Margot Lyautey | Associated Researcher

Environment, climate, energy: Societies and their ecological challenges
Centre Marc Bloch, Friedrichstraße 191, D-10117 Berlin
Email: mlyautey  ( at ) Tel: +49(0) 30 / 20 93 70700

Home Institution : Helmut-Schmidt-Universität/Universität der Bundeswehr Hamburg | Position : Post-doc researcher | Disciplines : History |


After an initial training as an engineer at the École polytechnique, Margot Lyautey obtained a Master’s degree in the history of science and technology at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS). In 2022, she defended her PhD on the history of French agriculture under German Occupation (co-supervision agreement between the University of Tübingen and the EHESS). She is currently pursuing her research in environmental history and the history of science as a post-doctoral fellow at the Helmut-Schmidt-Universität in Hamburg.

Summary of thesis

In 1940, Nazi agricultural experts, under the leadership of State Secretary Herbert Backe, had a clear vision for the future of French agriculture, which they considered to be unproductive, obsolete and far behind German agriculture. The goal of the occupiers was to modernise and intensify French agricultural production in order to guarantee French, but above all European and German food supplies thanks to the knowledge of German agronomy. A technical-military administration was set up for this purpose within the German command in Paris as well as in the departments of the occupied zone, in order to govern, monitor, optimise and puncture French agriculture. The four years of occupation were a period conducive to cultural and scientific transfers, albeit under constraint, since they were the scene of increased circulation of people, foodstuffs, bureaucratic practices, knowledge and techniques between France and Germany, as well as the superposition of two administrations. Through the analysis of several technical dynamics (pest control, introduction of new crops, improved fodder techniques and crop rotations, industrialization of the milk industry), the dissertation examines the role of the Occupation in the history of French agricultural modernization.

Institution of thesis
École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales/Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen
Christophe Bonneuil/Johannes Großmann

Governing by Numbers: French Agricultural Statistics in Times of Economic Planning (1940–1960)

Numbers are used to rule. Quantitative indicators are used today to assess all aspects of a country’s economy, to measure its performance and to design public policies. Agriculture is no exception in that case. Figures are used to measure national agricultures, to compare them but also to evaluate their compliance to various goals set out by public policies (environmental requirements, productivity targets etc). It is therefore quite surprising that the social history of French agricultural statistics in the 20th century remains understudied. The main goal of this project is to analyze the evolutions of French agricultural statistics at a turn in the French economic policy, namely the introduction of economic planning.

The period under study encompasses not only the years classically associated with economic planning in France (after 1946 with the foundation of the “Commissariat général du Plan”) but also the years of German occupation (1940-1944). France was already engaged in economic planning during World War II and the war years constitute a paradigm shift in how agricultural statistics were produced. At the other end of the period, the 1960s see the introduction of a new statistical paradigm with more survey-based enquiries, a deeper use of mathematics and the Europeanization of data (creation of the farm accountancy data network in 1968).

This project is inspired and built upon the socio-history of statistics most prominently developed by Alain Desrosières. Socio-history of statistics takes public statistics and the work of statisticians as a social reality, that needs to be analyzed as such. Desrosières has shown how French statistics underwent a specific impetus during the 1930s, with new groups of statisticians (around Alfred Sauvy among others), who produced the statistical language that would prevail in the 1950s and 1960s. The Second World War constitutes a tipping point, with the creation of the “Service national de statistique” in 1941.

Additionally the sociology of quantification and most notably the work of Theodore Porter sheds light on the social and cognitive conditions of possibility of quantification and on the effects of said quantification. Data is not a preexistent given, quantified data is constructed and costly to assemble. Statistics imply the establishment of nomenclatures, forms and classes of equivalence that create norms and standards, which are to be analyzed. Statistics are the product of socially situated and physical actions of conventions, inscriptions, recordings and encodings, that the sociology of quantification seeks to analyze.

Lastly, this project takes a lot from the Science and Technologies Studies (STS) which promote the investigation of science in the making, as Bruno Latour puts it. Understanding science as an ensemble of socially located practices, the goal here is to open the black box of scientific production. STS invite us to assess what statisticians actually do, what physical and cognitive operations they perform, notably through the analysis of scientific controversies. Through enquiries at the micro-sociological level, it also proposes to look into the identity of statisticians, how they perceive themselves, what their background is and in what type of network they organize themselves.

This project builds upon the recent and dynamic renewal of the history of agriculture through the prism of the history of science and technology. Its main goal is to study one of the agricultural sciences (in the broad sense) which is agricultural statistics and economics. In order to carry out this analysis, the project is structured around three main axes:

  1. Structuring an administration to meet the needs of the planned economy (1940-1958)
  2. Opening the black box: handling numbers and the materiality behind statistics
  3. Understanding statistics as performative: to what extent did agricultural statistics “influence” agriculture?