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Representation Through Sortition in the French Army. The Curious Case of the High Council of the Military Function (1969-2018)

Democracy
European Politics
Governance
Political Participation
Representation
Political Sociology
Decision Making
Empirical
Dimitri Courant
Université de Lausanne
Dimitri Courant
Université de Lausanne

Abstract

How to take into account the interests of the soldiers when they do not have the right to strike, go on demonstration, complain in the media or join unions? Facing this dilemma in the troubled and post-colonial context of 1968, the French Parliament decided to create an original deliberative institution to defend the material working conditions of the soldiers: the High Council of the Military Function (Conseil Supérieur de la Fonction Militaire, CFSM). In order to avoid factions, election was rejected and representation was generated through sortition, that is to say random selection. Far from the ad hoc ephemeral democratic innovations based on minipublics, the CSFM gives us the opportunity to study a longstanding institution still existing nowadays. The CSFM gather 79 representatives of soldiers, mirroring the composition of the Army in terms of ranks (private, officer…) and corps (navy, air force…) and 6 representatives of retiree’s associations. Until 2016 the Council was deliberating twice a year, studying official reforms projects and giving a formal recommendations and propositions directly to the Minister of Defence, the General Staff and the administration during a plenary face-to- face debate. During 49 years, this institution has faced many changes but the curious forms of representation and accountability at work in the French Army offer food for thoughts when trying to get a new constructivist perspective on representative claims, away from the classical structures of the representative government. Why and how was the CSFM created and modified? What types of representation and deliberation, what types of “representative claims”, does it produces? How are accountability and participation of the represented integrated in this martial and sortition based system? What are the effects generated by the CSFM, and which challenges does it faces? This empirical research, mixing history and sociology, try to answers those questions through a longstanding fieldwork study of several years composed of archives, texts analysis, semi-directive interviews and direct ethnographic observations.