Relational Knowledge: The Ties and Social Roots of an Administration in Nineteenth Century France

The Pillar of Public Organizations
By Maurizio Gribaudi

In recent years we have seen the development of a new approach to the study of the history of the state and its administration in the contemporary period. While interesting new perspectives have been introduced, the majority of these studies have limited their focus to the frontiers of institutions as they are defined by internal practices. We know little about the social roots of such institutions and their impact on administrative dynamics at the level of practical operation. An analysis of the social origins and professional careers of 534 civil servants working in the Ministry of the Interior in the nineteenth century permits us to begin to answer such questions. The portrait which emerges is one of an administration mainly influenced by the expectations and relationships of the larger society. Throughout the century, the central administration provided a set of resources which were skillfully distributed and managed through a dense network of relations. Through recruitment and career management, social connections were formed and varied exchanges took place. However, the nature and structure of these dynamics changed over time. At the beginning of the century, relationships and language seem to be mainly the expression and guarantee of professional knowledge and group identity. Progressively they were transformed into powerful instruments of the management of political ties through which the central administration exercised its influence in the provinces.

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