Wednesday, April 25, 2012
12:30 - 2:00 pm
Public Affairs 3333


Dana SimmonsHuman Persons, Incompressible Needs and Minimum Wage in Post-war France

Presented by Dana Simmons, UC Riverside


About the Speaker:

Dana Simmons graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University in 1995 with a degree in Architecture and Visual Arts.  She veered gradually from things to books during a lovely year in Paris, in which she did nothing of much consequence.  She then moved on to an M.A. in Art History and a Ph.D. in History at the University of Chicago.  Her Ph.D. thesis won recognition as the best dissertation in the Social Sciences at the University of Chicago in 2004.  Her awards include a Jacob A. Javits Fellowship, a Visiting Fellowship at the Institut d' Etudes Politiques de Paris, a Graham Architectural Foundation Trustees Award, and a William Rainey Harper Fellowship.  She is currently revising a book manuscript for publication.Minimal Frenchman: Science and Standards of Living, 1840-1960 traces the rise of a modern project to prescribe the parameters of life.  It covers the science of nutrition, wartime rationing, minimum wages and modernist architecture.  Simmons is thankful to work in the discipline of history where she can play with the intersections between material culture, science, and politics, between things and words.  Last year she was a scholar in residence at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin.

Talk Abstract:

The passage of minimum wage legislation in 1950 led to one of the odder chapters in the history of French bureaucratic committees. Paul Bacon, Minister of Labor, convened a High Commission on Collective Bargaining in April of that year to measure a model worker’s budget. Over thirty members strong, the meeting assembled major leaders of all three unions, representatives of large and small employers, artisans, managers, family associations and a number of state bureaucrats. Over the following two months, these men hashed out the principles and the practice of a new republican minimum standard of living. No point proved too fine for debate, from theoretical reflections on science and measurement to the durability of underwear.The minimum wage commission appears an exemplary moment in postwar French consumer society. First, it enacted a political contest between unions and employers, mediated by the state and family associations. Second, as it called upon expert testimony, the commission participated in the emergence of an empirical, policy-oriented postwar social science. Third, the commission’s work reflected French citizens’ everyday struggle to reconcile scarce resources and expanding consumer desires



This event is cosponsored by the UCLA Department of History and the UCLA Center for European and Eurasian Studies