top of page

Bureaucracy & Business Lobbying

Sociology of bureaucratic elites & business interest groups
Lobbyists & bureaucrats in Brussels
Routledge, 2018

In 2018, I published with Routledge an English translation (revised and updated) of my investigation into the relationship between interest representatives and Commission bureaucrats.

This book offers a history and sociology of relations between European Commission officials and employees of business associations operating in Brussels. It is based on a series of official archives of the European institutions, statistical data on corporate strategies, some sixty interviews and observations of internal meetings of lobbies from different economic sectors (CEFIC and others)...

Les Courtiers du capitalisme.
Milieux d'affaires et bureaucrates à Bruxelles
Agone, 2015

This book, published in September 2015 by Editions Agone, is based on my Habilitation à diriger des recherches, defended in March 2015.

Drawing on unpublished archives and observations of business lobbies, this book analyzes the relationship between representatives of economic interests and European Commission officials. To achieve their ends, lobbyists have to blend in with the Community administration's productivity logics: the biggest firms learn to handle technocrats' jargon to maintain their position, and enlist scientific experts to meet the practical expectations of this or that head of office. The intimate links between capitalism and bureaucracy are thus updated on a daily basis.

Sociology of elites
Since 2010

Between 2012 and 2020, I led a seminar at EHESS entitled "Sociologie des élites contemporaines" (Sociology of contemporary elites), which reviewed current research on these subjects. Today, with François Denord and Paul Lagneau, I run the seminar "Enquêter sur les lieux de pouvoir". I have also published a series of contributions on these issues, drawn from both my work on senior civil servants in France and Brussels:

• S. Laurens, « ’Pourquoi et comment poser le questions qui fâchent ?’ Réflexion sur les dilemmes récurrents que posent les entretiens avec les imposants », Genèses, n°69, 2007, p. 112-127.

- S. Laurens, Francis Marchan et Mathieu Van Crinkingen. « Il faut de tout pour faire un monde clos : genèse et délimitations symboliques du quartier européen de Bruxelles », Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, n° 195, 2012, pp. 78-97.

- S. Laurens, « Au-delà du lobbying : réflexions sur l’appropriation privée du capital bureaucratique », Entreprises et histoire, n° 104, 2021, pp. 1-13.

- S. Laurens, « Des entre-soi « cosmopolites » aux sociabilités intenses ? Enquête sur l’individualisation paradoxale de la pratique sportive dans un club bruxellois », Regards sociologiques, n°43-44, 2012, pp.35-59

- S. Laurens, « Dans les pas d’un ministre, dans les rouages d’un ministère », Temporalités, vol. 23, 2016.

- S. Laurens, « Retour sur une case blanche. Eléments de morphologie des cabinets ministériels français dans la décennie 1970 », in J-M Eymeri-Douzans, Xavier Bioy et Stéphane Mouton, Le règne des entourages. Cabinets et conseillers de l’exécutif, Paris, Presses de Sciences Po, 2015, pp. 391-407.

. S. Laurens, “Is a participant objectivation of elites and symbolic power possible?”, in M. Palme et al., Researching Elites and Power, Springer, 2020

le travail
Travail manuel 1975.jpg

This issue, which I coordinated with Julian Mischi, looks at the relationship between the state, schools and employers. It follows the publication in French of Paul Willis's Learning to Labour under the title "L'école des ouvriers", which we also prefaced and postfaced.

Talk of "professionalization" and the need for schools to open up to the business world masks the more ordinary and intimate links that are forged between schools and the world of work. Pupils are rarely monitored at work by educationalists and school specialists, and conversely, workers are rarely monitored at school by occupational sociologists. As a result, the role played by school in preparing students for productive tasks, and the correlation between the relationship to school and the relationship to work of those surveyed by official studies, remain a blind spot. This dossier, together with a preface and an afterword to the French edition, looks at the way in which representations of different types of task and the social division between 'intellectual' and 'manual' are gradually internalized throughout the curriculum.

Articles about Business lobbying
Since 2010

Since 2010, I have contributed to several collective publications on employers. In particular those mentioned below:

- S. Laurens, « Astroturfs et ONG de consommateurs téléguidés à Bruxelles », Critique Internationale, 2015, n° 67, pp. 83-99.

- Avec Francis Marchan. « Traiter des « masses » de données prosopographiques par la numérisation d’annuaires : entre espoirs et vertiges », BMS, Bulletin de Méthodologie sociologique, n° 113, juillet 2012, pp. 53-65.

- Notice « Lobby » in E. Henry, C. Gilbert, J-N Jouzel, P. Marichalar, Dictionnaire critique de l’expertise, Paris, Presses de Sciences Po, 2015.

- « L’espace des organisations patronales européennes aujourd’hui », in Hélène Michel (dir.), Représenter le patronat européen. Formes d’organisation patronale et modes d’action européenne, Bruxelles, PIE Peter Lang, 2013, pp. 45-65.

- Avec Hélène Michel, « Socio-histoire d’un espace de représentation européenne des intérêts patronaux (1960-2004) », in Hélène Michel (dir.), Représenter le patronat européen. Formes d’organisation patronale et modes d’action européenne, Bruxelles, PIE Peter Lang, 2013, pp. 23-45.


Les entrepreneurs de la 'Nouvelle entreprise'
Sociétés contemporaines 2013

In 2013, together with Isabel Boni, I coordinated this issue of the journal Sociétés Contemporaines on "entrepreneurs of the new enterprise".


The "new spirit of capitalism" (Boltanski and Chiapello, 1999) brings with it a host of discourses on what "the company" should be today: aware of its social responsibility, particularly with regard to the environment; concerned about gender inequality and "diversity"; open to "European issues"; or concerned with consumer satisfaction and the "quality" of its products. These discourses, which circulate widely in the business world and in the public arena, are not, however, just an "air du temps" or Zeitgeist.

As a producer of market goods and services, the company is also a producer of symbolic goods "about" but also "for" itself, symbolic goods that are not manufactured ad hoc, but made available by a vast field of specialized intermediaries.

Introduction can be read here


​In this issue I also write a contribution on European employers' confederations and the effects of economic competition:

- « Make it EU friendly : Les entrepreneurs du « patronat européen » face aux effets de la concurrence économique », Sociétés Contemporaines, vol. 1, n° 89, 2013, pp. 17-46.

​​- Savoir Agir numéro 10 : Figures Patronales

On the same subject, see also this issue of the journal Savoir / Agir, which I coordinated with Hélène Michel, and which examines the polysemy of the category of boss and shows the diversity of its incarnations and uses.
Employers' are often known only by a few names (Laurence Parisot, Ernest-Antoine Seillièe...) and a few acronyms, such as Medef. But what do we know about those who are called "bosses" or who define themselves as such? The definition given by Marxism, based on "ownership" of the means of production, corresponds in practice to a wide variety of collective figures, from the top manager of the CAC 40, who manages his career by moving from listed company to listed company without owning a significant share of the latter's capital, to the restaurant owner, boss of a small business... Can they be considered together and in the same way?

bottom of page