Abstract: Networks and the Dynamics of Enterprise. The Example of the Compagnie genevoise des Colonies suisses de Sétif, 1853-1956

Claude Lützelschwab


The Compagnie genevoise des Colonies suisses de Sétif was a colonization company established in Algeria in the middle of the nineteenth century. It was founded after the French state and the future managers of the company reached an agreement on the settlement of Swiss immigrants in ten colonization villages that the company would have to build. In return, the future managers were to receive a large concession of land. But the project's initiators, patricians of Geneva, first had to convince the French authorities that they were serious partners, find enough subscribers, and attract the future inhabitants of the Swiss colonies of Sétif. In order to achieve these three objectives, it was important that various ties existed between the protagonists that would give them shared values and allow for shared projects. My thesis is that rationality of investment and the financial outcome of the enterprise were not the most important factors allowing the Genevan businessmen to carry out their task. The primary condition for their success were the "dynamics of networks," based on trust and on the capacity to mobilize resources.