From the ministry to the agency

A study of a process of political alteration
By Dominique Linhardt, Fabian Muniesa

An important number of studies take for granted that the state, which arose during modernity as an essentially political reality, is nowadays increasingly shaped by heteronomous logics stemming from management. Yet far fewer studies strive to observe and to document the concrete processes that support the move from the political definition to the managerial definition of the state, and the uncertainties this move gives rise to. This is precisely the objective of this article. We focus on the implementation of a reform of public management known as “Lolf” (for “Loi organique relative aux lois de finances”) within the Ministry of Research between 2001 and 2007. The case is interesting as it shows an ongoing conflict between, on the one hand side, a conception of reform that remains devoted to the political nature of public decisions and, on the other, a conception that conversely indexes public decisions to economic and budgetary constraints. The study shows the simultaneously technical and semantic operations that make the second option take precedence over the first and back the displacement of a public administration gradually thought of as a mere set of “agencies”. We interpret this move towards agency as a process of “impoliticization” of the state that the social sciences have to take into account if they wish to continue contributing to the understanding of the contemporary transformation of the state and the alteration (in both senses of the word) of the political.


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