Career Paths of Special Advisers in France

Dr. Thomas Collas
Dr. Anne Bellon

In most Western governments, special advisers are appointed political staffs who help the ministers in various activities such as political control, communication or policy-making. Although their social and occupational backgrounds, as well as their expanding role, have been documented by a growing body of literature, little attention has yet been dedicated to the longitudinal study of their job career. For special advisers, the move to ministerial offices is indeed entangled in careers that unfold in various organizational sectors: political parties, non-profit organizations, private corporations or the administration. The government has often been described as an in-between, interstitial space linking these different sectors, but the combination of sectorial experiences within the careers of special advisors and its relationship to the division of work at the government still needs to be researched.
In this paper, we provide the first study of occupational careers of ministerial advisers, from the end of their education to their arrival at the government. We take into account the whole job career of the 769 political advisers and aides who were recruited by the socialist government of Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault in France, i.e. between May 2012 and March 2014. In order to unveil career patterns of inter-sectoral mobility, we introduce a mobility-oriented method of sequence analysis. We identify four main types of careers: administrative careers, stable careers of political collaboration, mobile careers from, towards and around the public administration and finally circulations within the realms of political organizations. We then study the relationships between the patterns and positions within the offices and we discuss local relationships between both.
As a double contribution to the literature on elite mobility and on government transformation, this paper offers new insights on the developing specialization and/or mobility of political advisors. We also highlight through that lens continuities and boundaries between key occupational sectors related to the State and provide new evidences on the blurring of public and private sectors.