Archives de catégorie : Lectures / Readings

La Sécurité : Foucault revisité

Gros, Frédéric, Le principe Sécurité, Paris, Gallimard, 2012, 304 pp, coll. « NRF Essais »

Á l’heure où les archives de Michel Foucault viennent d’être rachetées par la Bibliothèque Nationale de France, il est intéressant de mesurer l’influence de son travail. Frédéric Gros, grand spécialiste de Foucault, développe une réflexion à la fois historique et philosophique à propos de la « sécurité », ouvrant sur les champs relatifs à l’âme, au corps et aux relations sociales. Il présente dans son ouvrage quatre « grands foyers de sens » qui correspondent à des époques historiques européennes.
Continuer la lecture de La Sécurité : Foucault revisité

Book review : Gendarmes and policemen on the peripheries of Napoleon’s Empire

Review :

Aurélien Lignereux,

« Servir Napoléon : policiers et gendarmes dans les départements annexés de l’Empire, 1800-1814″

Editions Champ Vallon, Seyssel, collection « Epoques », 2012

30 €

The history of the French Empire has been slowly, but surely reviving in France for the last few years. This latest study by Aurélien Lignereux is a sign of this vitality and also an attempt to create a new dialogue between the French historiography of Napoleon and a history that has been predominantly written outside France, for the last decades, in Great-Britain, in the US, in Italy, or in the Netherlands.

Aurélien Lignereux, who also recently published a new synthesis on the French Empire in the prestigious « L’Univers Historique » series for Le Seuil, is a recognized specialist of the gendarmerie in France, from the Directoire to the first decades of the 19th century,  a subject on which he wrote two books, focusing on the rebellious incidents against the gendarmes in Napoleonic France, and their socio-political significance.

This new study is devoted to a forgotten continent (in the French historiography),the presence of the Napoleonic State in the so-called « départements réunis » or « annexés », territories that were gradually assimilated to consular then imperial France, and submitted to the same, identical legislative and administrative norms. Unlike the « satellites » of France, as the « sister Republics » or other semi-autonomous French possessions in Europe established under various nominations, the départements réunis are not favored by French historians, who focused also mainly on the « older France », in its limits of 1791. Too short-lived, too fragile, too unreal for a modern gaze, they were the « parents pauvres » of the French history of the Empire, who lingered on the more traditional French peripheries, the Midi and the West. The first merit of this study is to renew the interest for these unknown extensions of the French system, that were also political and administrative experiments, in a way open by the French revolutionaries of 1789 and 1792.

No doubt Aurélien Lignereux’s curiosity for these peculiar peripheral territories was excited when he studied the rebellions against gendarmes. He was inspired by the new imperial history of the British Empire, too, and the works of Michael Broers on the French Empire, in peculiar Broers’s assumption of the existence of a « frontier » (in the US sense) on the margins or inside Napoleon’s France. This model, based on the study of the French presence in Italy, emphasizes on the inner discontinuities within the French Empire, and refutes the traditional separation between metropolitan France and its satellite territories or subject territories. In a way, the study by Aurélien Lignereux is an attempt to prolonge this hypothesis and to test it on a broader scale, relying on precise and exhaustive data on police and gendarmerie activity and personnels, in the « départements réunis », that were precisely produced by the moving « frontier ». But his main concern is slightly different from Broers’, though. Lignereux tries to understand the very concrete nature of French rule in those occupied territories, focusing on police and gendarmerie personnels, who were the main and ominous presence of the French State, especially after military occupation and military rule had ceased. So this research echoes also the works of Clive Emsley and his influential essay on Gendarmes and the State in 19th century Europe (1999), assessing the decisive role of the gendarmes in modern State-building among the European countryside. This is not only a history of police personnels, but also an attempt to define what kind of governance was exercised by the conquerant Napoleonian government, on its uncertain peripheries, ranging from the Hanseatic area on the North Sea to the outskirts of Rome, including the actual Netherlands and the city of Geneva, threatening to absorh also Upper Catalonia in Spain.

Aurélien Lignereux deserves a praise for the extraordinary amount of data he collected, on several thousands of gendarmes and the few hundreds of police commissioners who were assigned to the « départements réunis », drawing useful comparisons between the different territories considered, but also with « older France ». Litteraly two forces of different kind coexisted, with opposed features. The gendarmes were mobile, not staying more than two years in the same location, and  predominantly originated from « inner France », although they were always mixed with « indigenous » gendarmes, in variable ratios. On the contrary, police commissioners were sedentary (a common feature with « inner France »), rather rooted in local society (although they could be strangers), and frequently born in the country where they worked. It is not clear if this dual system was specifically intended by the French government, or mostly the result of the obstacle of language and the martial function of gendarmerie. It apparently produced in the rural areas and the smallest towns watched by the gendarmes and in the larger towns and cities where police commissioners were assigned, two styles of policing. One may think that the presence of a police commissioner deeply rooted in local, urban society and prone to listen (literally) its complaints, was congruent to a traditional vision of police work in urban context, where negociating order and settling disputes was primordial. On the contrary, as Lignereux suggests, the systematic deployment of bilingual brigades by carefully mixing French and native speakers was clearly not a priority for the government, as the gendarmerie was still in infancy as an investigative police force, and more devoted to surveillance and maintaining « public order », that is French order. French authorities were even suspicious of a too deep involvement of gendarmes in the local society, beginning with the mastering of the language. Such prejudices, and the « pretorian » nature of the gendarmerie assumed by the government limited the relations between the force and local populations. The consequence was the lack of useful intelligence, as Lignereux demonstrates, although the gendarmes carefully and dutifully filled pages of reports and standardized « tableaux », to satisfy the curiosity and the typical taste for exhaustive data of the French central authorities of the time.

A significant part of the book is devoted to the experience of the expatriated policemen and gendarmes, foreigners in their own country. The reader will not ignore any more their doubts, their anxieties and melancholy, their boredom in locations remote from France and their « pays », comparing in their letters Rhenany to Siberia… Women played a part, too, be they legitimate spouses, at their side or distant, mistresses or illegitimate encounters in the local garrison, or local young girls that virile bachelors courted, frequented or married, most of the time under the complacent eye of their superiors, who encouraged « fraternization » and hoped – during the first years – to help the « fusion » of foreign peoples with the French.

This dream was short-lived, although some vivid examples were not rare. People generally resented the French forces and assimilated the police to a foreign presence, although admitting they could be useful. However, the French Empire did not crumble from inside, but was military defeated by invadors. For Aurélien Lignereux, it is the sign that some compromise was in a way attained with some groups of local populations, showing a certain degree of acceptance. Broers demonstrated that French rule was stabilized through a preliminary phase of a certain violence, and the action of « special teams » of policemen, soldiers and gendarmes, where it was difficult to make distinction between the good, the bad and the ugly. The book emphasizes more on the second phase, showing that police forces were rather restraining themselves and trying to respect the rule of law. The real test was the actual prosecutions of policemen and gendarmes by magistrates, revealing the existence of an « état de droit ». Actually, studying rebellious incidents and contestations of police forces, Lignereux shows that the gendarmerie undermined the legitimacy it could gain by fighting against brigands or being spotless, in enforcing conscription or new fiscal regulations (in the territories exposed to smugglers, especially on the shores of the Northern Sea). The precise data collected on these troubles, with the experience gained in Lignereux’s precedent book on this subject), allows to draw fine maps of contestation in the Empire, every great region being dominated by a predominant concern : taxation in the North, traditions and religious issues, conscription. This last topic was not the single cause of agitation, and disturbances were very much linked with local circumstances and policies.

In case of seditious acts, the French always reacted with extreme violence and severity. In this respect, this is more the sign of a « weak State » than the mark of an overwhelming Leviathan or « police-State ». Only violence and fear could subjugate disobedient populations, according to the authorities. The harshness of repression and the expeditive means put in use suggest the precarious nature of the « état de droit » which the French tried to maintain. No doubt it added to the resentment of locals against French rule, and helped the sudden fall of French rule when the Allied armies invaded the departements. Indigenous police personnels took invariably side with their fellow compatriots against the French, except for a few individual exceptions. The dream of a « fusion » was short-lived.

There are interesting pages on the posterity of this experience. Sons and grand-sons of expatriates policemen and gendarmes, sometimes born from mixed couples, « sons of the Empire », participated to the new imperialist ventures of Napoleon III in Europe and overseas. The book also follows some men who had a new career when France conquered Algeria in 1830 and were sent as lieutenant de police or to command the gendarmerie. Is there a relation, and more than this thread, between colonial expansion and the previous experience of Napoleon’s Empire ? The conclusion is reasonably cautious on this matter, which demands a careful (and further) examination. The circulation of men does not imply the use of the same practices, writes (with reason) Aurélien Lignereux. To answer, it would need a comparison of police practices, and a better knowledge of 19th century police in Algeria. It is very interesting to follow future trajectories, but the book cannot deal with this issue. On the contrary, it would have been very valuable to take the same interest in past trajectories, and to assess what role played the revolutionary experience in the 1790’s among policemen and gendarmes when they were serving Napoleon and the « great Nation ». Here, it could be possible to compare what you could have done in Paris or in Lyon, in 1793 or 1795, and what you would do in Hamburg or Florence. Various names are familiar to historians of the Revolutionary State and its police forces : Capelle, for instance, began as a Parisian section official in the first years of the Revolution, then a police commissionner in the turmoil of the Directoire, in the rebellious capital, before continuing his career on the marchs of Empire. Here I must recall the interest of RIchard Cobb’s Armées révolutionnaires, one of the greatest books on the French Revolution, in which the British historian followed in the military and Parisian archives the fate of the militants of the Parisian armée révolutionnaire. In this respect, the very valuable and extraordinary work done here falls victim of its own virtues, the difficulty to reconstruct complete and long biographies among thousands of individuals. The book is more a synchronic view, than a diachronic study.

Eventually, the book draws in the last pages a comparison with colonial policing. The emphasis on the « rule of law », the self-restraint of policing in normal times, the egalitarian incorporation of indigenous men does not qualify the policing in use as « colonial », as it will be developed in last part of  the 19th century and onwards. On this respect, a useful comparison could have been made with the actual French colonies of the time, for establishing the « imperial » nature of policing. Anyway, Aurelien Lignereux pleads in favour of an irreductible originality for the Napoleonean experience, a truly « imperial » form of policing, which is neither national, nor colonial. Therefore, the book is a new contribution to an ongoing debate among historians of « empires » about the nature of the French Empire in the age of Napoleon. This is the reason why it will surely be of great interest for historians, beyond the the circle of specialists of Napoleonean France and of French police and gendarmerie.



Book review : On Quentin Deluermoz’s « Policiers dans la ville » : the uniformed policeman in 19th century Paris

The rise of men in blues : the uniformed policeman in 19th century Paris

Review by Vincent Denis :

 Quentin Deluermoz, Policiers dans la ville, Préface de Dominique Kalifa, Publications de la Sorbonne, Paris, 2011.

This is a fascinating book about a typical figure of the Parisian landscape, the uniformed cop. But there is more in this book than another Parisiana chromography. It is the story of a great transformation of the city itself.

 This is a book about  relating the integration of a new kind of policing, practically and symbolically, in the city of Paris. This central innovation has a starting point : in 1854, the introduction of the uniformed policeman, at a large scale, first the sergent de ville, later renamed under the Republic as the gardien de la paix. I think Quentin Deluermoz shows us one of the most important transformation in the history of police in France.

Until this date, and since the 18th century,  in Paris, police work was assured by police commissioners who basically received complaints in their neighborhood, and a large variety of ominous plaincloth officers, who were hated and despised by the population, in charge of catching thieves but also tracking clandestine illicit activities in the city and keeping an eye on political opponents. The « main-forte », the armed presence, in the streets, was the mission of paramilitary or army units, with military organization and equipment : before the French Revolution, the garde de Paris, and the elite regiment of the Gardes Françaises, and after 1789 the Garde Nationale, the gendarmes, the Garde de Paris for daily surveillance, and ultimately army regiments stationed in the city.

The introduction of this new kind of agent was a real breakthrough in a secular tradition of policing based on this triad of visible police commissioners (often familiar figures), plainclothes inspectors or spies and riflemen. These new agents were inspired by the London bobbies : although they had a military background, they were police agents, they wore a distinct uniform, and they were ligthly armed (with a saber). They were not the first visible policemen in the history of policing in Paris, since the police commissioners were highly visible, public figures, easily available at all time of the day and night in their hôtel de police or commissariat, for ages. But they were only a handful (48 exactly for a whole city, and this number remained the same until the middle of the 19th century). For the first time, there was a visible civilian police force, in the streets, in large numbers. So the subaltern police agents who had been hidden  became all the sudden very visible.

The other innovation was the introduction of the beat patrol (another Londonian feature). The book demonstrates that it meant a real change in the way the police invested the space of Paris. The beat patrol took place in a global new pattern of policing, which was based on the repeated circulation of policemen in all the areas of the city, contrasting with the more static precedent pattern, based on strong points (posts, police stations and barracks) from where patrols were regularly deployed. These two innovations, the uniform policeman and the beat patrol, gradually created a new relation between the Parisians and their police, but also a public order of a new kind.

Quentin Deluermoz carefully retraced how this new police was received by the population. At first, there was much more incomprenhension than repulsion or hostility. People seemed puzzled by this new visibility of the police. It seems there was a discordance between the change of the police structures, and the relative inertia of the political imagination about the police. There is a long tradition of suspicion and defiance against « hidden police » in Paris,  during the 18th and 19th century. This opposition between visible and invisible police in the city was structured around 1700 when police inspectors were introduced for the first time, doubling the police commissioners. This dual system was reinstated before the end of the French Revolution, and barely changed. Why this suspicion ? Police commissioners symbolized a paternalist pattern of policing, behaving more like civil magistrates. Police inspectors represented a new kind of policing, « high policing », to quote the sociologist of police Jean-Claude Brodeur. It is also related to the nature of the police of Paris, which became precociously a State police, well before the French Revolution (rather an exception in France). This system of « hidden police » was even refined in the first part of the 19th century, with undercover night patrols and so on. At the end of the Empire, and during the Commune of Paris, these traditional anxieties suddendly and brutally re-appeared, as Quentin demonstrates, with aggressions, murders and persecution of policemen, who were all the more exposed to angry mobs and neighbours that they were highly visible.

Oddly, the insurgent population and the radicals often turned towards the traditional police alternative since 1789, i.e. the Garde Nationale, a militia, or other various forms of neighborhood policing. This was rather an utopia, since theses forms of policing were not well adapted to the social division of work required by modern societies. No wonder they were short-lived.

Under the Republic, these agents became familiar figures in the Parisian landscape. Making good use of newspapers, advertisements and popular literature, Quentin Deluermoz demonstrates the progressive integration of uniformed officers in cityscape. Although there still could be tension and conflict, they acquired a vague aura of ordinariness and dull normality, symbolized by the popular image of an old, fat, cheeky police officer. The idea is that they were not fearful figures anymore, but typical elements of the city, as the new modern equipment associated to urban life (advertising posts, lamp posts etc). One can discuss the validity of the analysis of the press, popular images, advertisement and mass literature to convey an impression on the feelings associated to policemen. But this use of mass-media and commercial representations, considered as reflects of common ideas, is always combined with archival evidences. There are proofs of the circulation of these literay commonplaces on the police, turned to them by angry passers-by when they arrested them. The « faits divers », a central feature in the commercial development of popular press in the last decades of the 19th century, is carefully studied in its narrative structure. There was a shift, from efficiency to inefficiency of the police, in the relations of police action, coinciding with a period of great anxiety about delinquance and recividists. May I suggest that another indicator of public trust would have been the number of formal complaints, if such figures exist. Public trust in police institutions is correlated with the number of people addressing them to solve their problems.

Quentin Deluermoz made also an excellent use of police records, to show how the population considered the policemen. The number of complaints against policemen, the letters sent to the Prefect of Police, or the threat of sending one kept in the police records after an incident with an agent, testify in favour of a kind of empowerment of Parisians towards their police. Filling a formal complaint, keeping track of an agent by his identification number, visible on his collar, became a common tool, even in the working-class neighborhood of Belleville, and for individual of all social backgrounds. An essentiel consequence of visibility was that policemen had to behave, under the scrutiny of the neighboorhood, their colleagues, and the press. This is an important toward an increased accountability of the police.

The book insists on the gradual transformation of the policemen themselves, especially after 1880. It does no presume a fixed police structure, but rather describes a very moving, wavering reality. According to Quentin Deluermoz, during the first decades of their existence, being a policeman is not a « métier », a craft or a profession, but a mere occupation, a job without set references, that did not really exist before. Eloquently, one of his chapter about the ordinary lives of policemen, is named « lessons from the street », or « graduating from the street » (l’école de la rue). In the absence of any formalized professional training, police officers learn their job the hard way, initiated by older agents or probably try to cope with their previous experience (in the army) and the regulations provided by the police headquarters. There is a clear cut when the préfet Lépine introduced the first practical school for training policemen in the 1890’s. Strikingly, police work is more and more shaped by regulations, codes, written instructions, and a centralized command, which is still an actual feature. The beat patrol itself was replaced by other patterns of policing. Its coincidence with a reinforcement of intermediary commanding field officers (brigadiers) made me wonder whether it would be a reaction against the excessive autonomy and « discretion » of police officers on the beat patrol. By the end of the century, they became the elementary pieces of a larger urban machinery, in the ideal model of urban administration that can be read in the regulations of the préfecture .


By the way, the book relativizes the chronology of modern policing established by Jean-Marc Berlière, in his pioneering work on the Préfet Louis Lépine, « inventor of modern police ». This is one of the stakes of the book, as one of its starting point was to challenge the assumption of more « modern » police invented by the Third Republic. Actually, Quentin Deluermoz convincingly demonstrates that the pattern of uniform policeman and beat patrol was decisive turning point in the policing of Paris, well before the Republic. The idea of a precise date for the « birth » or the « origin » of modern police is rather an obstacle than a useful tool (and before that we should define what we mean by « modern » policing). One of the lessons of the book is to insist more on incremental transformations. The system introduced in 1854 proved to be so successful that it was rapidly re-established after its brief suppression in 1870 and during the Commune.

One of the main achievements of the book is the discussion of the transformation of public order. Policemen had to constantly negotiate to establish their authority, against what Quentin Deluermoz calls « orders of the street », meaning local, indigenous orders. He made the choice of relying on case studies, due to the lack of sufficient sources for a quantified study. It is impossible to trace down a shift from one type of public order to another one, more modern and more rational. Instead, there are gradual transformations, a kind of mutual acceptance and definition of roles between Parisians and policemen. Conflict is not inexistent, but less frequent. The development of the uniformed policeman fills a new police function, « administrative police », the equivalent to the modern « sécurité publique », which is more and more distinct from the investigation of serious crime and other specialized police tasks. Its field is definitely the street, « la voie publique ». One can try to qualify the kind of policing that is eventually implemented : it is visual, with the idea that on the public space some things must not be visible (such as vagabonds and beggars, perverts or people showing improper parts of their body). Of course, it deals with petty theft and interpersonal violence, but this emphasis on « cleaning up the streets » visually is a new feature, is promised to a bright future.

To conclude, it is not a coincidence if the introduction of the uniformed policeman was simultaneous to the physical reshaping of the city by Haussmann. The book makes a point in studying this figure which became a symbol of the city, as much as the Hausmannian avenues and boulevards.

I would like to raise two questions, incented by reading this insighfult, beautifully crafted work. In this respect, one must rethink the contribution of the police to shape and produce public space. In this history of the relation between the Parisian and their policemen, there is one essential and ominous protagonist, the streets of Paris, the morphology of the city. Police action and their interaction with the people contributed to change the uses of the streets. But how did the popular uses of the streets change over time ? How the definition of the street did change, from Haussman to Lépine ? How this kind of transformation affected police work ?

Another issue would be the policemen themselves. There is a privileged focus on the way the Parisians considered their police. The book carefully studied the institutionnalization of this group. However, I am curious about the policemen themselves. What were their interests in their tasks ? Why did they join the force ? And more important, how did they judge the surrounding society, and the various groups composing the population of Paris ? Did they share the official values emphasized by the solemn ceremonies described in the last part of the book ? The sociology of modern police forces in the US or in France insist on the conflicting values among policemen, who are not a homogeneous group. Here, Quentin Deluermoz gives some hints on the occasion of the insurrection of the Commune, when some policemen chose to remain in the insurgent city. There are other chapters to write in the history of the uniformed policeman.

Parution : John M. Beattie, The First English Detectives : The Bow Street Runners and the Policing of London, 1750-1840

John M. Beattie, The First English Detectives : The Bow Street Runners and the Policing of London, 1750-1840, Oxford University Press, 2012.

288 pages, 65 £

John M. Beattie, grand spécialiste de la justice criminelle et des forces de l’ordre à Londres au XVIIIe siècle, publie un nouvel ouvrage qui devrait faire date, sur les « Bow Street Runners », auxquels il avait déjà consacré plusieurs articles importants ces dernières années. « Detectives », agents professionnels spécialisés chargés de rechercher les criminels dans la capitale, les « Bow Street Runners » tirent leur nom de l’emplacement installé à Bow Street. En dehors d’un article important et classique de Ruth Paley, on ne disposait pas d’étude moderne sur le recrutement, les méthodes de travail et la condition de ces agents d’un type nouveau, apparus au milieu du XVIIIe siècle à Londres, et dont les fonctions recoupent certaines des inspecteurs de police parisiens de la monarchie.


Parution : Catherine Denys (dir.), Circulations policières, 1750-1914

Catherine Denys (dir.), Circulations policières, 1750-1914, Presses Universitaires du Septentrion, 2012.

208 pages, 22 €

Comment améliorer « sa » police ? En regardant ce qui se fait « ailleurs » ; en l’adoptant, parfois. À rebours des historiographies nationales, ce livre fait découvrir l’histoire méconnue des circulations internationales des polices en Europe et à travers l’Atlantique. Il donne à voir les passeurs qui les animent comme les modèles qui se construisent dans les échanges, les transferts, les rejets ou les adaptations des systèmes policiers. Depuis l’Anglais Mildmay révélant le fonctionnement de la police parisienne en 1763 jusqu’à l’Américain Fosdick enquêtant sur la police des capitales européennes en 1913, des observateurs voyagent, étudient et décrivent les polices étrangères. Des administrateurs imposent des réformes justifiées par la supériorité supposée de ces polices voisines, d’autres les refusent énergiquement. Le débat sur la police déborde les limites des États. Neuf études de cas, de Buenos Aires à Paris, de Lisbonne à Rome, de Londres à Berlin, de Bruxelles, Genève ou New York, illustrent la richesse de cette histoire connectée des polices entre Ancien Régime et coopération moderne des polices contemporaines.

Introduction de Catherine Denys, contributions de Vincent Denis, Diego Galeano, Ilsen About, Catherine Denys, Paul Lawrence, Anja Johansen, Flavio Borda d’Agua, Vincent Fontana, Chiara Lucrezio Monticelli.

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