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In Thrall to Political ChangePolice and Gendarmerie in France$

Malcolm Anderson

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199693641

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: February 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:osobl/9780199693641.001.0001

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(p.447) Appendix III Research on the police since 1870

(p.447) Appendix III Research on the police since 1870

In Thrall to Political Change
Oxford University Press

Until the 1980s research and writing on the police in France were scant and generally of poor quality.1 There were some contributions by English-language authors but they touched only relatively small corners of a potentially large field and the major contributions mainly lie outside the period under consideration. Examples are Williams for the police of Paris in the eighteenth century and the outstanding work of Richard Cobb for the period from the ancien régime to the restoration.2 But more recently, for the period under consideration, the publications of Anja Johansen’s comparative study of the use of the army as public order police in the period 1889–1914 and Jacqueline Hodgson’s socio-legal approach to the criminal justice system3 are first-rate works of scholarship, and the various publications of Simon Kitson are ground-breaking and original.

In 1988 a review of the French historical literature rightly deplored the lack of serious studies whilst pointing out the wealth of potential sources for the study of the police.4 Nonetheless some authors who published prior to 1988, such as Audibert, Le Clère, and Carrot, on the police, as well as the more scholarly work of jurists/political scientists, such as Gleizal and Journès, are still worth consulting.5 Some writing on the police was lively but unscholarly,6 whilst still other publications were semi-official presentations of a sanitized version of history.7 Sensitive subjects and difficult periods remained unexamined.8 In the words of Jean-Marc Berlière, in 1996, ‘for a long time the police remained a black hole in French historiography, a lost object in the social sciences’.9 More recently Professor Berlière has rightly described the field as in process of rapid development.10

The reasons for this development are various. The first is political. Many within the socialist majority, elected in 1981, shared an entrenched left-wing view that the police was systematically biased against left-wing milieux. This produced pressures for change and for greater transparency, discussed in this book, in the police. The minister of the Interior and Decentralization, Gaston Defferre, took certain first steps to encourage research on policing, and, in particular, set up a steering committee for research in which police officers and academic researchers began to talk to each other. This represented a critical change in relations between, as well as attitudes within, the two professional groups. Before this change, the university milieu regarded policing as a ‘dirty’ or politically unacceptable or marginal subject. The Senate commission of inquiry into the student protests of December (p.448) 1986 observed that it was surprising that researchers were not interested in problems of public order and suggested that scholarly enquiry was necessary.11 Within the police and gendarmerie there had also been an aversion or suspicion of historical or indeed any other kind of research by outsiders, except work with immediate operational utility.

Serious research, apart from the important socio-legal research of Philippe Robert and his colleagues of the CESDIP which sometimes touched on the police,12 was still extremely rare and policy relevant research was almost entirely lacking.13 But both police and gendarmerie changed as a result of a changed political environment and the stimulus of Pierre Joxe who served both as minister of the Interior and minister of Defence. This climate provided an opening for first-class scholars such as Dominique Monjardet in sociology, Jean-Louis Loubet del Bayle in political science, and Jean-Marc Berlière in history to engage in police research. One important material reason for this was the availability of public funds to finance research, commencing with those made available by the new directorate of training in the national police set up in 1981 and then through the Institut des hautes études de la sécurité intérieure (IHESI later the INHES) as well as the national scientific research council (CNRS). Dominique Monjardet became director of research at IHESI until the change of government in 1993 made him persona non grata. The editor of the Cahiers de la sécurité intérieure, Olivier Filleule, the journal published by IHESI, was a university teacher at Paris X. Since 1990, a body of work has been produced which rivals the best in other countries even though most of it is little known internationally. Also work aimed at a wide public has achieved high standards such as Lebigre (1993), Berlière (1996b, 1996c, 2002a), both of which are based on solid research, Dupeyron (1998) and Fuligny (2008), although the latter is purely anecdotal.

The close proximity of IHESI to the government made it vulnerable to changes in political climate. Charles Pasqua, who had completely ignored scholarly research in his first term as minister of the Interior (1986–8), did not abolish IHESI during his second term as minister (1993–5) but the orientation of its activities was modified. The personnel considered too identified with the socialists, the director Jean-Marc Erbès, Monjardet, Filleule, were replaced by senior officials reputed favourable to the Right; the second director was Marcel Leclerc who, in 1981, had openly confronted the socialist minister of the Interior, Gaston Defferre and with a police commissaire as research director. The socialists, on their return to power in 1997, retired Leclerc and replaced him with Philippe Melchior, like Erbès an Inspecteur Général de l’Administration but unlike Erbès with little interest in research. However, the director of research was a CNRS researcher Frédéric Ocqueteau, recruited from CESDIP and an author of important works on the police, private security, and the corps of commissaires.

In general, right-wing governments have not encouraged independent research and favoured research of a utilitarian character serving the immediate interests of the police; left-wing governments have usually been more open to long-term ‘fundamental’ research, and research on the police as an institution.14 A traditional position of many on the Right and in the police was that effective police work is learned by experience and an (p.449) apprenticeship on the job as opposed to academically produced knowledge. There was no simple divide between police officials and outsiders. Some police were very interested in research findings and some civilians considered social science research as either biased in favour of the socialists or difficult to translate into practice. Useful research for the Right was on the targets and methods of police action rather than on police organization, attitudes, and behaviour. Nicolas Sarkozy, as minister of the Interior (2004–7) showed limited interest in the work of IHESI and in 2004 allowed its merging in an Institut national des hautes études en sécurité (INHES) which covers both internal and external security perhaps to the detriment of the former. Fortunately, CESDIP, a research institute attached to the ministry of Justice whose founding director was Philippe Robert, magistrate by training and a distinguished sociologist specializing in norms and deviance, became more interested in police research, with fruitful results. The centre secured its independence and autonomy by establishing a continuing relationship with the CNRS and the University of Versailles Saint-Quentin, which allowed the centre to continue its work through political changes. The director, René Lévy, piloted its work in the difficult decade 1993–2003 and consolidated the foundations laid.

Research on the gendarmerie developed on a different trajectory and, until recently, deploring the absence of research on the arme was something of a ritual incantation. Gendarmes had occasionally taken a serious interest in the history of the institution—Captain (later Colonel) Louis Saurel presented a voluminous thesis on the gendarmerie during the Second Republic and the Second Empire but it is not easy to read and presents a mass of undigested material.15 General Louis Larrieu published a substantial history in the 1920s, subsequently revised, which has been republished recently.16 It has a narrow focus and bears the marks of an enthusiastic but amateur historian. The situation changed dramatically following the setting up, in 1995, of the Service historique de la gendarmerie nationale (SHGN), initiated by General Phillipot, and gained much from the active partnership of Jean-Noël Luc (University of Paris IV Sorbonne) in history and François Dieu (Toulouse) in political science, both of whom had developed a research interest in the gendarmerie prior to 1995.

The first university colloquium on the history of the gendarmerie took place at the universities Paris I and IV in 2000. An important scholarly activity, attracting numerous graduate students (a significant proportion of whom are young gendarmes), has come into being, covering the whole period from the maréchaussée of the pre-1989 monarchy to the twentieth century and many valuable local studies have been published. The gendarmerie is a more difficult subject than the police for sociological enquiry, although the most experienced scholar in the field identifies a range of attitudes from cooperative to stubbornly resistant.17 The latter consider the researcher ‘as a potential enemy, suspected of infiltrating the institution … to damage its reputation and spreading large quantities of calumnies and erroneous information’. For both the gendarmerie and the police there are very active communities actively engaged in research, publishing both in traditional outlets and on the web, but the two fields are generally considered as separate. The extent and variety of the work done are illustrated in the bibliography, although it is not exhaustive. A good guide to the impressive progress made in research is provided by two recent works of reference—Luc (2005a) for the gendarmerie and Aubouin et al. (2005) for the police, although the scholarly merit of the contributions to the second is variable.


(1) For a survey and assessment see Loubet Del Bayle (1999).

(3) Johansen (2004), Hodgson (2005).

(5) Audebert (1938), Leclerc (1973). The later works of Carrot, re-editions of earlier ones, are the most useful Carrot (1990, 1992). Gleizal (1974) was a pioneering work. Journès (1988) opened new avenues of investigation.

(6) For an example, see Romain (1966), Bornecque-Winandy (1950).

(8) For example, a thorough bibliographical essay, published at the beginning of the 1990s, contends for the key period from the late 1930s to the 1950s that there was an abundance of publications on prisons, purges, and repression but very little on the police. Farcy and Rousso (1993).

(11) This was not entirely absent at the time of the Report and the Commission ignored the work of Georges Carrot published two years earlier, and subsequently revised. It also ignored the Centre d’études et de recherches sur la police (CERP) established by Jean-Louis Loubet Del Bayle in 1976 in the University of Toulouse; his important publications, however, post-date 1986.

(12) Especially that of René Lévy (1987).

(14) Monjardet and Ocqueteau collaborated in writing a revealing account of the effect of changes of government on police research. Ocqueteau and Monjardet (2005). Research is very much dependent on the goodwill of the government in the absence of private foundations, the weakness of university-based research in France, and central control of the police system.