Hommage à Michel Freyssenet. Robert Boyer

Michel Freyssenet, analyst of the historicity and centrality of work
Robert Boyer (EHESS)

Born at Le Teil in Ardèche on 6 August 1941, Michel Freyssenet died suddenly in Paris on 22 January 2020. After studying sociology in Lyon, he first conducted studies on regional planning before becoming a researcher at the Centre de sociologie urbaine and being recruited by the CNRS in 1978, where he continued his career until 2009. He has never ceased to explore the various facets of the same question: how was work as a salaried activity invented and how has it continued to change in the contemporary period under the effect of automation and industrial change and crises? He showed how new forms of the division of the intelligence of labour had been invented, but had not been successful in the context of the domination of the capital/labour relationship. Through a historical analysis of the automobile industry, Michel Freyssenet developed the notion of the productive model as a way of making uncertainty management systems coherent and he showed their necessary compatibility with each society's own mode of growth. This analytical framework had been developed within the framework of an international and interdisciplinary network, Gerpisa, which he had founded with Patrick Fridenson. It has thus inspired a number of analyses for other sectors that have been carried out by an international community of researchers.

This intellectual trajectory should have culminated in a theorization of social relations, the subject of a book in preparation of which he leaves us a brilliant synopsis. Societies and individuals could be analysed as an assumed combination/confrontation of different social relationships, namely the capital/labour relationship, the market relationship, the administered relationship, the associative relationship and the domestic relationship. Each of them develops its own economy, techniques, politics and symbolism. The viability and evolution of a society depends on a compromise between these social relations, generating a diversity of practices and world views. This message takes on its full importance at a time when the domination of the capital/labour relationship over contemporary societies is being called into question. The work of Michel Freyssenet must be read and reread.

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