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The Order of the Minorange

An online project about "elite workers" and the importance of transcending the self in corporate culture

Values


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Design
  • Politics / Economics

Organizing Institutions

Slought

Organizers

Aaron Levy

Contributors

Anastasia Colzie

Process initiated

10/06/2015

Opens to public

05/17/2016

Economy

0% Formal - 100% Informal

Slought is pleased to announce "The Order of the Minorange," an online project about "elite workers" and the importance of transcending the self in corporate culture. Commissioned from artist Veit Stratmann, the project features a report analyzing the Bouygues Groupe, and will launch May 17, 2016.

The French conglomerate Bouygues was founded by Francis Bouygues in 1952 as a construction company, expanding into infrastructure and water supply (SAUR) in 1984, media (Télévision Française 1 - TF1) in 1987, and telecom (Bouygues Télécom) in 1994. With over 120,000 employees, Bouygues is thus active across a variety of economies, as it builds the houses people live in, the infrastructures that connect these houses, the media that entertains the people living in them and the mobile phone network that mediates everything.

In 1963, Bouygues created the Les Compagnons du Minorange (The Companions of Minorange), which is also known as the "Order." It is an internal organization within the Bouygues company and is made up of around 1100 highly skilled employees who embody the "Bouygues-Culture" and demonstrate proven dedication to the company. They consider themselves as tokens of "social coherence" within Bouygues and oppose the presence of trade unions within the company.

Its members wear special dark blue and orange work gear, as well as the logo of the order, all derived from the Bouygues Construction company logo, an orange oval on a white background. Their names and a series of stars are also visible on the uniform. The stars refer to the inner hierarchy of the Order, organized in three strata: Novice (one star), First Degree Tenure (two stars), and Second Degree Tenure (three stars).

The use of the term "Order" also suggests the transcendence of the self and obedience to a hierarchical superior. In this respect, the Les Compagnons du Minorange is comparable to the elite groups described by Hannah Arendt in The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). Operating under a charismatic or even messianic leader, the Ordre du Minorange exemplifies a hierarchical situation where an elite group operates under the influence of a director. The only difference between the elite groups described by Arendt and those in the Ordre des Compagnons du Minorange is that one can only be member if one works in the lowest ranks of the Bouygues hierarchy. As one rises in the hierarchy of the group, one has to leave. This has the effect of encouraging a homogenous and cohesive identity within an otherwise stratified workplace. Yet this membership is only obtainable by giving up one's individuality, and becoming an exchangeable component within a larger entity.

Read the report

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There is no space in France - physical or digital - that is not, in one way or another, defined or conditioned by Bouygues. Bouygues thus functions at once within and above society.

And yet, it is impossible to link Bouygues to any particular geographical or symbolical center. According to company ideology, Bouygues is not an industrial conglomerate but rather a fluid and mobile structure that can be present anywhere and at anytime. This "immateriality," together with its ubiquity, suggests that Bouygues is less a corporate or economic entity than a fundamental layer or a strata of French society, one that perhaps mirrors the visibility and invisibility of royalty.

In these and other respects Bouygues arguably resembles the French monarchy of Louis XIV, who sought to centralize power and constructed Versailles as a symbol of absolute power. When Francis Bouygues commissioned a new headquarters for his company in 1988, he considered it "the Versailles of the 20th century" and named the building "Challenger," as if to pose the question: could he be challenged?

By the late 1980s, Bouygues was at the apex of corporate culture in France, and faced no competition in the economic realm. The only thing that could be questioned was the idea that society is the property of a private company. Should it not also be determined by intra-societal phenomena – such as politics, debate, and culture?

About the Artist

Veit Stratmann was born in Germany in 1960 and currently lives in France. Stratmann's work foregrounds the act of questioning, and the critical interrogation of socio-political and institutional structures.

Although his works are often site specific, he has exhibited extensively in gallery and museum contexts throughout the Europe and the United States. He currently teaches at Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts de Lyon.

"[We have] paid much attention to the economic and political consequences of big organization-the concentration of power in large corporations, for example, the political power of the civil-service bureaucracies, the possible emergence of a managerial hierarchy that might dominate the rest of us. These are proper concerns, but no less important is the principal impact that organization life has had on the individuals within it. [...]

The fault is not in organization, in short; it is in our worship of it. It is in our vain quest for a utopian equilibrium, which would be horrible if it ever did come to pass; it is in the soft-minded denial that there is a conflict between the individual and society. There must always be, and it is the price of being an individual that he must face these conflicts. He cannot evade them, and in seeking an ethic that offers a spurious peace of mind, thus does he tyrannize himself."

-- William H. Whyte, introduction to The Organization Man (1956)