The Auguste-Comte Institute or the impossible training of the French elites


The book. Who remembers the Institut Auguste-Comte (IAC), located on the Sainte-Geneviève mountain in Paris? Probably not many people, because it was a UFO in the national academic landscape, even a meteorite, having lasted only… four years. It therefore required the communicative passion of science historian Alexandre Moatti to unearth, in A look at the French elites, this parenthesis and convince the reader of the interest of dwelling on this failure.

Between 1977 and 1981, following the impetus of President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, this institute, also called “Institute for the study of action sciences”, was to carry out a major ambition: to provide elites with training complementary to help them evolve in an increasingly complex international world. Or, to put it more prosaically, with the Franco-French gaze, to tackle the delicate, and still unresolved, question of France’s relations with these elites, who are, pell-mell, the members of the corps of the State, polytechnicians, enarques…

What pedagogy to adopt? What place for research in relation to theoretical training? What type of “doer” do we want? The architects and teachers of the IAC did not have time to decide.

Especially since they were on a minefield of ambiguities and rivalries of all kinds, which persist today. On the ambiguity side, there are questions such as are we born a boss or do we become one? Or again, how to balance scientific rationality and irrationality, this part of “human”, which is expected of a good manager?

An exciting tale

Side rivalries, there was only the embarrassment of the choice. For example between disciplines, economics on one side, management sciences on the other. Or between the different visions of the world, carried by the university or by the engineers. Or even between the State and companies. Between X and ENA. Between training and research…

We feel that the author had fun finding these findings both in the IAC archive boxes and in the recent Thiriez report on the senior civil service, which preceded the abolition of the ENA.

Read also: Article reserved for our subscribers Reform of the senior civil service: what the report by Frédéric Thiriez contains

Although this object of study is minor and forgotten, the story of its genesis, its deployment or its sudden stop, is precisely described and fascinating. The only legacy of this brief period seems to be a pedagogical method still in use, which is that of “projects” where, independently, students tackle a problem of public policy.

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