Social categories are ways for a society to represent itself to itself. They are reflexive tools for societies. And they enter into a pragmatics, meaning into a chain of action. Here I will take historical distance and show that the debates about social categories not only teaches results about the nature of categories, but also about how government acts. My cases relate to the role and challenge of the Welfare state. The question is how it did work, how it has been contested and what replaces it now. I will dig into the history of the nomenclature of the professions between WWII and the 1980s, then on two controversies that took place in the 1990s, one about social exclusion and the other about ethnic statistics, and finally I will raise questions about the specificity and novelty of "pattern recognition » as compared to classification.
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