In Memoriam: Jean-Daniel Reynaud (1926-2019)

Jean-Daniel Reynaud (1926-2019) died a few days ago. With his death, French sociology has lost one of the leading actors of the renewal of French sociology after World War II.

Shortly after having earned his agrégation in philosophy at the Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS) in Paris in 1946, he quit teaching philosophy to start doing research in sociology, because, as he explained, he felt that he needed to go back to reality, to see things for himself, to go observe how things were out there in the field. Very quickly, in 1950, he entered the French National Center for Scientific Research and joined Georges Friedmann, then director of the main Center for sociological research, at the Centre d’Etudes Sociologiques.

J.-D. Reynaud found in George Friedmann’s new sociology of work, recently introduced to France, the instrument both to quench his thirst for empirical reality and satisfy his desire to use empirical research as an instrument to better understand the wider context of social change and the modernization process of French post-war society. In 1956, he co-directed one of the best-known seminal studies in this new field, the Mont-Saint-Martin study on “Workers’ attitudes toward technological change.” Then in 1959, together with M. Crozier, A. Touraine, and J.-R. Tréanton, he founded the journal Sociologie du Travail, which quickly became the flag-bearer of the new empirical sociology of work, labor relations, collective bargaining, and organization in France.

Subsequently, J.-D. Reynaud shifted the focus of his research and increasingly centered his analyses and theorizing on labor relations and collective bargaining. This explains why he is best remembered and known in France as the founding father of the empirical and theoretical study of conflict, collective bargaining, and negotiation. His numerous empirical studies of labor conflicts made him a renowned expert of the field in France, frequently called upon for advice both by employers’ associations and labor unions, in particular by the leaders of what was then the CFTC (now the CFDT). He has trained cohorts of students in his unique style of quasi-anthropological case studies of labor conflicts, strikes, and processes of collective bargaining at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers (CNAM), where in 1969 he was elected to occupy G. Friedmann’s chair – the denomination of which had been changed to Chair of sociology of Work and Labor Relations (Chaire de Sociologie du Travail et des Relations Professionnelles) – as well as in the doctoral program in Sociology at Sciences Po Paris.

Out of this continuous immersion in the world of collective bargaining in France came his major theoretical contribution known as the “Theory of regulation”. First sketched out in an article in 1979, further developed in another article of 1988, and finally formulated in his book The Rules of the Game (1989, 1993), this theoretical approach refines and enriches the analysis of the phenomenon of “negotiation” and collective bargaining. Both are conceptualized as interactive processes of social exchange, in which different and opposing sources of rules are articulated and “regulated”, and end up generating local normative orders that not only have autonomy in regard to the social system, but also contribute in turn to the process of social change. In other words, J.-D. Reynaud transformed the study of collective bargaining and negotiation into a research paradigm for analyzing and understanding the role of collective action and labor conflict in the creation and transformation of social order.

As a social scientist, Jean-Daniel Reynaud was actively engaged both in the reform of French society and in the renewal of his discipline in relation with this preoccupation. For him, sociology had to be useful in the process of societal change, not principally by interpreting it, but by producing facts about the social processes at work, and thus by producing knowledge that would help the engaged actors to better understand and manage what they were experiencing. This understanding of the role of sociology led him to take an active part in the creation (with Michel Crozier and Henri Mendras) of the ADSSA (Association for the Development of Applied Social Sciences) in 1971 , which at the time represented a major innovation in sociological training in France by emphasizing empirical research and field experience in the teaching of sociology. It eventually developed into the first version of the Graduate program in Sociology at Sciences Po (1978-2005).

Professor Reynaud was an impressive social scientist whose modesty and courtesy were proverbial. Whoever had the chance to meet with him could not help but be struck by his rich as well as nuanced reflections about social theory and society, always searching for the precise expression, always mindful of empirical facts, always capable of enriching them by putting them into the relevant context. Working with him over long years as I have, has been an immense pleasure and a great human experience.

Erhard Friedberg

Prof. emeritus of Sociology at Sciences Po Paris