The establishment of IAS-Nantes was the result of the recommendation made in 2001 by the French ‘National Council for the Development of Human and Social Sciences’. The latter regretted that France lacked of institution such as the IAS in Princeton or Berlin, offering more than just accommodation for international researchers to foster the creation of strong research communities likely to renew existing networks and reinforce French academics’ involvement in international networks. As early as 2004, taking over these recommendations, Nantes Métropole committed to create such Institute and entrusted prof. Alain Supiot to realise this project.
The academic policy of the IAS-Nantes is inspired by "first generation" IASs which have already proved their efficacy in the United States and in Northern Europe but is also influenced by the History of the city which invites to reassess the place and the status of labour, to establish a dialog between civilisations and to understand what makes them stand.
Dialogue is considered as a fundamental element of a scientific policy. The Nantes IAS’s premise is that in the human sciences researcher and object are never wholly separable. Due to this particular epistemological status, comparative study and the other’s vision of our own culture and modes of thought are considered an indispensable ingredient of something like objectivity in our knowledge of the human being.
Instead of considering other major civilisations as mere subject of study or objectives for missionaries, the Institute aspires to create a new style of intellectual relationship between the countries of the ‘north’ and ‘south’. The so-called ‘developed’ countries have until recently dominated the social sciences, treating ‘the rest’ of the world more as objects of inquiry or as students than as real partners .
Even today the vast majority of researchers invited to ‘Northern’ conferences or universities come from the ‘developed countries’, while ‘Southern’ academics are welcomed in significant numbers only in the context of area studies. This tendency will ultimately lock the social sciences into a self-referential loop with the illusory belief that their categories of thought are universal and timeless.
For this reason, the goal of IAS-Nantes is to gather every year at the institute a small academic community composed of scholars with widely differing intellectual and cultural baggage but who share the same type of perplexity and whose projects have enough elements in common to trigger mutually beneficial dialogues. Living and working under the same roof for several months enables the residents of the Institute to confront the way they perceive specific issues.
The epistemological premise of the Institute put into light a second aim of the scientific policy namely that it privileges research into the dogmatic underpinnings of human societies, that is, into what in the meaning which a society assigns to human life lies beyond proof.
Neither man nor society would be able to maintain themselves without resorting to some founding beliefs that escape all attempts to experimental demonstration and sustain their manners and actions. The scientific policy of the IEA aims at helping scientists from all continents to consider dogmatic systems from a totally different angle. Indeed, those systems should not be considered as the remains of a former, irrational age in a world doomed to becoming transparent and manageable but as a framework that is necessary to the establishment of reason in a world that is bound to remain diverse and unpredictable.
This dogmatic dimension of human life is particularly seen at work in languages, law, religion and aesthetics, whose common feature is to establish meaning - meaning that exists per se and cannot be demonstrated. It also includes philosophy and sociology of sciences as well as medicine, as it is a human science and not only an area study of veterinary sciences. The belief that there would not be anything to know about human that cannot be explained through physics or chemistry is a product from the occidental dogma and needs to be analysed as such. Therefore, in addition to human sciences researchers, the invitation policy of the Institute also includes doctors and biologists as well as artists (musicians, visual artist, writers and film directors).