WHAT’S NEW IN FRENCH BUSINESS HISTORY?
Clichés persist, which is why we are sometimes still faced with the question: Are French businesses adapted to the economic, ecological, technological or social challenges of global capitalism? Are they modern? It is true that a powerful state, imposing publicly owned companies, the specific methods of regulating the consumer market, a world of work concerned with its achievements, as well as what could be described as a special relationship with innovation, risk, funding or new technologies have left a lasting mark on France. This has yet to be analysed. Does that explain why France, its businesses, its organisations – in short, French capitalism – often seem to be ignored in recent research and publications on the history of businesses and global capitalism? In other words, in order to take stock of the history of businesses in France is it not logical to assess France's place in the history of capitalism? Answering these questions is the objective that has been set for the Paris Congress of French Business History.
In a spirit of intellectual and disciplinary openness, the Congress aims to bring together as many researchers from different branches of social and human sciences as possible, provided that their work adopts a historical perspective or addresses issues related to the historical dynamics of businesses. Besides stimulating discussion with French as well as foreign teachers and researchers, the objective of this Congress is also to foster dialogue between the academic world and players in economic and public life who are interested in the history of the role and operation of businesses and organisations, as well as the history of those living and working in the business world. Finally, the Congress should logically also be an opportunity to reflect on how business history is written today in France, on France, but also within the French-speaking world. This will make it possible to establish where French and French-speaking historiography stands in relation to other approaches, particularly Anglo-Saxon approaches. Three main sets of questions will be addressed.
1- The role of businesses – both French and foreign – in the emergence of a form of French-style capitalism
- Governance, types of ownership (family, joint-stock), legal status, methods of control
- Weight and demography of different kinds of French businesses (groups, associations, SMEs, very small enterprises)
- Existence of a French organisational and management model (strategic choices, organisational forms, management styles, specific values, training and recruitment of managerial elites, role of engineers, influence of consultants, role of professional associations, management techniques – accounting, financial or marketing practices, staff management)
- Weight of national public institutions (state, economic policies, publicly owned enterprises, role of legislation and social laws, legal and regulatory framework, etc.)
- French businesses and technology (production methods, ‘robotisation’ (automation), digitalisation, product technology, innovation and research)
- The question of entrepreneurship
- Methods of funding economic activity (banks, capital markets, monetary and financial regulation, etc.)
- Specificities of the functioning of the labour market and social relations
- Structure and dynamics of investment policies and policies providing support for research and innovation
- Means of regulating the market and competition (prices, standards, norms, lobbies, cartels, business and competition law, etc.)
- Weight of associative and cooperative organisations in economic dynamics
- Borrowing and influence of foreign models (Great Britain, Germany, the United States, Japan, China, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, etc.)
2- French companies confronted with the challenges of globalisation and modernity
- New or old challenges (sustainable development and pollution, ethics, information and communication technologies, new forms of work and organisation, the issue of minorities and diversity, corporate social responsibility [CSR], etc.)
- The historical dynamics of certain French activities on world markets (pharmaceutical industry, automotive industry, aeronautics, rail transport, agri-food, tourism and the hotel business, retailers and trade, leisure industry, research, arms industry, IT, nuclear, etc.)
- Weight and role of foreign businesses in France
- Businesses in France's geopolitical relations with other world economies or other cultural areas (Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, Latin America)
- French companies in the face of crises and revolutions in history (economic, ecological or political, regional or global, military conflicts, political or geostrategic tensions, protectionism, migration, commercial traffic, political or religious movements, etc.)
- Businesses confronted with economic or social doctrines and policies (liberalism, Keynesianism, Marxism, market regulation and deregulation, new forms of wage labour and of work, business theories, etc.)
Finally, the Congress should address important epistemological or methodological questions: the question of access to sources, of new ways in which firms themselves preserve and promote the use of records, but also the issue of publishing the work of historians in French.
3- Writing business history in France today
- The actors in business history in France today (archivists, researchers in the human and social sciences [historians, managers, sociologists, economists, anthropologists, etc.], communication and history businesses, legal experts, journalists, magazines, newspapers, learned societies and academic associations, think tanks, etc.)
- Business history practices (preservation of memory, promotion and communication tools, employee training, levers of change, strategy development, etc.)
- The impact of new technologies (archiving, preservation, accessibility, communication, user and property rights)
- Risks and challenges for business historians (accessibility of archives, control, property rights, destruction of archives, new sources, etc.)
- Business history and interdisciplinarity
- Historical research on companies participating in debates and societal issues (national or international visibility, usefulness, managerial or operational impact, etc.)