canguilhem, G. (1977). Idéologie et rationalité dans l’histoire des sciences de la vie. Paris: Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin.Google Scholar
  4. Dill, B. (1967). The harvard fatigue laboratory: Its development, contributions, and demise (pp. 20–21), Circulation Research.Google Scholar
  5. Foulley, M. M. (1979). L’obstacle épistémologique en physiologie, cahier d’histoire et de philosophie des sciences. Paris: Cnrs.Google Scholar
  6. Kuhn, S. (1962). Structure des révolutions scientifiques. Manchecourt: Flammarion.Google Scholar
  7. Lecoeur, G. (2018). De la gestion des maux au «travail des mots», contribution à une sociologie historique du répertoire sémantique des maux du travail (thèse de doctorat, Cnam). Disponible en ligne
  8. Selye, H. (1962). Le stress de la vie. Paris: Gallimard.Google Scholar
  9. Weber, M. (1905). L’éthique protestante et l’esprit du capitalisme. France: Pocket.Google Scholar
  10. Weber, M. (1930). The protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism (T. Parsons, Trans.). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.Google Scholar
  11. Yanacopoulo, A. (1992). La cathédrale du stress. Montréal: Le jour.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Guillaume Lecoeur
    • 1
  1. 1.Interdisciplinary Laboratory for Economic Sociology (LISE)Conservatoire National des Arts et MétiersParisFrance

Personalised recommendations