Thursday, May 14, 2009


Alain Caillé, whom I met in Grenoble, is the founder of the Mouvement Anti-Utilitariste en Sciences Sociales (MAUSS) and editor of its review. He has an article in Marianne on Sarkozy's reforms that makes two main points: the reforms, whether of the universities, the hospitals, or the courts, are designed to place decisive executive power in the hands of one person in each key institution, and decisions are to be based on "objective" criteria in keeping with the doctrines of the "new public management."

The application of objective evaluation criteria is indeed one of the main sticking points in several of the reform efforts, and it's easy to understand why. Writing a paper, performing surgery, and judging a case are complex activities, and one "intervention" is not the same as another, so simply counting up numbers can be a highly misleading indicator of productivity. Everyone agrees that evaluation is necessary, but who does the evaluation, and how it is performed, should be the real issues. In the French universities, the problem seems to be that trust has broken down completely. The "managers" of the system do not trust academics to do peer review because "mandarins" take care of their own, entrenched local coteries do the same, and the result, in the managers' eyes, is stagnation. The academics do not trust the managers and their "international business consultants," because these outsiders have no understanding of what academics do. Hence the result is stalemate, bitterness, and endless recrimination.

Interestingly, in the session in which Caillé participated in Grenoble, one of the other speakers mentioned a survey that showed that when people are asked if they approve of democracy, some large percentage reply "yes" (I've forgotten the exact number), but when asked if they want "a strong leader who can make things run efficiently and silence petty dissent," they also answer "yes" by a very large majority. So, yes, as Caillé suggests, there may be a Führerprinzip behind the Sarkozy reforms, but such a principle is not necessarily a misinterpretation of the wishes of the majority. Sometimes the will of the majority must be resisted if there is to be a genuinely democratic outcome.

1 comment:

kirkmc said...

Maybe the French are just getting tired of the lack of acceptance of responsibility in this country, and want to see it changed? Like your guichetier at the train station: he saw the problem, but knows it won't get changed. I find that is the ambient attitude here in France (perhaps not among those you rub elbows with, though...). For example, I was in a supermarket today and there was a whole bunch of rotten, even moldy strawberries. I found a woman to complain to, and her reply was, "Oh, it's not my problem." Typical.

Having people charged with accepting responsibility in this country is a radical idea, and one that, obviously, the unions are against, because they prefer things to be more vague so union members never get sanctioned for they faults.