Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Bosvieux-Onyekwelu on Public Service in France, 1873-1940

We are grateful to Thomas Perroud, Professeur de droit public à l’Université Panthéon-Assas (Paris II), for word of a just-completed thesis by Charles Bosvieux-Onyekwelu, “From Sociodicy to a Science of State: Public Service as an Attempt to Shape the Social World through Law (1873-1940),” in the École doctorale de sciences de l’Homme et de la Société de l’Université Paris-Saclay (ED 578):
At the intersection of social history, the sociology of law and the sociology of elites, the thesis goes back to the origin of a key concept of the French Republican State: public service. Between 1870 and 1940, this idea, which preceded the new regime, is reshaped by different types of actors in a more democratic sense, as an aggiornamento of state-thought. The legal circles (senior officials of the Conseil d'État and law professors) took a prime position during this update. They notably took advantage of the rise in importance of administrative litigation to legitimate their position as opposed to civil law specialists and impose a vision "from above" of public service, understood as true science of administration. By retracing the sequence of events that made a myth from the Blanco case of 8 February 1873, the thesis aims to give an account of the construction of a profession, that of a lawyer specializing in public law or in administrative law, at the same time as the creation of a “public” field. Actors distant from the legal field (state engineers, philanthropists, social theorists of all kinds, civil service trade unionists) gravitate to this field, struggling either not to let the State's conception of generosity to the public be imposed on them, or to get the point of view of those dominated in this field (lower and middle bureaucrats, primary school teachers) across. The enquiry therefore highlights the unequal and differentiated distribution of interest for the "public", visible in the understanding of the democratic claims of the time (the right to strike and unionize in the civil service, municipalism, the Act of Parliament on income tax), that certain actors consistently tried to translate into categories of law regarded favourably as the only right approach to the social world. Finally, in an effort to think within the contemporaries of the time’s mindset (i.e. without reading history backwards and by taking virtual history into consideration), this socio-historical work enables the understanding of the transformation of the "self-concern" of the State in a democratic age, by describing the encounter between a traditional, sovereign and masculine right hand (epitomized by the members of the Conseil d'État) and the left hand of the protective and social State.

In terms of methodology and theoretical framework, the thesis is based on a prosopographical enquiry, the corpus of which is made from the different subgroups of exponents of the idea of public service between 1870 and 1940 (n = 77, the overwhelming majority are men). It alternates between an account and an analysis of the quantitative data drawn from the prosopographical enquiry, and combines archival ethnography (for the Conseil d'État), correspondence analysis and discourse analysis (administrative justice cases, jurisprudence and "theoretical" works on public service). It attempts a reasoned association between field theory and the sociology of professions. Also, as well as the career records of each individual in the prosopography, the archives that have been examined are those of the Conseil d'État, the Tribunal des conflits, law faculties (mainly Paris, Bordeaux and Toulouse), the “agrégation” examination in law and unions (federations of civil servants + CGT in its relation with the State).

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