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38th Congress of the European Regional Science Association: "Europe Quo Vadis? - Regional Questions at the Turn of the Century", 28 August - 1 September 1998, Vienna, Austria
The public service presents important territorial implications, as its own objective is to allow the State to fulfil its missions of general interest in matter of security, justice, keeping public order, economic guidance, responding to the social demand of improving living conditions, cementing social cohesion ... So its presence is imperative on the whole territory(1) but raises true questions when it concerns a territory situated at the border of main decision centres : there lies the very public function and there rises the spectre of demographic decline, of economic crisis in small centres of Ford-type production, the drop of the financial capacities of local territorial communities. On these border territories dominated by small and medium-sized towns, when faced with the announced obligations of adaptability of the public service and the rising of market economy, what becomes of the expression of the public function performance, that is to say public employment ? Taking into account the need to analyse the various territorial components at stake, we have chosen a plural conception of the public service which combines the criteria of the employer in its large version with that of the public service understood according to a dynamic perspective. Given the extent of the range of situations offered by public employment, we have selected three sectors : the Post Office, National Education, Health Service ; altogether they offer a representative variety of such public employment and are present in the studied territories of the small and medium-sized towns ; sometimes they are situated in metropolitan areas around Lyons (such as Roanne, Macon and even the small towns of the southern part of Saone-et-Loire department), sometimes they are to be found in sub-metropolitan areas, such as those of Ardeche and the towns of Annonay, Aubenas, Privas. Three sets of questions orientate our research ; -What does public employment represent in these configurations, which place does it occupy in the whole sphere of employment ? Does it maintain an important part of the activity of the small centres where local economy is declining ? Does it allow to organize employment basins around towns and of it does according which modes ? -In terms of society, does public employment generate a renewal of populations revealed by the "turn over", in specific sectors and categories of employment ? Is it possible to find dynamics in public employment, as regards function, qualification, "status"... Are there specific trajectories(2) according to the types of employment and those of urban units ? -In the public employment sector, concerned with a necessary adaptability to the present day constraints, do we notice any new practices which are able to make the notion of public employment, even of public service, evolve ? Do these practises also contribute, in terms of territorial organization, to generate some new modes of functioning - including networks for instance - which might lead to opposite situations of solidarities or territorial competitions, as well as the revitalization or declining of local economies ? The question is of great interest considering the importance of small and medium-sized towns in the French urban system and the current metropolisation process. (1). Facing social demand, the staff of the French terrorial function has been multiplied by three within twenty years, with an increase of up to 65% in the period 1969-1980. (2). In particular, statistical methods -such as the LONGI method for insatnce - will be used.
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