Abstract : On 16 April 2002, the French Journal Officiel announced the creation of a new grand corps merging the former Ponts et Chaussées, Aviation Civile, Météo France and the Institut geographique national. Founded in 1716, the Ponts et Chaussées thus re-emerged in a completely redefined form if under the same name. The merger of these four central technical bodies of high ranking French civil servants attached to the Ministry of Equipment was accompanied by an in-depth reflection on the identity of the new grand corps. How could the state create a bond or identity between the members of the new entity? What should be their reference point? The model favoured by these civil servants was that of ‘managing engineers'. Accordingly, the teaching content of the national school of the Ponts et Chaussées was entirely revamped to favour a focus on public management. It took seven years to move from the initial formalisation of the fusion process to the development of a new unified training approach for the members of the reformed grand corps. It has been claimed that this reform answers a need for enhanced managerial competence as part of the wider modernisation of the state. This study reveals a number of other essential factors that shaped the reform; these factors resulted from the interaction of often contradictory corporatist and administrative logics. The focus on this reformed framework and the changing status of these high-ranking civil servants underlines the importance of inter-ministerial negotiations, and bargaining between the body itself and the rest of the state apparatus. It points to tensions in relation to symbols and resources, identities and self-perceptions, strategies and interests. Perhaps even more importantly, the study reveals the images that were embraced in the course of attempts to reshape perceptions regarding the role of the state and appropriate public action in the light of managerial needs. The systematic study of this interaction between managerial ethos and civil service values points to a reform which, far from being neo-liberal, embodies the attempts of civil servants to use public management to reassert and reinforce their position, and to ‘bring the state back in'.