Invisible women. Revisiting a survey by Michel Crozier (1953-1965)

The birth of administrative sociology
By Odile Join-Lambert

This paper revisits one of the earliest surveys of administrative sociology: a study carried out by sociologist Michel Crozier in the Paris postal-cheque processing centre in 1953. Surprisingly, while the executive staff was composed almost entirely of women, the specific features of the work and careers of these women civil servants were not addressed in Petits fonctionnaires au travail, the book published by Crozier in 1954 that was inspired by this survey. By working in Michel Crozier’s archives to investigate his post office survey, we can understand the reasons for this. To analyse the gaps between the materials collected and what the author eventually published, this paper first cross-references the handwritten observations produced during Crozier’s survey with the printed sources produced by the sociologist later on. To explain why the work of these women civil servants was invisible, we then review Michel Crozier’s intellectual itinerary in the United States and his focus on aspects of American sociology of work, retaining only scholarship that related to power in private organisations. This detour to the United States ultimately provides us with a better understanding of Crozier’s interpretive framework for observing the Paris postal-cheque processing centre. The work and union activism of low-ranking women civil servants were invisible in the nascent administrative sociology.

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