A large body of scholarship has grown up around the issue of administrative modernisation in the public sector. A pre-requisite for this modernisation has been the exchange of experiences and good practices. The MOSARE project, by historical analysis, aims to bring about a change of perspective regarding the relation between knowledge and public administration. It highlights the way in which mobilisation of knowledge by administrators leads to administration’s increased autonomy. The researchers gathered in this project have already studied ‘sciences of governing’ from the eighteenth century to the present. They now turn to the process of administrative autonomisation.The process of increasing autonomy of public administration will be studied through the mobilisation of knowledge at the transnational, national and local levels.
We would like to examine the effects of these interactions, and how they brought about change in the administrations affected. The process of increasing autonomy is not thought of as a linear one. The project centres around the periods 1815-1848, 1880-1914 and 1950-1980. These different periods correspond to a shift in the boundaries between public administration and government. Each of these periods illustrates a type of relationship between public administration and government, a technical revolution and also political aspects, such as the search for new forms of legitimacy by different regimes. The project deals with the production and integration of knowledge and experience which is intended to improve and rationalise politico-administrative action. One could wrongly consider these aspects as secondary. Not only do they reflect and convey images which are constituents of public action, but they also enable administrative innovations and changes. Thus, these aspects can be considered landmarks of and vehicles for administrative autonomisation.
In order to understand the way in which the mobilisation of knowledge leads towards administrative autonomy, two types of research and fieldwork are suggested. Firstly, we would like to trace the elaboration of knowledge related to public administration. For most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this knowledge was produced by administrators. The boundaries between academic and practical worlds were only established in the twentieth century. We will pay attention to the sciences of public administration and the way in which they have become increasingly academic. We would also like to focus on defined examples in order to trace knowledge mobilisation by public administrations, and the resulting changes in administrative work enabled by this integration (the mastery of a knowledge related to archives, the progressive appearance of an autonomous competence in the area of rivers in the first part of the nineteenth century, the instituting of competitive exams in administrative careers at the turn of the century, and the introduction of information technology in different administrative services during the 1960s-1980s).
The MOSARE project aims to analyse these transformations in public administration. We are not suggesting that these administrative reforms were fully desired, devised and enabled by the state administration, but rather we aim to investigate the knowledge exchanges which enable administrative modernisation, by focusing in particular on the people who encourage these exchanges of ideas, knowledge, technologies and innovations.