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Socio-occupational categories

3 pages
The classification of occupations and socio-occupational categories has been used in France for over half a century to study social groups and describe jobs. The system, known as PCS, combines status, occupation, and skills. Despite criticisms from multiple angles, PCS remains an irreplaceable tool for analyzing French society.
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1Socio-occupational categories
! Alain Desrosières*
The classification of occupations and socio-occupational categories has been used in France for over half a century to
study social groups and describe jobs. The system, known as PCS, combines status, occupation, and skills. Despite
criticisms from multiple angles, PCS remains an irreplaceable tool for analyzing French society.
ince the 1950s, social scientists Sand private organizations
specializing in the study of public
opinion have been making extensive
use of a classification of social groups
developed by In See : Professions
et catégories Socioprofessionnelles
(Pc S: “o ccupational and Socio-
occupational c ategories”). This
segmentation was designed at a time
when French society was composed
of substantial groups, often endowed
with high self-awareness and
influential representative bodies:
farmers, blue-collar workers, bosses,
and managers. These empirical
categories used by statisticians and
sociologists were seen as proxies “Factory work,” painting by Adolph von Menzel (1872-1875)
for the “social classes” that featured
prominently in the sociological and
distinct criteria. The first two—status skilled worker (ouvrier qualifié), political tradition. Since the 1980s,
foreman, white-collar worker it has become commonplace to and métier (roughly: “occupation” or
(employé), technician (technicien), observe that these groups have lost “trade”) dated from the nineteenth
and manager/professional (cadre).strength as groups “per se,” and that century; the third, skill as defined by
collective agreements in industries, their underlying statuses or quasi-
The complex combination of these (qualifications conventionnelles) statuses have eroded—particularly
three taxonomic principles gave the was still very recent. The status because of the economic crisis,
socio-occupational classification its distinguished between employees labor-market transformations, and
novel character but, at the same time, the decline in union membership. and the self-employed (employers,
already drew criticism from varied Moreover, some economists, who artisans, retailers, farmers). The term
quarters. The then-influential Marxists often prefer criteria that are easier for métier was taken from the centuries-
did not recognize the “class criteria” old vocabulary of the craft and trade them to record and code—such as
of their theory. But neoclassical guilds. It reflected an era when income and education—regard the
economists, as well, failed to find there was little distinction between persistent use of this classification
in the system a one-dimensional “individual” and “collective” activities, as a sort of anachronism that has
lost all relevance. Twenty years after and when these were characterized
the publication of a small volume by specialized expertise: baker/
describing the research undertaken baking, physician/medicine. The third
* Alain Desrosières holds the rank of
criterion, skill, was specific to the when the classification was redesigned administrateur at InSee and is a member of
industrial salariat, and was defined on the c entre Alexandre Koyré for the history for the 1982 census (Desrosières and
of science (Paris). His publications include the basis of the collective agreements Thévenot, 1988/2002), how can we
The Politics of Large Numbers: A History of
negotiated in the 1940-50s. These explain that, despite these powerful Statistical Reasoning, cambridge (Mass.):
Harvard University Press, 1998.criticisms, it is still in widespread established a system of ranked
use? categories (called “Parodi categories,” 1. o riginally published as “Les catégories
socioprofessionnelles,” Courrier des statistiques after the minister who set them up):
(French series), no. 125, nov.-Dec. 2008,
The classification devised by Jean unskilled worker (manœuvre), semi-
pp. 13-15, http://www.insee.fr/fr/ffc/docs_ffc/
Porte at InSee in 1951 combined three skilled (ouvrier spécialisé), cs125c.pdf.
courrier des statistiques, english series no. 15, 2009 13
Source: WikipediaAlain Desrosières
criterion—such as income—that professionals, heads of large and employed persons. The combination
would be easy to incorporate into medium-sized firms) from the lower- of the two classifications is justified
an econometric model. This dual income categories (manual workers, by the fact that they both process the
criticism from Left and Right did not small farmers). But another axis, same basic material: declarations of
prevent the empirical tool proposed intersecting the first, separates occupation. But, as it happens, the
by INSEE in the 1950s from gaining categories endowed with mainly “qualifications” criteria adopted to
massive acceptance later on. educational and cultural resources define the Parodi categories—which
This stems from the fact that the (teachers, public-sector employees) rely on the codified level of training
meshing of the three sets of criteria from categories better-endowed with needed to fill a given job position—
reflected a complex social structure, economic resources (retailers and have been challenged since the
itself a product of the historical artisans, private-sector employees). 1970s by the approach centered on
accumulation of these classification The space structured along these skills (compétences). This focuses
lines offers a good description of many on people’s characteristics, which principles. It offered a closer fit
behavior patterns for consumption, are assumed to be more likely to with the diversity and richness of
housing, marriage, cultural practices, facilitate their potential mobility. social groups’ self-images than the
and voting. Its relative stability over The impetus for the shift has theoretical criteria of the Marxists
time shows that claims to the effect varied among industries, but it has and neoclassical economists. The
that social classes no longer exist, altered the vocabulary used by the classification was partly revised for
and that only atomized individuals players themselves (employees and the 1982 census, with slight changes
employers), often making PCS coding in structure and vocabulary; however,
harder. The concordance needed for its basic approach, combining the
statistical coding was reached in three three criteria, remained the same. CAPITALISM
steps: first, through the traditional The former “mid-level managerial
vocabulary of individual occupations; workers” (cadres moyens), such as
second, through labor law (to define elementary-school teachers, nurses,
the salariat); third, through “Parodi” technicians, and accountants) became
collective agreements. This construct the “intermediate occupations”
is under challenge from (1) the (professions intermédiaires), and the
weakening of labor law (with the term “manager” (cadre) was reserved
WE SNOOT AT YOU emergence of intermediate statuses for the former “high-level managerial
between paid employment and self-workers” (cadres supérieurs). Foremen
employment, such as temp workers (contremaître), previously grouped
and “intermittent” workers in the with manual workers, were now
entertainment industry), and (2) from classified among the intermediate
the spread of labor management occupations. The broad aim was to
methods emphasizing flexibility and promote maximum convergence with
conventions and standard vocabulary, WE FEEDALLWE WORK FOR ALL
particularly in the business world.
A humorous depiction of social hierarchy in
By comparison with analogous capitalist society
British and American classifications,
a distinctive feature of the French
PCS is that it is not arranged as survive, need to be strongly qualified,
a simple one-dimensional scale at the very least.
such as those used in the U.S. to
distinguish between upper classes, Another original trait of the French
middle classes, and lower classes. PCS system is its combination into
The deliberate purpose is to highlight a single tool of two classifications
the diversity of criteria mentioned that are generally separate elsewhere:
earlier—a multidimensionality used by (1) the classification of “social
sociologists such as Pierre Bourdieu environments” used by sociologists
in La distinction (1979). These studies and specialists in market and opinion
build and examine a two-dimensional surveys; (2) the classification of “jobs,”
social space, using factor analyses used by labor-market economists.
of the equivalences based on the The first can classify individuals, but
PCS classification. The “main axis” also and especially “households.”
of this space, the one most similar These were formerly categorized by
to the one-dimensional British and PCS of the “head of household,” now
American scales, separates the described as the “reference person.”
La distinction, critique sociale du jugement,
most favored categories (managers, The second, by contrast, covers only by Pierre Bordieu
Source: Wikipedia
Source: WikipediaSocio-occupational categories
Box: Report on the assessment of the relevance of socio-occupational
categories (CSP)
from Report no. 49/B005 of March 23, for this review to be supplemented by
1999, In See : an assessment of the current relevance
“The classification of persons’ socio- of the broad social categories for dif-
occupational categories by the French ferent types of uses. The c ommittee
official statistical system is central to also asked that the assessment should
the study of French society. It is used be attentive to any needs arising from
by many economic and social actors, other social categorizations than c SP
for the study of a wide variety of sub- and to the work in progress at eurostat
jects: political opinions, cultural and on this issue. The task was assigned
educational practices, pay and wealth to Hedda Faucheux and Guy n eyret,
scales, demography, health, working members of In See ’s Inspectorate-
conditions, social mobility, and access General. [...] The authors conducted
to employment—among the examples approximately sixty interviews (and
cited. Having taken note of the aging met more than a hundred people) in
of the classification, introduced in the the circles that seemed to rely most
early 1950s and redesigned in 1982, heavily on a conceptualization of social
In See undertook a detailed project groups, in order to understand their
in liaison with cn IS to update indi- practices and collect opinions and
vidual occupations at the third- and suggestions, as well as views on cur-
Nomenclatures des Professions et Catégories
fourth-digit levels of the classification. rent and future changes. [...]Socioprofessionnelles [PCS], 2003
In See ’s executive c ommittee asked
The main recommendations:
mobility, in which the terms used to 1. Do not revamp the one-digit aggregate level
describe skills play a major role. 2. Develop and actively promote a new intermediate level
3. n ew investment is required
Despite these developments, the 4. Be closer to users
5. Some modifications could be implemented promptlyPc S system remains a valuable
6. Formalize certain supplementary classifications.”statistical tool. The regular patterns
observed in the 1980s still prevail,
in spite of the ambiguities outlined
above. However, in routine statistical of society’s self-images. Because or quantitative, monographic or
work, the regular patterns are often of their sociological complexity, statistical, to cite ritual oppositions. To
interpreted within the boundaries of their use provides an incentive to ask questions on the status of Pc Ss
the space formed by the variables deepen the study of the links between is a way of asking questions on the
that appear in the data file analyzed. different modes of knowledge, rather status of empirical observation and
Statisticians use increasingly than confining oneself to a single description in the social sciences. n
autonomous techniques—such as approach to description—qualitative
those derived from variance analysis
and econometrics—in which they are
at risk of being trapped. But in most
cases, at the end of the analysis, the Bibliography
user of the tool seeks to connect
Bourdieu, P., La distinction. c ritique sociale du jugement, Paris: Minuit, 1979.the results of statistical procedures
Desrosières, A. and Thévenot, L., Les catégories socioprofessionnelles, Paris: to commonsensical knowledge, i.e.,
La Découverte/Repères, 1st ed. 1988, 5th ed. 2002.
borrowing from concrete examples.
INSEE, Nomenclatures des Professions et Catégories Socioprofessionnelles
More than other reputedly “simple” (PCS 2003), Paris: In See , 2003.
criteria, socio-occupational categories Porte, J., “Les catégories socioprofessionnelles,” in J. Friedmann and P. n aville
are a form of accumulated history, as a (eds), Traité de sociologie du travail, Paris: Armand c olin, 1961.
product of decades of transformation
c ourrier des statistiques, english series no. 15, 2009 15
Source: In See