Special issue on organizations and organizing in a French context

International Journal of Organizational Analysis

ISSN: 1934-8835

Article publication date: 7 October 2014



Stokes, P., Davoine, E. and Oiry, E. (2014), "Special issue on organizations and organizing in a French context", International Journal of Organizational Analysis, Vol. 22 No. 4. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJOA-08-2014-0794



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Special issue on organizations and organizing in a French context

Article Type: Guest editorial From: International Journal of Organizational Analysis, Volume 22, Issue 4

Within the Western economic environment, the French economic model has endured as a particularly distinctive approach to capitalism (Boyer, 2005). This model has generally been characterized by a number of well-established and typical features including, for example, a stronger role for the state than the Anglo-Saxon economic model; an economic elite drawn from, and destined for, the highest levels of civil service (Maclean et al., 2006; Davoine and Ravasi, 2013); industrial policy grounded in, and driven by, a propensity for major projects on a grand scale; and an overall potent industrial base with particular strength in international sectors such as the automotive, energy, chemical and aerospace industries. The specificities of French organization and management practices have been profoundly embedded and rooted in the French socio-economic environment.

Since the publication of book by Barsoux and Lawrence (1990), some 20 years ago, numerous further valuable empirical studies have been undertaken to describe and discuss the features of “L’organisation à la française”. French Organization has been described by Hofstede as a “pyramid of people” (Hofstede, 1991), characterized by a stronger power distance and a heightened importance of personal relationships than Anglo-Saxon and Northern European Organization types. D’Iribarne (1994) considers the management and work practices within French organizations as being infused and influenced by a logique de l’honneur which is different from the principles of fair contract or consensus which infuse the management practices found in Dutch, German or North American organizations. Maurice et al. (1986) showed that the structures and the practices of French organizations are conditioned by specific institutional elements of the French context, such as a very hierarchical educational system and a conflictual system of industrial relations.

Besides studies trying to identify a French model, there exist also an extensive range of empirical studies focusing on particular French organizational experiences and practices that could be useful for other countries. Here, illustrative works include, for example, skill and knowledge management and skill-based pay (Jenkins and Klarsfeld, 2002), training (Stokes, 2008), leadership development (Derr et al., 2002), corporate social and environmental responsibility (Igalens and Gond, 2005), and industrial relations (Laroche and Wechtler, 2011).

As far as Organization Theory is concerned, French-speaking authors have also brought original perspectives to the field. France has provided organization science with one of its most classical authors, Henri Fayol, and offering major contributions from an interdisciplinary and intellectual perspective inspired by the fields of sociology or philosophy (Chanlat, 1994). These contributions encompass, for example, the organizational micro-politics of Crozier and Friedberg (1980), the Actor-Network Theory of Callon and Latour (Callon, 1986; Latour, 2005) and other contributions in the field of critical management studies inspired by inter alia Bourdieu, Foucault, Derrida, Barthes, Lacan and Levi-Strauss. Moreover, French organization research is also very active in the field of qualitative methodologies, developing new conceptual frameworks through case study research or action research (AR) (Berry, 1995; Savall and Zardet, 2011).

In the light of the above developments, it, therefore, seems relevant to take an opportunity to enhance and develop a contemporary overview and understanding of French management and organization through a prism of contributions within this special issue of International Journal of Organizational Analysis. The seven papers of this special issue present French Organization from different styles and perspectives.

The first paper brings a German perspective on French top management and on organization structures. Having studied the French–German Airbus Group for many years, Christoph Barmeyer and Ulrike Mayrhofer identify the main French and German characteristics and influences within Airbus (former name EADS – European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company), and show how French characteristics have evolved over time in comparison to German ones. Their in-depth case study highlights specific characteristics of French organizations such as the principle of honor, the centralization of decision and power, the role of the state as shareholder and its influence via networks of top managers with elite school – so called Grandes Ecoles – and civil servant backgrounds. Their longitudinal analysis confirms a relative continuity of national characteristics over a substantial period. The recent evolution of the company also highlights the role of German influence.

The second paper brings a British perspective on French business elite and on its networking practices. Based on the analysis of a database of 1,160 French top executives and a few illustrative vignettes, Mairi Maclean and Charles Harvey show the institutional embeddedness of the French elite connectivity. They highlight the role of a few Grandes Ecoles and the role of the French State in the selection and in the interconnections of the business elite. This institutionally based system of interconnections between company directors and top civil servants contrasts with the UK, where networking seems to be left to “ambitious, aspiring individuals”, and where there is a clearer gap between private and public spheres in the economy.

The third paper is based on several field studies of the Gestion & Société research group, and explores French approaches to co-operation in the workplace. Drawing on the ethnographic research led by d’Iribarne, Segal and Chevrier in various companies, Jean-Pierre Segal goes beyond caricatures of French organizations as human pyramids with high power distance and shows how professional identities – and the notion of “métier” – are important to understand co-operation and social recognition in French organizations. Segal then discusses the contributions and limitations of the interpretative approach of culture developed by d’Iribarne and the Gestion & Société researchers.

The next paper, by Jacques Rojot, discusses the characteristics and the historical roots of the French model of industrial relations. The features of French industrial relations can be described as a dual paradox. On the one hand, unions are numerically weak and bitterly divided while retaining a significant influence. On the other hand, the social climate remains highly conflict prone and marked by an ideological rhetoric which opposes the wealthy oppressors of the exploited masses within a relatively prosperous society. Rojot explains this dual paradox with the peculiar conceptions of equality and freedom in France.

The following papers are about French contributions to the field of Organization Studies (OS). The paper by Jean-François Chanlat aims to explain the limited reception of French OS production in the Anglo-Saxon OS field. Chanlat uses Bourdieu’s concept of “field” and points out several language issues linked with translation, cognitive and social resonances, as well as social issues connected with the social fields of French- and English-speaking OS researchers. Using the cases of the exceptional reception of individual French authors such as Bourdieu or Foucault, Chanlat identifies several factors that can improve the visibility of non-English-speaking authors in the Anglophone OS field and invites international scholars to maintain intellectual and linguistic diversity in the scientific production.

The paper of Yves-Frédéric Livian focuses on the contributions of classical authors of the French Organizational Sociology (Michel Crozier, Erhard Friedberg and Jean-Daniel Reynaud) to the OS field. The paper provides a summary of their theoretical frameworks and discusses their relevance within the French organizational context today. Livian then addresses the issue of their limited visibility in the Anglophone OS field, and discusses whether a theoretical production based on field studies can be used outside of its original national context.

The paper on Institute of Socio-Economy of Enterprises and Organizations (ISEOR), contributed by Henri Savall and Véronique Zardet, presents the history of their institute, their methodological approach and its reception to illustrate the evolution of AR or Intervention Research (IR) in the French OS field. The paper illustrates how the French institutional environment of Grandes Ecoles (the model of applied research in engineering and business schools) may have positively influenced the development and the recognition of AR and IR approaches in management research. It also shows, from a specific perspective, the evolution of the French OS field and the increasing interactions with the Anglophone OS field in recent decades.

These seven papers offer new, diverse and complementary perspectives and contributions on French Organizations. They help explore different facets of French organizational life (organization structures, management networking, professional identities, conflicts and so on and so forth) and French Organization Science (concepts, authors, researcher field, interaction with Anglophone OS field). In so doing, the special issue aims to recharge and reinvigorate the analysis and assessment of French organizations and organizing contexts.

Eric Davoine, Ewan Oiry and Peter Stokes, Guest Editors


Barsoux, J.L. and Lawrence, P. (1990), Management in France, Cassell, London.

Berry, M. (1995), “Research and the practice of management, a French view”, Organization Science, Vol. 6 No. 1, pp. 104-116.

Boyer, R. (2005), “How and why capitalisms differ”, Economy and Society, Vol. 34 No. 4, pp. 509-557.

Callon, M. (1986), “Some elements of a sociology of translation: domestication of the scallops and the fishermen of St Brieuc Bay”, in Law, J (Ed), Power, Action and Belief: A New Sociology of Knowledge, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, pp. 196-223.

Chanlat, J.F. (1994), “Francophone organizational analysis (1950-1990): an overview”, Organization Studies, Vol. 15 No. 1, pp. 47-80.

Crozier, M. and Friedberg, E. (1980), Actors and Systems. The Politics of Collective Action, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Davoine, E. and Ravasi, C. (2013), “The relative stability of national career patterns in European top management careers in the age of globalisation: a comparative study in France/Germany/Great Britain and Switzerland”, European Management Journal, Vol. 31 No. 2, pp. 152-163.

Derr, C.B., Roussillon, S. and Bournois, F. (Eds) (2002), Cross-Cultural Approaches to Leadership Development, Greenwood Publishing Group, Wesport (CT).

d’Iribarne, P. (1994), “The honour principle in the Bureaucratic Phenomenon”, Organization Studies, Vol. 15 No. 1, pp. 81-97.

Hofstede, G. (1991), Culture's Consequences: Software of the Mind, McGrawHill, London/New York.

Igalens, J. and Gond, J.P. (2005), “Measuring corporate social performance in France: a critical and empirical analysis of ARESE data”, Journal of Business Ethics, Vol. 56 No. 2, pp. 131-148.

Jenkins, A. and Klarsfeld, A. (2002), “Understanding “individualization” in human resource management: the case of “skill-based pay” in France”, International Journal of Human Resource Management, Vol. 13, pp. 198-211.

Laroche, P. and Wechtler, H. (2011), “Labor union effects on workplace financial performance: new evidence from France”, Journal of Labor Research, Vol. 32 No. 2, pp. 157-180.

Latour, B. (2005), Reassembling The Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Maclean, M., Harvey, C. and Press, J. (2006), Business Elites and Corporate Governance in France and the UK, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke.

Maurice, M., Sellier, F. and Silvestre, J.J. (1986), The Social Foundations of Industrial Power, MIT Press, Cambridge.

Savall, H. and Zardet, V. (2011), The Qualimetrics Approach – Observing the Complex Object, Information Age Publishing, Charlotte, NC.

Stokes, P. (2008), “Outdoor management development as organizational transformation a study of Anglo-French paradoxical experience in the application of alternative human resource development approaches”, International Journal of Cross Cultural Management, Vol. 8 No. 1, pp. 23-39.

Further reading

Hofstede, G. (2001), Culture’s Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions, and Organizations Across Nations, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA.

About the authors

Eric Davoine is a Professor of human resources management (HRM) and cross-cultural management at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland). His current areas of research include French–German cross-cultural management, internationalization of European top management profiles and HRM and international mobility within multinational companies.

Ewan Oiry is a Professeur des Universities in the Institut d’Administration des Enterprises (IAE) at the Université de Poitiers (France) specializing in international HRM, competences management, social and organizational theory, work sociology and knowledge management and has published extensively in these fields. He is the Co-Director of the research thematic group on competency management for the Association Francophone de Gestion des Ressources Humaines.

Peter Stokes is a Professor at the Chester Business School (the United Kingdom). He has researched and published widely in a range of management, organization and pedagogic domains and is Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Organizational Analysis. He is the UK Country Director and Vice-President for the EuroMed Business Research Institute and UK Ambassador for the Association de Gestion des Ressources Humaines.

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