Contributors (alphabetical order):  Fiza Brakel-Ahmed; Olivier Irrmann; François-Xavier de Vaujany; Sandrine Pissard  Piss; Andrea Resca; Tadashi Uda


The Research Group on Collaborative Spaces (RGCS) organized on June, 6th a new collaborative learning expedition which gathered 15 academics and entrepreneurs. It was the next part of a first one (entitled #pastofwork2018) covering work in Paris from the Middle Age to the 2nd Empire. We had the opportunity to walk from Notre Dame (what a memory…) to the Beau Marché. This walk and collective discussion was a great opportunity to talk about key topics related to work: communities, craftsmanship, corporations, emancipation of women in the 19th century, marketing…

With this new collaboration entitled #pastofwork2019, we wanted to cover a period ranging from the late 19th century to the 50s. Our idea was to leave the industrial revolution and to explore further social tensions and emergent work trends on this period. Our move from Montmartre to Montreuil was also expected to cover a real move of Paris economy. The beginning of the narrative was about the history of the commune and the communards which started on Montmartre hill in 1871.

We would like now to detail our experience and discoveries.


1) Exploration of Montmartre:  communards, ghosts of artists, flow of tourists, but still pockets of resistance

Our meeting point was at 9.30 in front of the Basilique du Sacré Coeur. François-Xavier started with brief history of Montmartre. This introduction, in particular the story of the Communards, changed for some of us their feelings about the Basilique. One participant thus stressed: “I had this romantic Amélie Poulain-image, and tourists drinking beer and playing the guitar (compare to Spanish steps in Rome, but now I cannot anymore look at it with the same eyes. It is a bit like a person/hero you admire, and then suddenly you find out they have been abusing their power.”

We started by visiting the Basilique with in mind why and how it has been built. It makes us looking at it with different eyes.

At this stage, Tadashi has drawn a very interesting parrallel between Paris and Tokyo: “The view from Sacré-Coeur was great. Because of the relatively flat terrain in the center of Paris, I could look over the city for the first time after coming to Paris. We found a map on the side of the stairs in front of Basilisk. The cityscape of Paris seen from the Sacré-Coeur in 1939 was drawn. I was surprised that there was no big difference between the current landscape and the picture drawn. I wonder if there is a “mega” city that has not changed the figure for 80 years in Japan. The change of the cityscape in Tokyo is tremendous. Things around us in Paris and Tokyo, for example are almost same. However, I came up the question that how the difference in the speed of changes in buildings and landscapes affects our daily bodily experiences and feelings.”

We then decided to walk around without a precise goal at first. Eila and Elen shared a first set of ideas about the places we could visit. In particular, Elen suggested that we could have a look to a painting gallery she knows and where there are also poetry lectures given. We were super lucky to be able to meet the artist herself. During the discussion she shared with us that her family was painters too, that she first tried to escape this « work » by studying philosophy but finally decided to embrace it. It is probably one of the reasons why her art work seems so profound and touching. Maybe a way to put together the hand and the head!

Tadashi noticed that “Various things including oriental paintings and objects were displayed in the space where soft sunshine was pouring. I felt that the time seemed to flow slowly and the space was a little bit far from modern time. I wonder if there was an atmosphere like this in the past workplace. I met a painting whose motif is Japan there. A hawk flying around Mt. Fuji was drawn. As soon as I saw Fuji and a hawk, I was reminded of the phrase, Ichi (the first)-Fuji, Ni (the second)-taka (hawk), San (the third)-Nasubi (eggplant). It is said that it would be auspicious if we could see them in our first dream of the year. However, at first glance, I could not find an eggplant, and I felt a sense of being inadequate a little (in fact, as I looked the image carefully after going home, I realized that it looks like the flowers of eggplant are drawn). I wonder if the sleeping woman is in the first dream. When I just try to leave the atelier, I glanced at the kitchen. Then, a Mario’s drawing caught my eyes (If I were not born in Japan, I might not be able to notice this drawing). I smiled involuntarily because I felt like this small drawing brought me back to the modern age.”

Then, Sandrine suggested we tried to visit the Femis building, but without success. We just could see what remained from the former Pathé here. However, on our way out, we were invited to visit a binding book shop which is located just near door.

What a great surprise! We didn’t know this job at all. We met a wonderful woman who was really happy to share her story and explained her work. We learned that it was her second job, that she chose it without knowing at first that her mother loved binding books. It should have been unconsciously passed on to her she said.

We then discussed attraction and education of manual work in general. And more specifically how important it is today to continue to teach this know-how to keep it alive and excellent as it was in the past. We definitely saw her passion for her job. She has been really generous with us.

It was interesting to meet two women, bond by the same passion and a way of working: a manual job!

For the next steps of the walk, it was so great to have Wolf with us (from the coworking space Volume). Wolf lived in Montmartre since 20 years. And he had been a professionnal guide in a past life. He helped us to walk in less usual parts of Montmartre, e.g. a “residence d’artistes” most of us did not know.

For some of us, this “flanerie” was meditative: “I was absorbing the space, the energy, the culture. I loved the serendipities, like meeting the book-binding workshop, the art community. Also the gallery that was closed let us in anyway. I liked the openness of unexpected people opening up to us and bonding with us.” Another participant also shared the following feeling: “Visiting Montmartre, I did something not very proper as having talks within it. However, inevitably, they were not normal talks as the place did not allow them. Therefore, I experience what can be defined as plain talks or a use of the language limited to what was strictly necessary. It’s a practice that can be taken into consideration also in other situations. An excessive verbosity could prevent the finalization of a discourse and, then, the risk to emphasize what is not strictly necessary. In addition, the tone of the voice was affected creating a supportive ideal context for exchanging ideas. However, it is not the case to use place like churches but it can be interesting to recreate similar a condition and atmosphere for promoting conversations among people during OWEEs and, may be, also in other contexts.”

Through our further walk, we also explored (thank you Wolf!) part of a former “residence d’artistes” which is still inhabited by artists. We also had the opportunity to comment the staged authenticity of the place today, and what is probably the present of work of this area: numerous waiters, cookers, guides, painters, students, retired workers, in highly precarious situations and surrounded by “bourgeois bohèmes” who probably enjoyed a very different atmosphere.

Our exploration of Montmartre stopped at 13.15 with a lunch at a great terrace. At 14.20, we moved again in the direction of Montreuil.


2) Exploration of Montreuil: vestiges of industries, pre and post-gentrifications area, new heaven for artists and young entrepreneurs?

After a walk in the 18th and 17th arondissement, we reached line 13 before using line 9 to reach Montreuil. We stopped at Porte de Montreuil for a walk that would give us the feeling to move from Paris, to leave Paris and to enter into Montreuil.

After 30 minutes of walk, François stopped in front on a former industrial site and started explaining the broader movement of industrial location till the French “Trente glorieuses”. He started from the location of craftsmanship in the middle age before commenting the location of industrial activities in Paris in the post WWII period. He then zoomed in on Montreuil, and the history of the east of Paris (more details here:  L’évolution de Montreuil depuis le XIXè sicècle, ville des industries de pointe).

To extend the narrative started in Montmartre about artists and cinema, he also commented the first studio in Montreuil set up by Meliès (more details also here)

According to Andrea, “Montreuil gives immediately the impression to be in a normal city in comparison with Paris. The private space tends to prevail on the public one. In other words, footpaths are narrow and shops are more invasive. However, the feeling to deal with a space full of potentialities came out. A space as a starting gate for pursuing news ways. It’s hard to say which ones even though possible directions of development are already visible in some parts of the city where urban renewal is in course. I perceived also a significant difference with the Montmartre area. The latter is not an area for a new start but for rediscovering or completing what is already in place focusing of the artistic traditions of the area for example conjugating it with the hordes of tourists in innovative ways.”

We then had a great embodied experience moving through the gentrified or non-gentrified areas of Montreuil before a short visit of ICI Montreuil which took us back to DIY, makers and coworkers. We stopped our collaborative learning expedition at 5.15 PM.


3) What did we learn about past work practices and what they can teach us about today’s work and management practices?

A couple of feedbacks from participants are gathered below:

“From Montmartre walk, we first met wonderful people from different countries and backgrounds.”

“Everyone was opened and happy to spend a moment together and share an unexpected experience. Walking around without a precise goal and improvising is not that easy to do when you are used to lead.”

“Walking changes the way to communicate with others. It allows to express ideas and feelings more easily and with kindness.”

“Curiosity, passion, creativity, handcraft, excellence in execution are some of the keywords that we experimented.

It was great!  The bonding with each other, with the space, and with people we happened to meet on the way. I learnt a lot of new things. It showed me again how “flanerie”, improvisation, and being open to anything that can happen is at least as powerful (or maybe even more so) to learn, and achieve knowledge, rather than spending time at the office doing research. “

“In the Montmartre area, the fabric of activities relates essentially to artistic and artisan activities materialized. Therefore, the Marshallian concept of ‘industrial atmosphere’ came in my mind. It characterizes industrial districts that tend to develop in presence of the long term settlement of economic activities, a division of labor among them, the presence of ‘automatic organization’, technological complementarity, and a continuo”

“In Montreuil, I loved crossing the invisible boundaries between non-gentrified, pre-gentrified and gentrified areas. This was great to allow myself such a walked, embodied experience. I also the loved the broader idea to move both in time and space the past of work. I loved what could have been the topic of this post: the continuous re-location of artists and artistic workshops in Paris! A focus in the history of art work, the concrete one!”


Looking forward to the third and last part of this learning expedition #Pastofwork2020

To be continued…