The history of technical education in France presents an exemplary case study for the evolution of technological consciousness. This book, which examines the development of intermediate technical education in France since 1800, shows in a striking way how social conditions and technological necessity can interact to create a new class. The author reveals an expanding educational system and an emerging industrial technology combined to create patterns of intergenerational mobility that advanced thousands of Frenchmen from working-class origins into managerial careers. The system created a "new class" of elite technologists, despite the fact that it was designed from the start to perpetuate the hierarchical structure and stratification of French society.
After surveying the structure of French technical education, Day reviews the institutional history of France's oldest technical schools, the Ecoles d'Arts et Métiers, from 1800 to 1983. The book concludes with a study of the social origins and careers of 2,000 randomly selected graduates or "gadzarts," demonstrating that the economic and social realities of their lives as trainees had a greater effect than their origins and that many in fact went on to assume significant roles as industrial engineers, managers, or as entrepreneurial pioneers.
C. R. Day is professor of history at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia.