Life Writing as Micropolitics: Prussian CVs at the Dawn of Bureaucratic Meritocracy

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch articleContributedpeer-review



In the late eighteenth century, European administrations saw the emergence of the Curriculum Vitae (CV) as a medium for job applications. These developments led civil servants who applied for employment to write about the merits of their careers. Focusing on Prussia and drawing on Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s concept of ‘micropolitics’, I argue that the ‘meritocratisation’ of the civil service produced a competitive climate that prompted micropolitical coping strategies. Applicants used diverging ‘lines of writing’ to question the prevailing bureaucratic value system. In doing so, candidates tried to soften meritocratic rules to the maximum and shifted them in their favour. By recounting family hardships, strokes of fate, or undue career advancements of competitors, applicants legitimised the failing of their own careers and demanded professional re-compensation. The life writing exhibited in application letters and CVs was less about constructing an identity or producing meaning rather than strategically affecting the politics of advancement and career progression. The lives that are preserved in personnel files today were brought to writing only because applicants had a material interest in their integration into the bureaucratic apparatus.


Original languageEnglish
JournalLife Writing
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jun 2022
Externally publishedYes

External IDs

Scopus 85132173591
Mendeley 46a5c97b-0eff-33e7-b57c-0710d47179bc


Research priority areas of TU Dresden

DFG Classification of Subject Areas according to Review Boards

ASJC Scopus subject areas


  • CV, Curriculum vitae, Bureaucracy, Prussia, Application letters, Job market, Life writing, life course, politics, application letters, bureaucracy, meritocracy

Library keywords