Struggling Paradigms: the takeover of French suppliers by the Japanese firms (1980-1984)

Type de publication:

Conference Paper


Milor, Alice


Gerpisa colloquium, Paris (2019)


Industrial policies, Investments, Japan, liberalism, neo-protectionism, Productivity, Suppliers, trade policies


Through the question of French suppliers in the context of the internationalisation of the sector, the paper shows that the creation of a paradigm, defined as a system of actions and representations which constitutes a dominant path, a guideline for future choices, is paradoxically made of diversity, exchanges, flows and interactions. The very identity of a paradigm - its authors and sources, but also its content and application - is difficult to define in itself, as it would be the result of several borrowing. It is therefore a question of understanding how the emergence of a new paradigm, in this case liberalism, is built over a relatively long period of time - we will also question the very existence of a "turning point of rigour" in France in March 1983 - and is accompanied by shifts in cultural beliefs. Indeed, the affirmation of a liberal paradigm in 1984 led to changes in the behaviour and representations of stakeholders - industrialists, governments, but also civil society.

In the early 1980s, an unstable paradigm emerged, in which the supremacy of productivity - a repeat of a fantasized Japanese paradigm that is increasingly seen as a global paradigm under the influence of globalization - and the desire for independence of a more national path came into conflict. How did we move from an unstable paradigm, in which dependence on the global economy and economic patriotism are trying to cohabit awkwardly, to the affirmation in 1984 of a new paradigm resulting from this hybridization, with the formation of neoliberalism as a new premise for stakeholders' choices and behaviours?

The study is mainly based on records related to supplier companies in difficulty in the 1980s, compiled by the French Ministries of Finance and Industry of François Mitterrand's socialist government. These files are archives that have so far been very little used. While seventy suppliers were studied in order to develop the proposal, some cases - which are major not only because of the socio-economic issues raised but also because of their symbolic importance - will be examined in detail, such as the machine tool manufacturer Ernault-Somua, which was taken over in 1984 by Toyoda, a Toyota subsidiary. These files constitute a rich documentation because of the diversity of the sources they collect: local and national press, exchanges between ministries, correspondence between the central government and local authorities, contacts with banks and other investors, relations between State and companies - shareholders, managers, but also employees and trade unions.
From a historiographic point of view, the proposed study is directly in line with GERPISA's many studies on the Japanese productive model. The paper presents the originality of considering these issues directly from the perspective of the many French automotive suppliers, an aspect that is often less privileged in existing historical work. Finally, the article also covers recent scientific developments around the tension between protectionism and liberalism in Europe in the 1980s, under the prism of the notion of paradigm.

Main results:
The internationalization of the automobile industry, combined with the sectoral crisis that exerted strong pressure on suppliers and manufacturers since 1980, goes hand in hand with the vigorous affirmation of a paradigm that is not new but is reinforced in its necessity through Japanese competition: the improvement of industrial productivity. In so doing, this paradigm develops on the basis of an external paradigm, both admired and rejected by institutions and companies - and largely fantasized - constituted by the Japanese lean production model, a "best way" widely studied by the Gerpisa in recent years. Yet Mitterand's socialist government strives to make this paradigm more complex, refusing to reduce it to a simple quest for productivity gains. The result is a hybridization of the productivity paradigm, as a result of the emphasis on new, more national paradigms such as the diversification of subcontracting activities and economic patriotism. A real shift away from an unstable old paradigm - combining the quest for productivity and the independence of the French sector through diversification, national investments and an increase in employment - occurred in 1984, in favour of the affirmation of a new paradigm, namely liberalism. In this, we are in line with recent historical work on the complex and non-linear renewal of liberalism in Europe in the 1980s.

Remark: application for the Gerpisa Young Author Price

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