Michel Crozier

French sociologist

Michel Crozier (6 November 1922 – 24 May 2013) was a French sociologist and Professor and Research director at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique. He is known for his work on strategic analysis, and collective action in the sociology of organizations.


  • Philippe Durance: ... How does one become Michel Crozier?
Michel Crozier: I'm going to give you an absurd answer. One becomes Michel Crozier by accident. I never had a vision of what I wanted to do, nor what I was going to become. I suppose there were a certain number of opportunities which presented themselves, but I hadn't expected any of them.
My first revelation was in America. I was living and working in United States with the aid of a scholarship which I hadn't really requested and just sort of fell into my lap by luck. There were even a few colleagues who said that there must have been an error. That was 1947 and at that time, I considered myself a poet. I didn't know anything about sociology, and I had a grant to study the labour movement in the United States. I discovered both. I forgot how to be a poet and I became passionate for what I had to do. Without any preparation, I interviewed heaps of union members. That allowed me to write a book on American labour unions [1951] and pass my doctoral thesis... So, I found myself to be a sociologist.

The Bureaucratic Phenomenon, 1954


Michel Crozier’s classic, The Bureaucratic Phenomenon, 1954; 2009

  • The first of the two cases which we are about to discuss concerns a large-scale Parisian administrative organization which may be described as rigid, standardized, and impersonal, and which seems unable to cope with the human and technical problems engendered by its recently accelerated growth. Its hierarchical structure, its promotional system, and its principles of organization are extremely simple. The behavior of its different categories of personnel, as actors within its social system, is therefore much easier to analyze. The actors appear to be both extremely rational and extremely predictable, as if they were playing a game that followed an experimental model. We shall use the opportunity afforded by such a situation to try to understand better one of the most fundamental problems usually associated with the concept of bureaucracy, the problem of routine.
    • p. 12; Lead paragraph chapter 1
  • The classic rationalists did not consider the members of an organization as human beings, but just as cogs in the machine. For them, workers were only hands. The human relations approach has shown how incomplete this rationale was. It has also made it possible to consider workers as creatures of feeling, who are moved by the impact of the so-called rational decisions taken above then, and will react to them. A human being, however, does not have only a hand a heart. He also had a head, which means that he is free to play his own game.
    • p. 149.

Michel Crozier, Samuel P. Huntington, and Joji Watanuki. The Crisis of Democracy: On the Governability of Democracies, 1975

  • Is democracy in crisis? This question is being posed with increasing urgency by some of the leading statesmen of the West, by columnists and scholars, and— if public opinion polls are to be trusted— even by the publics. In some respects, the mood of today is reminiscent of that of the early twenties, when the views of Oswald Spengler regarding "The Decline of the West" were highly popular. This pessimism is echoed, with obvious Schadenfreude, by various communist observers, who speak with growing confidence of "the general crisis of capitalism" and who see in it the confirmation of their own theories.
    • p. 4: Introduction note

Quotes about Michel Crozier

  • Much of the pioneering work in organization theory was written about public organizations, or with public organizations in mind. When Weber wrote about bureaucracy, he was thinking of the Prussian civil service. Philip Selznick began his scholarly career writing about the New Deal Tennessee Valley Authority in TVA and the Grass Roots (1953). Herbert Simon’s first published article (1937) was on municipal government performance measurement, and Simon also coauthored early in his career a book called Public Administration (1950) and a number of papers (e.g., Simon, 1953) published in Public Administration Review. Michel Crozier’s classic, The Bureaucratic Phenomenon (1954), was about two government organizations in France.
    • Steven Kelman, "Public management needs help!." Academy of Management Journal 48.6 (2005), p. 967
  • Crozier's breakthrough book, The Bureaucratic Phenomenon (1963 in French, 1964 in English), is a still wonderful account of how an organisation as a system generates the overlapping vicious circles that then block the system. The voices of his interviewees in two public service organisations, one a clerical agency, the other a state industrial monopoly, explaining their attitudes and their behaviour, are as fresh as if they had been uttered yesterday. This book heralded a consistent theme in Crozier's work that organisational reform is not possible unless its proponents take into account the way that people will interpret it, react to it and subvert it. As Crozier put it in the title of a 1979 book: "You can't change a society by decree."
  • The Bureaucratic Phenomenon was the first of a series of books published over a 15-year period through which Michel stimulated attention to the organizations of contemporary society and their contributions to social and political problems. In La société bloquée (1970), L’acteur et le système (with co-author Erhard Freiberg; 1977), and On ne change pas la société par décret (1979), he explored modern, particularly French, society and its social, political, and economic structures. Better than most, he saw the difficulties of achieving democratic aspirations in a modern nation state. In particular, as his 1979 book trumpeted, he saw that modern societies did not change simply by giving them well-intentioned orders.
Michel successfully avoided being encased in the bureaucratic coffin that frequently typifies universities, especially French universities. In the 1960s, he created the Centre de Sociologie des Organisations (CSO). The CSO developed a culture similar in spirit to other small groups that have made distinctive contributions to scholarship, for example, the group around Kurt Lewin at MIT in the 1940s. The CSO attracted a remarkable group of young scholars, including some from Quebec and China at a time when that was not common in French centers, who exhibited extraordinary loyalty and affection toward Michel while pursuing independent courses that only partly paralleled his. He was a teacher and a colleague who came to be respected and loved not only in France and America but also throughout the world
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