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L'art et le métier [école parallèle et petite bourgeoisie]

Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales
Publication Date
DOI: 10.3406/arss.1976.3464
  • Education
  • Engineering


Art and Trade : Parallel Education and the Lower Middle Class The Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers (CNAM) is an institution of social mobility, offering workers the possibility of undertaking or of returning to advanced technical studies while continuing to work at their trade. Functioning parallel to the regular teaching institutions, of which it is in certain respects the counterpart, it differs from the latter because of a number of paradoxical features. It is open to all (except students), without competitive entrance examination or even a specific degree requirement, and it is empowered, like the "Grandes Ecoles" (e.g; the Ecole des Mines and the Ecole Centrale), to grant engineering degrees. In practice, however, the studies are long and difficult and frequently abandoned, and the degree rarely obtained. As can be seen from the survey conducted among 1,900 students and from the history of the institution, it achieves its stated aims only in the ideal realm. Only there -in the officiailrhetoric and, to some extent, in the minds of the students- is it capable of uniting what, in reality, necessarily remains separate and opposed : art and trade, or, looked at along an other dimension of the social hierarchy, theory and practice. engineer and worker, intellectual work and manual work. Operating in the same way as the institutions and organizations practiced in the manipulation of symbolic hierachies and the reconciliation of opposites, the Conservatoire is one of the places where the dominant class seeks to overcome contradictions by which it is obsessed but that it cannot possibly resolve in practice. It is the product of the junction of the symbolic functions with the increasing social demand for training and upward mobility on the part of the lower middle class among whom it draws virtually all of its students. The crisis that the Conservatoire is cur rently experiencing and the attempts to redefine its role illustrates how a utopia is "put aright" to the degree that it becomes realized and finds its niche in the social order

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