The Conjunction of Social and Health Considerations in Policies against Poverty and Vulnerability in Twentieth-Century France

Social and Sanitary Vulnerabilities
By Axelle Brodiez-Dolino

This article examines the as yet little-studied history of policies against poverty and insecurity from a dual perspective. Firstly, as a complex and multi-shaped maze, with a fundamental role played by local authorities and organizations; indeed, France, like Germany and Anglo-Saxon countries, falls under a “mixed economy of welfare”. Secondly, as a recurrent articulation of sanitary and social vulnerabilities, the only basis deemed to be politically correct until the mid-twentieth century. From the beginnings of the Third Republic to the eve of the First World War, these policies were developed by a general evolution from the local sphere to the national sphere by targeting communities presenting a two-fold sanitary and social vulnerability. From one war to the next, the consecration of social hygiene moved the direction of social action even further toward the realm of the sanitary, even though traditional assistance was seemingly temporarily revived by the 1930s crisis and the difficulties entailed by the German occupation. Finally, the focus on the remaining “pockets” of poverty (especially the elderly and immigrants) during the “Glorious Thirty” (1945-1975) led to the intermingling of both forms of insecurity, although it was no longer politically exclusive.

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