History of intellectuals has acquired the status of an independent sub-discipline in the field of history in the middle of the 1980s and became a florescent field of research in France. Arising in opposition to the traditional approaches of history of ideas and history of philosophy, history of intellectuals has adopted the theories and methods of political history and sociology. In the early 1990s, two competitive approaches emerged within the field. The political approach mainly proposed by J.-F. Sirinelli and M. Winock was aimed at studying the phenomenon of the French intellectuals through the analysis of their political engagement. C. Charle and G. Sapiro developed the social approach to the intellectuals, considering their interactions in the intellectual field using the terms of Pierre Bourdieu. The sociological approach proposes to examine the phenomenon of the intellectual through the analysis of his position in the intellectual field of cultural production and through the consideration of his actions in terms of the struggle for the “symbolic capital”. The choice between the broad sociological definition of the intellectual and the narrower political one highlights and continues a long-term rivalry between sociology and history in the field of social sciences. The article analyzes methodological differences of the two approaches and points out the research perspectives of the above-mentioned sub-discipline. Attention is paid to the problem of the definition of the “intellectual” and its resolution in the framework of both approaches.
Key words: French history of intellectuals, historiography, new political history, social history, interdisciplinarity, comparative studies, history of ideas.