The Misfortunes of “Criminology” in France: A Specific History (1880-2009)

Laurent Mucchielli. Cases on Technologies for Teaching Criminology and Victimology: Methodologies and Practices. Editor: Raffaella Sette. Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference, 2010.

Between the Biological and the Social: The Search for a Crime Paradigm in France (1880-1940)

In France, in the 1880s, as crime research was in the process of being institutionalized as a new scholarly discipline—a trend that pervaded the entire Western world—, the scientific discourse was dominated by the question of the individual genesis of crime.

This issue was almost exclusively addressed from a biomedical perspective, through various theories purporting to somehow identify in certain individuals the existence of “natural” predispositions for aggression, crime, or even flatly “Evil” (Pick, 1989, p.44; Renneville, 1997, p.452; Mucchielli, 2006). The novel discipline that emerged in France at the time was not called “Criminology” by its proponents yet, but “Criminal Anthropology” (“Anthropologie criminelle”). However, some French medical doctors—including Alexandre Lacassagne (1823-1924), Professor of Forensic Medicine at Lyon University School of Medicine and main promoter of the new field—frequently alluded to the “social factors of crime” and did challenge, at least in part, Cesare Lombroso’s concept of the born criminal. The “Criminal Anthropology” designation mainly aimed at taking strategic distance from the Italian school, from which they were in fact intellectually—e.g. professionally—very close (Mucchielli, 1994a; Renneville, 1995). Only in the then budding field of social science could proper research on crime as a social phenomenon be seen emerging at the time.

Crime as a Social Phenomenon

During the 1890s, non-medical research endeavours focussing on the social dimension of crime were scarce and did not put forward any sociological methodology. Gabriel Tarde (1843-1904), for example, offered in his extensive works a great many thoughts about crime and penalty, through a series of books of which some were internationally acclaimed, in particular La criminalitécomparée(1886) (Comparative Criminality), and La philosophie pénale (1890) (translated into English as Penal Philosophy, 1968, 2nd ed. 2000). Moreover, despite occupying prominent positions from 1894 onwards (as head of the Judicial Statistics department at the Ministry of Justice, and co-director of Lacassagne’s journal, Archives d’anthropologie criminelle), and being elected to Collège de France in 1900, Tarde never trained any scholars or launched any research programme.

Besides Tarde, several intellectuals devoted at least some effort to crime study at the time. For a while, the most active and creative among them was Henri Joly (1839-1925), who taught “criminal and penitentiary science” at Paris University School of Law, starting 1887, and published a string of noted books at the end of the 1880s (Veilt, 1994). The dominant theme running through his criminological works was moral degradation rather than biological lowliness.

To him, the criminal was a “misled man”, not a “survivor of primitive ages”. This degradation itself partook to the rootlessness of modern man, forced to leave his family, his village, his trade, to go and seek a job in the anonymity and isolation of the big city. Joly set up to prove his theory using countless geographical maps, published in his 1889 book La France criminelle (Criminal France). Joly’s works, however, rather failed to reach a broader audience.

One has to turn to the group founded in 1897 by Émile Durkheim (1858-1917) around his journa lL’Année sociologique to first notice the emergence of a trend towards criminal sociology. This group brought together young philosophers who were convinced that sociology needed to be endowed with a proper scientific agenda based on autonomy from other sciences (Mucchielli, 1998). Among them, Gaston Richard (1860-1935) was picked by Durkheim to head the “Criminal sociology and moral statistics” section of the journal. It fell upon him to lay the foundations for a sociology of crime, in a complete turnaround to the biologization of behaviours that prevailed at the time. The work accomplished around Richard, from a critical point of view (see for example the notion of “criminogenic environment”) as well as through its scholarly contribution proper (historical analysis of shifting value and work systems, and their effect on criminality), constitutes an attempt at gradually building both the object and the agenda of a criminal sociology (Mucchielli, 1994b). As compared to the influence enjoyed by Durkheimians in other scientific spheres at the time, however, their critical work in the field of criminology was a failure. There are at least three reasons for this: first, the considerable strength and autonomy of the psychiatric circles, whose discourse increasingly prevailed once the fad for criminology subsided, and whose alliance with magistrates was already institutionalised. Then, the medical world displayed remarkable cohesion around its mainly hereditarist concept of crime. Finally, sociological research almost vanished from this area at the turn of the century, after Richard left the Durkheimian group.

From Criminal Anthropology to Psychiatry: A Shift in Medical Criminology

While the works of Italian and French criminal anthropology scholars reigned almost supreme in the years 1880-1895, the last decade of the century saw the alienists gradually regain the upper hand on the medical discourse, a supremacy that can be explained in several ways. While the sheer overall volume of publications is hardly a sufficient criterion, a closer look at international conferences on criminology, in terms of both membership of the organising committees and quality of speakers, also gives a measure of the institutional weight of the various groups. Even though the “criminal anthropology” designation stayed, academics who defined themselves as anthropologists declined steadily in numbers. As criticism against the criminal type and the relevance of anthropometrics swelled in all countries, the third International Criminal Anthropology Congress, held in Brussels in 1892, signalled a first symbolic break up, as the Italian delegation refused to attend, considering their ideas to be inadequately represented. Indeed, the Brussels Congress can be seen as an “artillery barrage” operation. The French (Debierre, Lacassagne, Manouvrier, and Tarde); the Dutch (Jelgersma, Masoin, and Van Hamel); the Belgians (Cuylits, Dallemagne, Houzé, and Struelens); Benedikt, of Austria; as well as the Germans (Näcke and Von Liszt): these scholars unanimously agreed that, although physical stigmata may frequently characterise criminals, they could not be used to define any individual as a criminal or be construed to infer general roots to criminal behaviour.

At the turn of the century, except for the rearguard of Lombroso’s followers, it seems that only Lacassagne and his students still believed in the virtues of anthropometry.

Hereditarist Theories: From Degeneration to Constitutionalism

Throughout the years 1880-1914, mental health circles largely shared the vision of inneism and hereditary determinism used by anthropologists in their constructs, albeit expressed in different ways. Their favourite model was degeneration theory. Charles Féré and Valentin Magnan were the most active French alienists at early criminal anthropology congresses. Féré was the first to get involved in criminology discussions, with his 1888 book Dégénérescence et criminalité (Degeneration and Criminality). Magnan, however, established a more authoritative reputation. A mere general practitioner at Saint-Anne Hospital in Paris, outstripped by Ball in the 1877 race for the Chair of Mental Illnesses at University of Paris School of Medicine, his diligent attendance at criminal anthropology conferences may have been mainly motivated by the will to build the international reputation he was lacking. He certainly did take a very early interest in social problems while working on alcoholism, however. Whatever the case may be, Magnan came to the criminal field intending to defend and propagate the theory of degeneration he had inherited from his first master, Prosper Lucas.

At the Brussels 1892 congress, Magnan presented a report entitled “Morbid Criminal Obsession”, in which he distinguished between the “delusional insane” (“aliénés délirants”) and the ‘higher degenerate” (“dégénérés lucides”), pushed by “morbid obsessions” that the alienist should endeavour to identify and describe: homicide, theft, pyromania, or sexual perversion. Magnan’sreport serves as yet another illustration of the ultradeterministic view of biology held by alienists of the time. He identified for example four different categories of sexual perverts, based on features exclusively pertaining to brain physiology: The “spinals”, whose unconscious acts were motivated by elementary organic reaction mechanisms; the “posterior spinal cerebrals”, for whom the mere sight of an individual of the opposite sex sparked the sexual impulse; the “anterior spinal cerebrals”, who simply displayed some specific form of perversion, located in the anterior cerebral cortex, which gave an abnormal orientation to their desire—e.g. either applied it to inappropriate subjects (incest, homosexuality, zoophilia) or through inappropriate channels (exhibitionism, mutilation, etc.); and finally the “anterior or psychic cerebrals” who, on the contrary, only functioned at the frontal level, as their conscious desire failed to trigger normal physiological functions.

Physiological causality, as we can see, was hugely influential in the psychiatric theories that dominated the turn of the century. Magnan’ssuccessor, Ernest Dupré, worked from the same assumptions on concepts such as “morbid constitution” and “constitutional perversity”; and it is the very same inspiration that thoroughly guided the works of Georges Heuyer on child psychiatry, at least during the interwar period (Lefaucheur, 1994).

The Situation during the Interwar Period

It is hard to see where exactly sociological ideas might have fit into such a paradigmatic framework.

Generally speaking, French scholarship became less fertile during the interwar period. At the international level, sociological thought emanated mainly from the U.S., the Chicago School in particular. Their research, however, remained little known in France. Maurice Halbwachs (1877-1945) who was, along with Marcel Mauss, the key man of the interwar Durkheimian system, was interested in suicide and not criminality. In addition, his vision of the Chicago School and its research on the city was rather aloof (Marcel, 1999). While “judicial and moral sociology” studies always remained central among Durkheimians (such as Louis Gernet, Paul Fauconnet, and Georges Davy), any interest for crime in modern societies disappeared almost entirely from interwar French academic sociology.

In fact, during the interwar period, the field of “criminology”, as it was called—or “criminal science”, or even “penitentiary science”—was dominated by jurists, along with medical practitioners appearing in court (forensic and psychiatric experts) (Kaluszynski, 1994, p.231-233). This trend actually started before WWI in academic circles, with certain law schools offering courses covering criminal law, criminology, and/or penitentiary science (Pinatel, 1957, p.417). This triggered new dynamics in legal studies, in an institutional alliance uniting doctors and jurists, with the latter calling the shots this time. On the academic front, this alliance was finally recognized in 1922 with the creation of the Paris Institute of Criminology, jointly run by the Paris Law and Medicine schools, with a four-pronged curriculum: (1) criminal law, (2) forensic medicine and criminal psychiatry, (3) scientific police, (4) penitentiary science. Ever since then, criminology, or “criminal science”, has continued to feature in law schools, as a scholarly appendix to penal law.

In 1936, criminology was given a proper means of expression with the Revue de science criminelleet de droit pénal comparé (Review of criminal science and comparative penal law), headed by two Professors of the Paris Law School (Louis Hugueney and Henri Donnedieu de Vabres), with a committee comprising, besides other jurists, psychiatrist Claude, forensic scientist Balthaz-ard, as well as Sannié, director of the Scientific Police Institute (and a Professor at Paris School of Medicine).

Finally, on a paradigmatic level, after the revival of psychiatry at the expense of criminal anthropology, the interwar in France was mainly characterised by the gradual ushering in of psychoanalysis (Mucchielli, 1994b, p.363-409). Pioneering French psychoanalysts (Hesnard, Laforgue, Marie Bonaparte, etc.), however, in keeping with a literal understanding of Freud’s writings, all enhanced the criminal nature of Man, its “aggressive instincts” and “original violence”, with analyses consistently revolving around the conventional psychiatric wisdom of the times: the “constitutional factor”, the “physiological foundation” of criminal conduct. Such a paradigm made any convergence toward social science fairly difficult at best. Moreover, these initial psychoanalytic attempts at criminal science were mainly based on pathological case studies (paranoid delirium, crimes of passion).

The Era of Dialogue and Its Normative Context (1945-1975)

The end of WWII signalled a new dawn for human sciences, which were increasingly involved in social and political life. In the legal sphere, this new philosophical era translated in particular into the principles of the “new social defence”, developed in France by Marc Ancel (1902-1990) to the point where it offered a common ground to many jurists during the years 1950-60 (Levas-seur, 1991; Enguéléguélé, 1998). In addition, the socialist ideal (in the broadest sense) had growing influence throughout Europe. In the field of penal policy, this quite naturally involved a willingness to focus on education (or re-education) and prevention, to offer psychological support to challenging teenagers, and to deeply reform the prison system (Faugeron, 1991b). Still, this movement was neither fundamentally new, no absolutely prevailing. Old trends persisted and did contradict it at times. But as we will see, the scientific sphere offers three examples of the bridge-building potential allowed by this common cultural ground: first, as jurists opened up to sociology; second, as a transdisciplinary dialogue developed around the issues of juvenile delinquency; and third, as a theoretical dialogue seemed—at least for a while—to have been sparked between sociology and psychology.

Keeping Traditional Criminology Alive

One example of traditional criminology staying very much alive is the thought and action of Jean Pinatel (1913-1999) from 1950-1980. In his capacity of Inspecteur général de l’administration pé-nitentiaire (Inspector General of Prisons), Pinatel was a member of the Amor Commission, which was in charge of reforming the prison system in 1945. He first introduced himself as an expert in “criminal science”, then in “criminology”, which he taught for many years at the Paris Institute of Criminology. In the immediate aftermath of the war, and for several decades, he was one of the main contributors to the Revue de science criminelle et de droit pénal comparé.

Pinatel defended criminology as it was practiced during the first half of the century—starting with biology, following up with psychopathology and, in fine, possibly borrowing from sociology a few general frameworks/contexts that more or less favoured criminality. Such was the outline of his courses; and such was the scientific agenda that informed the International Congress of Criminology organised in Paris in 1950 by Pinatel, drawing on his membership of the International Society for Criminology, which he dominated for almost thirty years (Pirès, 1979). This is understandable, given that Pinatel had defined criminology as a study of the criminal, whose core task was to study the “criminal personality” in order to subsequently diagnose the “dangerous state”, thus safeguarding society from trouble. Although Pinatel, in the 1970s, facing the rise of sociological criticism and “critical criminology” in the Western world, partially conceded to the sociological approach, these were mere “ad hoc changes”, to borrow the words of Thomas Kuhn (1972), which never seriously challenged the theoretical core of the classical “paradigm” defended by Pinatel.

Generally speaking, post-war French law schools witnessed a strong increase in the interest for criminology. In the 1960s, specialized curricula were offered in Paris (at the Institute of Criminology as well as at the Criminal Science department of the Institute of Comparative Law, headed by Marc Ancel and Yvonne Marx), Aix-en-Provence (Penal Science and Criminology Institute, headed by Raymond Gassin), Bordeaux (Criminal Science Institute headed by Jean-Pierre Delmas Saint-Hilaire), Montpellier (Criminal Science Institute headed by J.-M. Aussel), Poitiers (Criminal Science Institute first headed by Pierre Couvrat, then by Jean Pradel), Toulouse (Criminology and Penal Science Institute headed by Roger Merle), and Lille (Institute of Criminology headed by Georges Levasseur), as well as Strasbourg (Criminal Science Institute headed by Jacques Léauté), Nancy, etc.

The Dialogue between jurists and Sociologists and the Revival of Criminal Sociology

That said, the sociological approach of the criminal phenomenon also found a favourable echo with many jurists-criminologists of the time, particularly in and around Durkheimian circles. L’Année sociologique, the twice reborn journal (it reappeared in 1948), was central to this renewed discussion, whose main supporter was HenriLévy-Bruhl (1884-1964). In this new journal, he was in charge of the “sociology of law and moral” section, along with Georges Davy. Lévy-Bruhl put crime studies fairly high on his research agenda, considering that “a social ensemble best reveals its personality through its attitude to crime”. As early as 1950-51, under the auspices of CES (Centre d’Études Sociologiques), he conducted a “criminology survey”, subsequently presented at the 2nd International Congress of Criminology, entitled “Statistical survey of breach of trust”. Simultaneously, a “criminal sociology research group” was born, with Lévy-Bruhl as a guardian figure—however, André Davidovitch (1912-1986) quickly became one of the most active members, before gradually taking over the leadership (Marcel, Mucchielli, 2006). This group, built from a handful of scholars and students attracted to EPHE (École Pratique des Hautes Études—Practical School of Advanced Studies) by the teaching of Lévy-Bruhl, quickly exceeded this framework, gradually expanding until it became what had to be called a small team. Its 1956-57 agenda shows, beyond Davidovitch’s prime study (“Fraud and Bad Cheque Issuance”), that Constantin Oeconomo was researching the “Psychosociological and sociological aspects of war: special delinquency in the army”; while Dimitri Kalogeropoulos, a graduate from Paris Institute of Criminology and the Institute of Comparative Law, was working on “Blood crimes”; and René Benjamin, a supply teacher at CES, was announcing a research project exploring “resocialising delinquents: the role of the religious feeling”. New scholars flocked during the following years; various studies were launched—about incest (Denis Szabo, whose doctoral thesis would later be entitled “Crimes and cities”) or about criminality in Paris (Vasile Stanciu). The dynamics were triggered: a new, hybrid discipline, “criminal sociology”, was born—albeit, paradoxically, thanks to a jurist who initiated the institutional blending with sociology.

This synergy, however, was stopped in its tracks when Lévy-Bruhl died in 1964. The event prompted a split, and Lévy-Bruhl’s “sociological heritage” was picked up by a team built around Davidovitch. Law scholars followed Jean Carbonnier (1908-2003), who played a pivotal role, replacing Lévy-Bruhl at the board of l’Année Sociologique, drawing together many of his former students, and co-founding a research group with Georges Levasseur—“Research and measure of institutional and normative transformations of contemporary society”—which, in January 1968, became the Laboratory for criminal and penal sociology of Paris II University. Why did this split happen? Theoretical divergences were noticeable. Carbonnier had his own particular idea of judicial sociology: although certainly linked to an intellectual posture that approaches the judicial fact “from outside”, it should only do so with an aim to help the legislator. In that sense, while he claimed some Durkheimian affiliation, in the world of jurists this intellectual lineage came “at little cost”, since he somehow managed to append judicial sociology to law studies (Soubiran-Paillet, 2000). Davidovitch had other views, more faithful to the Durkheimian paradigm, which he developed within the small unit he led at CES until his retirement in 1981: the “Criminal Sociology Research Unit”. There, Davidovitch carried out a string of major research works on judicial statistics, on the activity of Prosecutor’s office bodies, on the mapping of criminality in the city, as well as on several specific crimes (bad cheques and traffic delinquency in particular). Over the years, he was able to refine his analysis system within the framework of a well-defined research programme, “observing the judicial machine as it copes with criminality, and analysing criminality as a product of that machine. These products, insofar as they are the outcome of selective interventions, convey in objective terms (they are indicators) the attitude—or attitudes—of magistrates, at the various levels of the judicial apparatus, as they confront the various types of crime”. During many years, he was also a noted columnist for L’Année sociologique.

Developing a Transdisciplinary Area: Youth Delinquency

Youth delinquency was one of the main areas of convergence and debate for academics and professionals of the field after 1945 (Tétard, 1985). In addition to the tradition of child psychiatry initiated in particular by Heuyer and his students, juvenile court judge Jean Chazal de Mauriac (1907-1991), who was quite close to Marc Ancel, played an important role in this area as early as the Vichy period, but mostly after the war. Later on, that theme developed mainly from an institutional point of view, given the opening, in 1958, within the Ministry of Justice, of the Training and Research Centre for Correctional Education (CFR-ES—Centre de Formation et de Recherchede l’Éducation Surveillée) in Vaucresson (in the suburbs of Paris). The creation of this centre was motivated by the reorganization of juvenile courts through the ordinance of Feb. 2, 1945 on delinquent youth: after establishing a new Office for Correctional Education at the French Ministry of Justice and implementing a string of supervisory measures for endangered and delinquent youth, a training centre was required for newly hired employees.

In 1958, the training activities were strengthened by the addition of a research unit which subsequently grew on its own and was significantly reinforced from 1964 onwards, when psychologist Jacques Sélosse was chosen to lead the research effort. Vaucresson quickly became the most important criminology research centre in France, with a transdisciplinary team (psychologists, sociologists, psycho-educationalists, statisticians, plus one neuropsychiatrist, one jurist, and one demographer), albeit slightly dominated by clinicians. In 1963, the centre finally launched its own journal: the Annales de Vaucresson. The following ten years were the golden age of the Vaucresson centre. At the onset of the 1970s, research developed along five lines: (1) analysing juvenile “social inadequacy” phenomena—mainly gangs and delinquency (car theft, drug use, violent crimes); (2) studying the methods of intervention of youth workers with juvenile delinquents; (3) evaluating the outcomes of this rehabilitation work; (4) researching the general roots of juvenile delinquency growth (school and economic developments in particular); (5) continuous education methods as applied to youth workers. From a “socio-criminological” perspective, the first line delivered the most in terms of new information. Some of this research helped enhance new aspects of juvenile delinquency in a consumer society. This particularly holds true of research on car and motorcycle theft, which showed that the point was often not so much appropriating goods, even in order to sell them, as fun or utility (for a night); the main danger being the fact that such a behaviour was likely to generate traffic accidents.

In the area of juvenile delinquency, the Vaucresson centre stands as the main transdisciplinary research attempt known in France. However, from the end of the 1970s onwards, this attempt gradually faded away.

Social Sciences and Psychological Sciences: A Dialogue at Last?

The years 1945-1975 witnessed a historically unprecedented opening-up phenomenon that made it possible to start building bridges between sociology and psychology. Before WWII, irreconcilable paradigms would pitch sociology, totally impervious to individual psychology, against psychology, which appeared unable to get rid of biological determinism. This situation, however, quickly evolved after the war, as first illustrated by Daniel Lagache (1903-1972) (Mucchielli, 1994c, p.381-409). Lagache was strongly influenced by phenomenology during the 1930s (including both Jaspers and Minkowski in general psychopathology, as well as Belgian psychocriminologist Étienne De Greeff), and also felt the influence of psychosociologist Kurt Lewin. Thus it is that, during the 1950s-60s, he came to develop a theory of criminal psychology that entailed a strong social dimension. However, being at the time also highly involved in psychoanalysis, he apparently lacked a partner to build this frontier at that point in history.

Still, two other clinicians did more directly invest the field of criminology, building partnerships with social scientists (Mucchielli, 1997, p.18-22). One is Marcel Colin, bringing along with him what would come to be known, from the first French Congress of Criminology (Lyon, 1960) onwards, as the “second school of Lyon”—the team he later lead at Lyon Medical School’s Institute of Forensic Medicine and Clinical Criminology. Colin—who was deeply influenced intellectually by Sartrian existentialism and who also leaned towards interactionism in many respects, in addition to being closely linked to English antipsychiatrists—strongly supported the idea that the clinic should have a fundamentally therapeutic purpose, opposing the deterministic concept of “criminal personality”, a phrase that, according to him, should be “banned from psychiatric vocabulary.” He became indeed a fellow traveller of both French sociologists and European critical criminologists, especially around the network that was built during the first half of the 1970s, founding in particular the journal Déviance et société. The same goes for De Greeff’s pupil Christian Debuyst, a Professor of Criminology in Leuven (Belgium), who, in the 1960s-70s, published empirical research enhancing the scholarly potential of a convergence between phenomenology and interactionism, and who also wrote seminal texts condemning such concepts as the “criminal personality” and “dangerosity”. Debuyst was himself, in the most practical sense and to this very day, a fellow traveller of deviance sociologists and critical criminologists. These towering figures of past decades’ criminological clinic, however, had no worthy successors. Ever since the 1980s, the scientific field has evolved in such a way as to either not allow such convergence, or even provoke new clashes.

Institutional Growth, the Estrangement of Disciplines and the Supremacy of Social Science Research (1975-2000)

From the end of the 1960s onwards, research in criminology enjoyed a new institutional boom, owing to a purposeful research policy initiated by the French Ministry of Justice (Mucchielli, Marcel, 2002). It also received significant support from the General office for scientific and technical research (Direction générale à la recherche scientifique et technique). In addition to the Vaucresson centre, the Chancellerie created in 1964 the National Centre for Penitentiary Studies and Research (Centre National d’Études et de Recherches Pénitentiaires—CNERP), and then, in 1968, the Penal and Criminological Studies Service (Service d’Études Pénales et Criminologiques—SEPC). To supplement this segmented development and support these research centres, two coordinating and fund-raising structures were created: 1968 saw the advent of the Coordination Committee for Research in Criminology (Comité de Coordination des Recherche Criminologiques—CCRC), a 21-member body chaired by Paul Amor; followed the year after by the Research Coordination Service (Service de Coordination de la Recherche—SCR).

While CNERP never really took off as a research centre, SEPC was to usher in the third age of criminal sociology in France.

A Sociology of Social Reaction

SEPC was initiated by Philippe Robert (a magistrate with a PhD in sociology from Bordeaux University) and born at the end of 1968, reporting to the Office of Criminal Affairs and Pardons (Direction des affaires criminelles et des grâces) at the Ministry of Justice. In addition to its expected research output, its other assignments were the general secretariat of CCRC, as well as managing the Compte général de l’administration de la justice (judicial statistics). SEPC enjoyed a quick growth, so much so that it came second only to Vaucresson among research centres, and gradually conquered partial autonomy from the Ministry, in terms of both processes and output, soon co-reporting to CNRS, the National Centre for Scientific Research (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique), resulting in a peculiar positioning in the field of French criminology. It swiftly established strong network ties in Europe and North-America (e.g. French-speaking Canada), which chiefly resulted in the creation of a new journal in 1977. Déviance et société was born in a peculiar intellectual atmosphere marked by growing controversy surrounding the penal system, and the arrival of interactionism (the second Chicago School and its labelling theory) and “critical criminology” (Mucchielli, 1997).

Some of SEPC’s initial research areas were inspired by the direct needs of criminal justice (forecasting registered criminality; maintaining administrative statistics; monitoring apparent foreigner delinquency or drug trafficking). Others rather focussed on the analysis of institutional processes (studying the costs of crime or the penal handling of business criminality; constituting collective rape as a category), and studied the image of the institution in society (studies on social representations of the criminal justice system). However, beyond those headings, which were quite commonplace in the field of criminology at the time, SEPC was actually taking a critical stance. In 1973, Philippe Robert published in l’Année sociologique (which he had joined thanks to Davidovitch) a text announcing the crisis of positivist criminology—in his own words “criminologie du passage à l’acte”, literally “acting out criminology”—i.e. aetiology theories. First, he argued that these bio-psychological research studies were based on non-representative crime samples. He then proceeded to introduce labelling theory, stating that the process through which an individual steps from occasional to chronic delinquency “stems from a stigmatization of the social reaction that takes place when the public classifies as a deviant someone who merely engaged in a deviant act.” From this perspective, criminology could be turned into a “science of social mechanisms of rejection”, hinging on the analysis of the penal system. Robert then tried to launch a relevant research programme, based on two questions: how does society create norms; and how does it sanction them? Besides traditional empirical fields such as the analysis of penal statistics (from policing to prison) and the study of the social representations of justice, SEPC researchers gradually developed research on the mechanisms of transfer toward judicial authorities, and on the genesis of penal norms (legislative sociology)—later on even establishing ties with historians on the latter theme. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, SEPC thus produced cutting-edge research in this area, in a well-defined paradigmatic framework which de facto excluded any potential collaboration with psychological sciences. Robert’s position has always been that criminology should be considered a discipline without an object, whose transdisciplinarity was a mere façade, devoid of any heuristic value; by contrast, he preferred a sociology of crime, rooted in a given paradigm and in a cumulative empirical research approach.

Without even mentioning political agendas that led some to reject any non-external perspective on research objects (such as prison, for instance), discrepancies in professional rationales were too critical among the various players for any meaningful research collaboration to take place.

The Evolution of the Institutional Context, 1980-2000

In May 1981, left-wing leader François Mitterrand became President of the French Republic, in a dramatic upset that created the conditions for an actual reorganization of research within the Ministry of Justice—the project had been in the air for several years, but never implemented. As a result, both CNERP and SCR disappeared, and a new convention was signed between the Chancellerie and CNRS in 1983. Only CFR-ES and SEPC remained: the former became the Vaucresson Centre for Transdisciplinary Research (Centre de recherches interdisciplinaires de Vaucresson—CRIV), while the latter was called the Sociological Research Centre on Law and Penal Institutions (Centre de recherches sociologiques sur le droit et les institutions pénales—CESDIP). In addition to boasting a rather long-standing relationship with CNRS, CESDIP was the main recipient of the redeployment of staff from late CNERP, which added penitentiary issues to its research agenda. CRIV, however, found the situation much less favourable, challenged as it was by a structural crisis that it never really managed to overcome. Outside these two units, most scholars of the field who had been assigned to general-purpose research centres felt rather isolated, so that over the 1980s, CESDIP gradually emerged as the only crime-orientated social science research centre, which it remains to this day. Furthermore, it managed to regularly push fresh ideas, developing in particular pioneering—in France—victimisation surveys, as well as, from the 1990s onwards, research studies on the feeling of insecurity, and policing research.

The 1990s partially challenged this situation, with the institutional development of three new areas of research, once again directly spurred by State requests:

  • First came research on drugs, at the beginning of the 1980s, with a dramatic decadelong growth. This phenomenon was linked to strong institutional demand motivated by the increase in drug consumption and the AIDS epidemic. An interministerialdrug-fight structure was implemented in 1982, which gradually became autonomous. 1993 saw the creation of a Public interest group called French Observatory of Drugs and Drug Addictions (Observatoire français des drogues et des toxicomanies—OFDT), which goes to show that government funding was a lasting trend and the will to stabilise statistical indicators genuine. A research network (“Psychotropes, Politiques, Sociétés”) was born in 1994, followed by a CNRS laboratory in 2001 (called CESAMES—Centre de recherche Psychotropes, Santé Mentale, Société).
  • The other area that developed dramatically during the 1990s is policing research. The creation, in 1991, of the Institute for Higher Studies on Interior Security (Institut des hautes études de la sécurité intérieure—IHESI) provided significant funding for this research. The institute, for that matter, has become quite an important player of the field as a whole, funding research and publishing a journal that boasts numerous academic contributions (the Cahiers de la sécurité intérieure). However, its dependence on the political power subjects it to periodical turmoil.
  • Finally, the Ministry for Town own Planning (created in 1990) also provided important support for research on delinquency throughout the 1990s, while the Interministerial delegation for road traffic safety also funded many studies on traffic crime.

Hence, from the mid-1990s onwards, research production was scattered among several, diverse places. These issues were extensively discussed at CLERSÉ (Lille Centre for Sociological and Economic Research and Studies of CNRS, Lille 1 University) around Dominique Duprez; at GRASS (CNRS Social and Sociability Analysis Group, Paris 8 University) around Francis Bailleau; and at CERSA (CNRS Administrative Science Study and Research Centre, Paris 2 University), headed by Jacques Chevallier. Moreover, crime research never totally deserted law schools—some jurists still define themselves as “criminologists”. Most active among them is Robert Cario, in charge of the “Jean Pinatel Criminal Science Unit” at Pau University, and publishing director of the “Sciences criminelles” series at L’Harmattan publisher.

The Main areas of Social Science Research, 1980-2000

Despite the Vaucresson centre crisis, the development of sociological research during the 1980s prompted several authors to re-appropriate the subject of juvenile delinquency while researching the subject of working class youth. Such was the case for “Jeunesses et Sociétés” (Youth and Societies) network, which gradually drew together dozens of academics and researchers in a think tank mostly influenced by the work of Pierre Bourdieu—one example is sociologist Gérard Mauger and his seminal work on “youth gangs”. Others include several scholars from Alain Touraine’s circle of influence, who worked on collective action in working class neighbourhoods (François Dubet, Didier Lapeyronnie, Adil Jazouli).

Then, as social developments put such issues as juvenile delinquency and rioting under the spotlights of the media/political stage again and sparked fresh institutional demand (especially around the policing category of “urban violence”), scholarly output increased, in the second half of the 1990s in particular. Research studies, however, in a departure from the previous decade, focussed mainly on quantitative methods, given the evergrowing impact of statistics and “expertise” in mainstream media. Here, we should mention Hugues Lagrange and his work on victimisation and juvenile delinquency; as well as Sébastian Roché’s 1999 self-reported survey on delinquency; or the emergence of “school violence” as a subtheme—again, due to a strong demand from the political sphere (Eric Debarbieux). At the turn of the century, Laurent Mucchielli’s work first queried the influence of this political and media “agenda building” around “youth violence”, before starting new research on criminal behaviour (homicide, rape), juvenile delinquency, and the riot phenomenon.

A contrario, upper class delinquency (the so-called “white-collar crime”), either in the private or in the public sector, has never ranked too high on the French collective research agenda. Only political and administrative corruption attracted the shared attention of political scientists and sociologists at some point (at the end of the 1980s, to be precise), because this phenomenon happened to be topical in the media at the time.

These new trends notwithstanding, research during the years 1980-2000 kept focussing on the penal system (see research statements by Faugeron, 1991a; Renouard et alii., 1992; Faget, Wyvekens, 1999; Mucchielli, 1999a), albeit in a somewhat patchy way, given the scarcity of research on sentencing processes. Conversely, research about criminal justice professions developed sharply. Certainly the most scrutinized area was policing—magistrates, lawyers, and social workers have been comparatively subjected to fewer studies. Finally, one should mention the emergence of research on private security agents, and more recently on ombudsmen. Then again, in the wake of Michel Foucault’s though-provoking 1975 book Discipline and punish, and thanks to new partnerships involving historians, sociologists, and demographers, prison studies have always been a forte of French scholarship: statistical research (on prison population; on how this population’s movements hinged on economic conditions; on the penal and social follow-up of cohorts); historical research (on the history of prisons and the living conditions of inmates); quantitative research on training, attitudes, and behaviours in the daily life of all prison stakeholders (officers as well as inmates); specific research on police custody.

Finally, as mentioned above, victim research became central from the mid-1980s onwards. French scholarship had fallen significantly behind North-American research and was missing out on theoretical discussions spurred by victimology. CESDIP researchers had developed their surveys with the aim of creating some form of sociology of penal control, focussing in particular on how victims dealt with police forces and the judiciary. Gradually, however, these studies came to be considered as a mere tool for improving the knowledge and statistical measure of delinquency, furthering the picture drawn by police forces (recorded crimes).

Conclusion: The Political Return of Criminology and Dangerosity (2002-2009)

While “political demand” had strongly stimulated research during the 1980s and 1990s, one of the salient features of the years 2002-2009 in France was the growing attempts at political control of knowledge production (Mucchielli, 2008). Following the 2001-2002 election campaign—largely dominated by the theme of “insecurity”—and the 2002 change of government (when the Right was returned to power), one has to observe that IHESI (henceforth INHES—Institut National des Hautes Etudes sur la Sécurité) was subjected to a political and ideological “overhaul”, as most of its scholars were dismissed. Les cahiers de la sécurité, which had become a social science journal, returned to its initial condition of governmental outlet. Nicolas Sarkozy (then Minister of Interior) subsequently implemented the long-deferred creation of a National Observatory of Delinquency (OND), which actually still reports to this Ministry today. Leadership of OND was handed over by the Minister to Alain Bauer, owner of a private security consulting firm. Finally, after N. Sarkozy was elected President of the French Republic in 2007, A. Bauer was entrusted with a “Mission on strategy training and research”, whose objective was to reorganize all units of security expertise scattered among various ministries into one single, government-controlled institution, while also trying to gain better control over academic and scientific research. Hence the current discussion, in France, of a project aiming at “developing criminology at the university”, which is perceived by some authors as an excuse to impose yet new general guidelines upon scholarship and garner scientific support to back the current government’s securitarian agenda. These developments have sparked a hard critical debate in research circles, especially since A. Bauer was appointed directly by the government on the first chair of “Criminology” in France, at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers (February 2009). This is probably the first act of the development of a new state criminology in France.

Current Challenges

If criminology is to be defined as a truly transdisciplinary, institutionalised body of knowledge on a well-defined object, then no such discipline exists in France today (does it exist in other countries, however, except as a mere, superficial juxtaposition?). From an empirical research point of view, the discipline that most consistently caters for this area has to be sociology (with a little help from its friends, statistics and demography); although history, especially during the years 1970-1990, did contribute significantly indeed. More recently, political science injected fresh ideas by raising new issues (studies on the feeling of insecurity; analysis of public policy). Social sciences, then, should be understood in the broadest sense here—in which case transdisciplinarity does indeed exist. The rift with what might be termed individual psychological sciences is, however, unmistakable. There are several explanations for this: from an intellectual perspective, dialogue is almost nonexistent between social sciences, which are resolutely empirical, and individual psychological sciences, which tend to rely unacceptably heavily on theoretical assumptions (be they biological or psychoanalytical) from an epistemological perspective (Mucchielli, 1999b). True, psychologists and psychiatrists have got rid of these theoretical constraints, but there is simply no place for them and social science scholars to start a dialogue, albeit a critical one. In many respects, knowledge objects appear to have been implicitly distributed in such a way as to almost never allow the parties to meet: sociologists got the wide-ranging surveys, everyday juvenile and elite delinquency, public policy, penal institutions, etc.; while psychologists took over blood crimes, sexual cases, and individual expertise).

In addition, it seems that social science scholars and jurists are estranged by an epistemological gap. Here, it is important to note that, contrary to what happens in other countries, collaboration between social science scholars and law professionals is not part of the latter’s initial training. In France, magistrates and social workers attached to the Office for Judicial Protection of Youth, policemen and gendarmes, prison administration staff, lawyers—all have their own, specialised schools, which they usually join after undergraduate law studies. University “criminology” would therefore be a subject almost without students… Finally, the recent revival of the French Society of Criminology (Association Française de Criminologie– AFC) has very little to do with these grand discussions on crime analysis and the intellectual state of the area. It mainly enhances the topicality of criminological and penal issues in today’s public arena, as well as the interest practioners of the field find in such a forum. Scholars, however, seem mildly concerned at best.

As for empirical research, it is facing yet another crucial challenge today, namely its increasing reliance on public procurement—compounded by an inversely proportional affiliation with scientific policy. The end of the “big CEO” and “big theories” era, which was in fact quite auspicious from an institutional point of view to a certain extent (as recruiting teachers and researchers was made fairly easy), is gradually ushering us into the age of theoretical uncertainty, individualistic practices et scarcity of means. As research programmes increasingly rely on public procurement, many issues arise, such as “erratic sprinkling that thwarts long-term team building; fluctuations of scientific police because of political upsets” (Faget, Wyvekens, 1999, p.148), or even, in some cases, the very independence of research from political and administrative agendas. Therefore, although this link between research and public procurement is indeed vital to both parties (laboratories often have no other way of putting nontenured researchers on the payroll), scholars should resist this trend more, by trying to reorganize around stimulating teaching and research centres strong enough to guarantee the independence, continuity, and consistency of their shared expertise.