Simiand, François

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Simiand, François



François Simiand (1873-1935), French economist and economic historian, was born at Giéres (Isere) to a large family of modest means. Like most members of his family, he became a teacher. At 20, he entered the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, preparing first for his teacher’s license and then for his agregation in philosophy. He passed the agregation in 1896 and was then admitted to the Fondation Thiers, newly opened to researchers. At that time Simiand became interested in sociology and attended the courses taught by Emile Durkheim and Lucien Lévy-Bruhl. He began work on a dissertation on miners’ wages in France, and thenceforth his sociological orientation distinguished much of his work from that of his economist contemporaries.

When Simiand was at the fÉcole Normale, Parisian students were very much stirred up by the Dreyfus affair. He and his fellow students had several opportunities to hear lectures by the socialists Lucien Herr and Jean Jaures, and like many other Normaliens Simiand came to have a lasting sympathy for socialism. With Herr, Charles Peguy, and Leon Blum he later founded a bookselling and publishing cooperative, the Librairie Georges Bellais, named for one of their friends. Simiand’s principal task was to edit a popular series, the Bibliotheque socialiste, and to head a technical program for training personnel for the cooperative. Since he had to earn a living at the same time that he was joining in the battle for socialism, he took a position as librarian at the Ministry of Labor, established in 1906, where he performed the enormous task of providing the documentary resources necessary for the new bureau.

At this time Simiand wrote methodological discussions that were violently critical of the historians, particularly of Charles Seignobos. The best example is an article entitled “Méthode historique et science sociale,” which appeared in the Revue de synthese historique in 1903. Simiand rejected Seignobos’ conception of history as a mere collection of political facts isolated from their social and economic context. Even such faithful friends as Paul Mantoux, however, could not accept Simiand’s destructive conclusions. Simiand was also at work on his thesis, Le salaire des ouvriers des mines de charbon en France, which he defended in 1904 and published in a revised version in 1907. It was the forerunner of his later research on wages.

With the war of 1914 Simiand began a period of government service. His socialist connections led to his appointment as aide to Albert Thomas, who became undersecretary of state for artillery and munitions in 1915. Simiand continued in government service until 1920. He worked strenuously to organize war production; later he saw to it that the transition from the German to the French regime in Alsace-Lorraine was carried out in such a way that the people of those provinces retained the social gains they had made before 1918.

In 1920 Simiand resigned his administrative functions and from then on devoted himself entirely to study and teaching. In 1910 he had been called to the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes as lecturer in the history of economic theory. After 1920 he resumed teaching there, and in 1924 he became chairman of the department of history and economic statistics. At the same time he also taught at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, as professor of labor organization and labor unions from 1919 to 1923 and as professor of political economy from 1923 to 1933. In 1932 he succeeded Georges Renard as professor of labor history at the Collège de France. Simiand’s health, already impaired by his work during the war, could not stand the intense pace of his activity. He died at Saint-Raphael (Var) in 1935.

This final period, from about 1930 to 1935, was intellectually Simiand’s most fruitful one, and his publications were numerous. He published the lectures he gave at the Conservatoire, which clearly show the development of his economic thinking. He also produced works inspired by the world crisis –a set of lectures given at the University of Brussels on long-term economic fluctuations (1932a) and a study of economic development in the United States, in which economic analysis is related to historical factors (1934).

Most important, Simiand completed the master-work to which he had devoted so much of his life, his research on price movements and wages (1932). He prefaced the work by a long methodological introduction, explaining his particular interest in the study of wages. Wages, he asserted, are a social reality, and it was by the use of economics that he hoped to grasp social realities of this kind. Furthermore, wages are an empirical entity: they can be dealt with statistically; they correspond to a real value; they are part of an economic and social complex. Accordingly, wages appear to be made to order as a subject for the kind of scientific investigation advocated by Simiand, namely one that applies the methods of the natural sciences to the social sciences. As he saw the study, the methodological procedures gradually emerged from the study itself and were not established by a conceptual system nor did they follow preconceived ideas. Simiand believed that he had thus found a new method for studying economic facts, but his ideas found no followers, and he remained an isolated figure.

Claude Fohlen

[Other relevant material may be found in the biographies ofBlock; Durkheim; Halbwachs; Levas-seur; LÉvy-bruhl.]


1903 Methode historlque et science sociale. Revue de synthese historique 6:1-22, 129-157.

(1904) 1907 Le salaire des ouvriers des mines de charbon en France: Contributions a la theorie economique du salaire. Paris: Comely. → An expanded version of Simiand’s thesis.

1912 La methode positive en science Economique. Paris: Alcan.

1922 Statistique et experience: Remarques de me’thode. Paris: Riviere.

1930a Cours d’economie politique professe en 1928-1929. Paris: Domat-Montchrestien.

1930b Cours d’economie politique profess en 1929-1930. Paris: Loviton.

(1931) 1932 Le salaire, revolution sociale et la monnaie; essai de theorie experimental du salaire: Introduction et etude globale. 3 vols. Paris: Alcan.

1932a Les fluctuations economiques a tongue periode et la crise mondiale. Paris: Alcan.

1932b Recherches anciennes et nouvelles sur le mouvement general des prix du XVIs au XIX’ siecle. Paris: Domat-Montchrestien.

1932c Cours d’economie politique professe en 1930-1931. Paris: Loviton.

1934 Inflation et stabilisation alternees: Le developpement economique des fctats-Unis (des origines coloniales au temps present). Paris: Domat-Montchrestien.


BouglÉ, CÉlestin 1936 La methodologie de Francois Simiand et la sociologie. Annales sociologiques Series A 2:5-28.

Damalas, Basile 1943 L’oeuvre scientifique de Fran- cois Simiand. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. → See especially the BIBLIOGRAPHY on pages 267-270.

Harsin, Paul 1935 Francois Simiand: 1873-1935. Societe Scientifique de Bruxelles, Annales Series D 55: 39-68.

Lazard, Max 1936 Francois Simiand, 1873-1935: L’homme, I’oeuvre. Paris: Domat-Montchrestien.

MorazÉ, Charles 1942 La lecon d’un echec: Essai sur la methode de Francois Simiand. Melanges d’histoire sociale 1:5-24; 2:22-44.