Georges Friedmann

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Georges P. Friedmann
Born(1902-05-13)13 May 1902
Died15 November 1977(1977-11-15) (aged 75)
Alma materÉcole Normale Supérieure
University of Paris
Known forLabor sociology, technical civilization
Scientific career
InfluencesLeibniz, Spinoza, Karl Marx, Lenin, Lucien Febvre, Karl Jaspers

Georges Philippe Friedmann (French: [fʁidman]; 13 May 1902 – 15 November 1977), was a French sociologist and philosopher, known for his influential work on the effects of industrial labor on individuals and his criticisms of the uncontrolled embrace of technological change in twentieth-century Europe and the United States.


Friedmann was the last child of Adolphe Friedmann (1857-1922), a Berlin merchant, and Elizabeth Nathan (1871-1940). He was born in Paris, where his parents moved after their marriage in Berlin in 1882. They acquired French nationality in 1903.

After a brief period studying industrial chemistry, Friedmann prepared for the philosophy agrégation at the prestigious Lycée Henri IV in Paris. He studied philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure from 1923-1926. He served as an assistant to the sociologist Célestin Bouglé at the Centre de documentation sociale, a social science research center at the ENS funded by the banker Albert Kahn and, later, the Rockefeller Foundation.

Upon the death of his father in 1929, Friedmann inherited a fortune of 2.6 million francs, which enabled him to finance several of his young classmates' intellectual journals.[1] Friedmann eventually donated a large part of the fortune to the Fondation Curie for cancer research. After his death, Degas paintings Friedmann had inherited from his father's collection were donated to the Louvre.

Friedmann married his first wife, Hania Olszweska, a Polish Catholic, in 1937. The couple had one daughter, Liliane, born in 1941 in Toulouse. After Hania's death in 1957, Friedmann married Marcelle Rémond in 1960.[2]

After taking his family to Toulouse, Friedmann joined the French Resistance during World War II, when he was hunted by the Christian Gestapo due to his Communist activities. He later wrote that he escaped the Gestapo in 1943, and was hidden in a school in Dordogne by a pair of young schoolteachers.[2] Friedmann's journals from the war, published posthumously in 1987, recounted his experiences as a member of the resistance.

He received his Doctorat d'état in 1946, with his major thesis on mechanization in industrial production and minor thesis on Leibniz and Spinoza, both published as monographs.[3]

Scholarly work[edit]

At the ENS, Friedmann was close to the Philosophies group that opposed the influence of Henri Bergson and was influential in bringing Marx’s earlier philosophical texts to France, and included Georges Politzer, Norbert Gutermann, Paul Nizan, and Henri Lefebvre. The group's initial journal, Esprit, and its successor, Philosophies, were funded by Friedmann's personal wealth.[4]

During the 1930s, Friedmann made several trips to the Soviet Union, where observed the Soviet industry and technology. His 1938 book, De la Sainte Russie à l’U.R.S.S. established him as an authority on Soviet society in France. But even his moderate criticisms of the U.S.S.R. and Stalin caused bitter conflict with members of the French Communist Party and began Friedmann’s move away from political activism.[5]

Friedmann’s doctoral thesis, published after the end of the war in 1946, examined the "human problems" of automation and mechanization European industrial production. A critical, historical overview of paradigms of industrial management, particularly scientific management, industrial psychology, and human relations, Problèmes humains du machinisme industriel examined social scientists’ efforts to "humanize" industrial labor that had been fragmented and de-skilled by industrialization and Taylorism. Friedmann argued that while these efforts were an improvement on the "technicist ideology" of management engineering, social science would not lead to significant changes in labor practices without class conflict and the transformation of the capitalist economic system.[6]

Friedmann’s book is considered a founding text of French sociologie du travail, and his seminar influenced a number of younger sociologists, historians, and philosophers, including Edgar Morin and Alain Touraine.[7] While holding various professorships and serving as the head of the French Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), Friedmann continued to travel extensively around the world, observing and publishing on labor practices and industrial models in the United States, Israel, and South America. His analysis of the nature of the Jewish people and Israeli society in The End of the Jewish People?, one of his few works to be translated into English, attracted media attention in the United States.[8]

Friedmann gradually shifted from emphasis on labor to a broader concern with "technical civilization." His final book, La Puissance et la Sagesse, a mixture of autobiography and reflection on contemporary society, modified his earlier Marxism and emphasized the importance of interiority and morality on humanizing postwar consumer society.[9]


  • La Crise du progrès: esquisse d'histoire des idées, 1895-1935 (Paris: Gallimard, 1936)
  • De la Sainte Russie à l'U.R.S.S. (Paris: Gallimard, 1938)
  • Problèmes humains du machinisme industriel (Paris: Gallimard, 1946)
    • Industrial Society: The Emergence of Human Problems of Automation (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1955)
  • Où va le travail humain? (Paris: Gallimard, 1950)
  • Le travail en miettes (Paris: Gallimard, 1956)
    • The Anatomy of Work: Labor, Leisure, and the Implications of Automation, trans. Wyatt Watson (Glencoe, Ill: Free Press, 1961)
  • Problèmes d'Amérique latine (Paris: Gallimard, 1959)
  • Signal d'une troisième voie? (Paris: Gallimard, 1961)
  • Fin du peuple juif? (Paris: Gallimard, 1965)
    • The End of the Jewish People? (New York: Doubleday, 1967)
  • Sept études sur l'homme et la technique: Le pourquoi et le pour quoi de notre civilisation technicienne (Paris: Gonthier, 1966)
  • La Puissance et la Sagesse (Paris: Gallimard, 1970)
  • Journal de Guerre (1939-1940) (Paris: Gallimard, 1987)
  • Ces merveilleux instruments: Essais sur la communication de masse (Paris: Denoël-Gonthier, 1988)

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Lallement, Michel (2014). "Georges Friedmann au Cnam (1946-1959)". Cahiers du CNAM. 1: 43–74.
  2. ^ Reynaud, Jean-Daniel (1994). "FRIEDMANN, Georges (1902-1977). Professeur d'Histoire du travail (1946-1959)". Bibliothèque Historique de l'Éducation. 19: 544–549 – via Persée.
  3. ^ "Georges Friedmann". International Sociological Association.
  4. ^ Burkhard, Bud (2000). French Marxism Between the Wars: Henri Lefebvre and the Philosophies. Amherst, NY: Humanity Books. p. 26.
  5. ^ Gouarné, Isabelle (2012). "Engagement philosoviétique et posture sociologique dans l'entre-deux-guerres : le rôle politico-intellectuel de Georges Friedmann". Sociologie du Travail. 54 (3): 356–374. doi:10.1016/j.soctra.2012.06.002.
  6. ^ Friedmann, Georges (1946). Problèmes humains du machinisme industriel. Paris: Gallimard. pp. 381–388. ISBN 978-2070225897.
  7. ^ 1937-, Rose, Michael, (1979). Servants of post-industrial power? : sociologie du travail in Modern France. Macmillan. ISBN 9780333236499.
  8. ^ Lask, Thomas (July 19, 1967). "Victory, or Defeat?". The New York Times. Retrieved June 6, 2017.
  9. ^ Segrestin, Denis (2013). "«La Puissance et la Sagesse» : Georges Friedmann face à la civilisation technicienne". In Grémion, Pierre (ed.). Georges Friedmann : Un sociologue dans le siècle, 1902-1977. Paris: CNRS Editions. pp. 141–152.