the origins of the Semaines Sociales de France

The Semaines Sociales de France were established in 1904 by two lay Catholics, Marius Gonin from Lyon and Adéodat Boissard from Lille, to promote the Church’s social thinking, apply it and adapt it to the problems of our time, and specifically to improve the conditions of the working class, denounced as inhuman by Pope Leo XIII in his “Rerum Novarum” encyclical (1891).

So far, the Semaines Sociales are, still concerned with economic, political, cultural, scientific and technological changes, as well as with their impact on society and on the fulfillment of social responsibilities. In particular, each year they organize an annual session on a major social issue.

From the beginning, they have taken the form of an open university, gathering all kind of public and not only intellectuals, as well as an itinerant university, if we consider that until the 1970s, the Semaines were held each year in a different major French city.

Marius GoninThe first session of the Semaines Sociales de France was held in Lyon in 1904 (200 people were expected, 450 attended) and it elected Henri Lorin as president. He remained in that position until his death in 1919. Under the presidency of Eugène Duthoit, a law professor in Lille, the Semaines Sociales held more specialized sessions between the two wars, dealing not only with social problems but also with topics of major concern at the time, in particular peace and democracy.

Marius Gonin, founder of the Semaines Sociales de France (1904).

Following the second world war, under the presidencies of a former member of the resistance, Charles Flory (until 1960), and of Alain Barrère, aCharles Flory professor in economy (until 1985), the Semaines Sociales dealt with all major social issues, with a special focus on economics, in particular the problems of the Third World and the phenomena of socialization. In terms of attendance, they culminated with the Lyon Session in 1964, with 5,400 participants.

Charles Flory, president of  SSF 1945-1960.

Following various crises, including Catholic Action, Christian trade-unionism and Jean Bossonnatthe political forces that attached themselves to the Christian democracy movement, the Semaines Sociales lost some momentum in the 1970s, before experiencing a renaissance in the middle of the 1980s, under the presidencies of Jean Gélamur (until 1995), Jean Boissonnat (until 2001), Michel Camdessus (until 2007) and Jérôme Vignon. Annual attendance has remained very significant since 1995, varying from 2,000 to 4,000 participants.
Jean Boissonnat , president of SSF 1995-2000

Michel Camdessus, president of SSF 2000-2006.

Jérome Vignon, current president of the Semaines Sociales de France.

The topics in recent years have been: “Work and employment” (1987), “The challenges of education” (1989), “Competition and solidarity” (1991), “The media and us” (1993), “A new idea: the family” (1995), “Which Europe?” (1996), “Migrants: challenge and source of wealth for our society ” (1997), “Democratizing the Republic, citizens’ representation and participation” (1998), “From one century to the next, the Gospel, Christians and the challenges of society” (1999), “Working and living” (2000), “Biology, medicine and society” (2001), “Violence” (2002) and “Money” (2003). To celebrate their centennial, in September the SSF held a major European meeting in Lille on the topic “Inventing a European society” (2004). The Semaines Sociales then took up the following topics: “Transmitting and sharing values, creating freedoms” (2005) and lastly, in 2006: “What is a fair society?

Last update : 25/09/2009