Classifying Individuals by Their Participation in the Production System: The ‘Active’ and ‘Inactive’ Populations in Late 19th-Century France

By Agnès Hirsch, Paul Reeve

The partition of the French population into ‘active’ and ‘inactive’ subpopulations, a 19th-century construction, emerged out of interactions between two conceptions of activity. The first, introduced in the early 1860s, aimed to construct social classes based on the position of the household head, representing society through its structuring dependence relations. The second, established with the 1896 census, set out to characterize the state of productive forces throughout France. This new partition was both a reflection of and a vector for transformations of labour. It reflected them because its emergence mirrors multiple shifts in the representation of activity: from the scale of the household to that of the individual, from family activity to collective activity within institutions, and from workshops to factories. It was a vector for these transformations because it opened up the possibility of using employment statistics as a policy tool. It responded to the desire to obtain knowledge of labour—and more specifically of waged labour—to regulate it, notably through the creation of insurance laws.

  • active
  • inactive
  • economic activity
  • census
  • work
  • 19th century
  • France
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