Pierre-Michel Menger#

Laudatio by Anne-Marie Guillemard#


Pierre-Michel Menger studied philosophy and sociology at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris and earned his Ph.D. at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in 1980. He is currently senior researcher at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (Paris) and professor (directeur d’études) at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales where he teaches sociology of labor and sociology of art and culture. He also holds a position of Permanent Visiting Professor at the University of Quebec (Canada). In 2006-2007, he was fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin, and in 2008 an International Visiting Scholar at the Department of Sociology of Columbia University, to which he is affiliated since then. He is the author or co—author of fifteen books, and has published numerous articles in such journals as Revue Française de Sociologie, Sociologie du travail, L’Année Sociologique, Revue Européenne des Sciences Sociales, Annales, Annual Review of Sociology, Poetics. He is currently member of the editorial committee of the Revue française de Sociologie and member of the editorial board of the Revue Economique, Poetics, and Twentieth-Century Music and Perspectives, Revue d’actualité d’histoire de l’art.

These diverse editorial responsibilities may help understand the fairly unusual combination of skills and scholarly accomplishments in Menger’s work and career. He first work in sociology focusing on musical creation and consumption and cultural policies from a national and international perspective, with a PhD on composers’ careers in contemporary avant-garde music and their public official recognition I through growing state support despite their narrow and diminishing audience. The French Académie des Beaux-Arts awarded him a prize for this first book in 1984. Indeed, empirical sociological work on creative work and careers was at that time pioneering. So it were the studies on cultural consumption in field of serious music too. One nice result may be mentioned here: careers in the consumption of fairly demanding music must develop in spite of its high "dissatisfaction potential" due to the very esoteric nature of European contemporary music in those days (the 1940s to the 1980s period). Whenever they are unable to find their way to grasp the variety of musical styles and complexities of their grammar, consumers can only remain involved if they incriminate themselves rather than the composers’music. Social stratification of taste may refer not only to social capital determinants but also to this learning-by doing process of self-imposed immunization against disappointment.

Menger has been regarded as a leading international scholar since his early contributions to that field. In 2008, University of Montreal invited him to inaugurate an annual series of lectures on music and the corresponding series of books issued by University of Montreal Presw. Menger was also invited to join the editorial board of the Twentieth-Century Music journal when it was founded and launched by Cambridge University Press in 2004.

A turning point in Menger’ career took place at the end of the l980’s, with a paper on <<Rationality and uncertainty in artistic careers>>, which has been regarded as a landmark in the process of bridging the gap between sociological and economic approaches of artistic labor markets. The Annual Review of Sociology invited him to write the review article on that topic (published in 1999) and he authored the chapter on labor markets in the arts and cultural industries included in the Handbook of the Economics of the Arts and Culture, in the renowned Elsevier series of Handbooks edited by Kenneth Arrow and Michael Intriligator. From then on, Menger’s work in that area proved fruitful to renew studies on labor markets in creative industries and beyond. Creative work requires a unusual combination of risk—taking behavior, intrinsic motivation and extreme flexibility in the mechanics of job allocation and employment management. Menger shows how its understanding challenges conventional views of labor market segmentation 2 on one side employment is more and more contingent, as in secondary labor markets; on the other side individuals are highly skilled and non-substitutability is a core value, as in the so-called primary labor market. Building on a unique longitudinal dataset he is been able to set up, Menger showed how the flexible organizational architectures most prevalent in this world (networks, project-based organization and vertically-disintegrated systems of production) have impacted worker flows and careers over a period of 25 years. One striking result highights what Menger terms an unbalanced growth scheme : the aggregate quantity of work available increases far less rapidly than the pool of individuals employed intermittently, generating a growing competition and resulting in a decreasing average participation in production. Employers and consumers may benefit from the increasing variety of talents supplying their work, but at the expense of increasing variability in individual working arrangements, both across the workforce and during the career of each artist. Menger has also disentangled the interwoven functions of the unemployment insurance system in order to explain why, as contingent job allocation expands, unemployment and its compensation grow more rapidly than paid work, like in France.

Later on, partly in collaborative work with law researchers, this model has been applied to non artistic contingent labor markets, i.e. the hiring and employability profile of temporary workers and contract workers.

In l999, Menger was awarded the much sought-after Silver Medal of the French National Scientific Research Center for his impressive disciplinary and interdisciplinary Accomplishments.

More recently, Menger has started studying to study academic labor markets facing growing international competition, in the race for excellence, prestige and better rankings. Again, his approach is deliberately multidisciplinary. While working in team with sociologists on a project funded by the French National Research Agency that aims at comparing highly ranked departments of philosophy, chemistry and management in a sample of leading universities across five countries, he will be the guest editor of a special issue of the Revue Economique on academic careers and explicit vs implicit incentives.

One of Menger’s works in progress deserves a final word and praising appreciation. When fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in 2006-2007, Menger began exploring the creative working process in the arts, by asking how to complete a work. The first results of that inquiry are included in a very well-received book Le travail créateur, and a couple of new papers on this topic will be published this year. This project leads him to try to bridge another gap, between social science and the humanities, namely, history of art, musicology and literature studies. It is in accord with the unifying framework of Menger’s research: studying labor and work, their changing and contrasting meanings and mechanics, from a macro- and micro-sociological perspective.

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