Teaching Criminology: Socio-Anthropology of Crime

Jean-Michel Bessette. Cases on Technologies for Teaching Criminology and Victimology: Methodologies and Practices. Editor: Raffaella Sette. Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference, 2010.


Any constituted human group generates a set of values, norms, rules, and rites—whether in the form of customs or laws. Broadly speaking, this set is bound together thus contributing to the maintenance of its structure. This normative set acts on the social body as a regulation system. Of course, values, norms and rules are contingent on space and time, imprinting their particular marks on the forms of collective life which is hence diversified depending on societies.

Therefore, this is an entire field of the social which is ruled by collective norms and regulations, and which transgression, threatening the more or less precarious balance constituent of the social structure, can lead a group—through the actors/agents1 qualified to do it—to this reaction that we name punishment. Thus, the triple articulation rules impositions—transgression—social reaction constitutes the focal point of the field of criminal sociology. This is a state of this research field, that the mediatical topicality of our societies makes central in collective preoccupations (the issues which are agitated regarding delinquency, criminality and terrorism facts have indeed become major practical, political and ideological stakes), that we propose to present here.

Sociologists are interested in the study of the criminal phenomenon in many respects. Any act of transgression is an open window on society. Because it challenges society and breaks away from collective values, crime offers the one who observes it a particular point of view and its study opens the way to a fertile approach for sociologists. In times of crisis, crime is tell-tale sign—and a punctual crisis in itself—bringing out the cogs of society. Indicating—by exceeding them—the limits imposed to its members, not only does crime enable us to see the roots on which the life of a community is based, but through the social reactions that it elicits, it also shows how a society is reinforced or preserved, while maintaining a perspective on the issue of social change. It is a significant element allowing to grasp the degree of cohesion of collective values and solidarities, and to follow their evolution. Furthermore, through the study of the diverse actors/agents that it stages—Code authors, Code breakers, victims, or the diverse institutional actors/agents and other entrepreneurs of morality who stigmatize the authors of transgressions and contribute to attribute the qualification of criminals to them—it is the opposition inside and between the various groups and the social formations that the analysis of the criminal phenomenon emphasizes. Finally, through the study of the processes facilitating the “acting out”, it is the formation and the development of the personal identities—and more particularly the ways social life imprints its mark on the individual—that it is given to observe.

French sociologist Émile Durkheim (1858–1917) can be considered as one of the inspirers of the modern criminal sociology. Demolishing the almost inevitable moral judgments on this object, he claims the application of the fundamental rule of his sociological method to the study of the criminal phenomenon: consider it as a thing. It is in The Division of Labour in Society, that we find his famous definition of crime: “…an act is criminal when it offends the strong, welldefined states of the collective consciousness…” (Durkheim, 1986). These collective feelings are “strong” because they are common to the majority of the members of a particular society. They are also “well-defined”, that is specified in (penal) codified rules. On the other hand, crime is also defined by Durkheim as a punished act, that is by the social reaction that it elicits: “We can not say that an act offends the common consciousness because it is criminal, but that it is criminal because it offends the common consciousness. We do not condemn it because it is a crime, but it is a crime because we condemn it.” By referring to the social norm on the one hand and to the social reaction on the other hand, Durkheim emphasizes two constituent essential features of the issues of the criminal sociology. He goes even farther. Indeed, he dares to write: “There is no society that is not confronted with the problem of criminality. Its form changes (…) but, everywhere and always, there have been men who have behaved in such a way as to draw upon themselves penal repression. There is, then, no phenomenon that represents more indisputably all the symptoms of normality, since it appears closely connected with the conditions of all collective life.” Crime is a normal phenomenon (by opposition to a pathological, accidental or contingent one). Not only is it normal, but it is necessary (because it is not able to not be and the fundamental conditions of social organization imply it logically). Finally, and in order to go the whole hog, crime is also useful, because it contributes—directly or indirectly—to the evolution of the customs and the law. If we consider crime simultaneously as a normal, necessary and useful phenomenon, “the fundamental facts of criminality present themselves to us in an entirely new light. Contrary to what is commonly believed, the criminal no longer seems a totally unsociable being, a sort of parasitic element, a strange and unassimilable body, introduced into the midst of society. (…) he plays a definite role in social life.”

It can be seen that Durkheim sketched—in his time—a completely original perspective of crime, and it is only more than half a century later that the sociologists took the road which he had thus marked out. Moreover, an attentive reading allows to notice that his sketch embraces simultaneously the etiological perspective (that is the study of the causes of the criminal behavior—and radically the acting out) and the social reaction perspective (the study of the constitution of the norms and of society reaction to transgression) which would later be acknowledged by researchers in the field of the criminal sociology.

Thus, from the end of the 19th century, Durkheim appointed crime as a fact ensuing from the regular functioning of society—as a normal fact, related to the society in which it occurs—and the criminality as a socially-constructed object, susceptible to methodically led investigations. The theoretical bases of the criminal sociology were cast.

Crime: Purpose and Methods


Regarding the facts of delinquency and criminality, prenotions and passions often come to burden the methodical study of the facts. It is thus advisable to well-define the object of the study to bound precisely the field of research on which the sociologist will try hard to focus his attention. In this respect, it is important to implement the methodological precept concerning the definition: “Always take for research object a group of phenomena beforehand defined by certain common characters, and include in the same research all those which answer this definition. For example, we notice the existence of a certain number of acts which all present this outside character that, once carried out, they determine on behalf of society this particular reaction—italics mine—that we name punishment. We make a group sui generis, on which we impose a common section; we call crime any (legally) punished act and we make of the so defined crime the object of a science.”

The action which entails the social reaction that we name punishment, here is thus the object of the criminal sociology, clearly appointed in its generality. Criminological literature generally refers to three registers defining three different levels of crime: the real crime, the apparent crime and the legal crime.

Real crime would be constituted by all the infractions committed in a given population during a definite period of time. It is—by definition—an unknown element, since 1) many infractions are not found out, 2) any infraction is not the object of a complaint and 3) all the complaints do not necessarily correspond to infractions!

Apparent crime is, as for it, formed by all the infractions which are reported to the police and the public prosecutor’s department. It is considered as apparent because it consists of infractions which are not judged by the courts yet. In practice, all the complaints will not be retained (dismissal, discharge…). The sociologist—who does not have to play entrepreneur’s role of morality—will rely only cautiously on this precarious “reality” to carry out his research. However, at this level of criminality, it is permissible to study certain aspects of the processes of rules imposition, stigmatization and labeling which are constituent elements of the diverse phenomena of deviance and criminality.

Legal crime, finally, presents the very characters required by the durkheimian definition of crime—any legally punished act—and constitutes, therefore, a well-specified study base. In this frame are included all the types of infractions defined by the Code (fines, offenses and crimes), and legally sanctioned in an actual way.

The general framework of this research field being clearly bounded, we are now capable of proposing a general programmatics for a socio-anthropological approach to crime:

This one would apply to the study of the diverse aspects of collective life relative to the establishment of rules legally codified (primary criminalization) and to their transgressions, as well as to the processes governing the social reactions (secondary criminalization) which can ensue from these transgressions: stigmatization, labeling, pronouncement and sentencing. It would study the modalities of elaboration, application and evolution of the codifications in their connections with the social structures (history, penal law, legal anthropology, sociology of the law). It would analyze the functioning of the institutions of social control, police, justice, prison authority, watched education (sociology of organizations). It would examine if tendencial regularities emerge (statistics, demography, geography) allowing to give an account of a sociogenesis appropriate for certain criminal infractions. It would also try hard to bring to light the historic and social logics facilitating the production of delinquencies and criminalities. Through the study of concrete criminal “dramas” (case study, “in situation”), it would try to understand the occasional causes allowing to elaborate a typology of delinquency and criminality facts. It would finally attempt to encircle the complex processes facilitating what it is advisable to call the “acting out » (psychology, psychiatry, psychoanalysis). Vast program…

Synthetically, we can say that the general field of the criminal sociology articulates itself around two additional poles, developing from a sociology of the social reaction to an anthropology of the acting out. We shall see how the consideration of this articulation will gradually lead us from criminal sociology to criminal anthropology.


The field of study of the criminal sociology presenting multiple aspects and showing itself at various levels, the methods to implement for the exploration of the numerous research leads that it conceals are multiple and varied as well. Here are, as a rough guide—the way always remaining opened to the sociological imagination—some modalities of approach in this domain.

In the general frame of the study of both social control and social reaction, the inventory of the establishment of the norms, of their implementation, their transgression and the diverse modalities of restoring the social balances (systems of codifications, inculcation, distribution, regulations, penalties) in the various societies—in brief a criminal ethnology in association with the legal anthropology—constitute research areas which are rich in potentialities. A comparative approach to this field of studies should eventually facilitate the possibilities of theorization relative to the question of the regulation modes of the collective sets. The variety and the types of social reactions to deviance seeming connected to the diverse social contexts (religious, economic, political, etc., in brief, historical), the systematic study of the codes, the case law (analysis of contents, thematic analysis) in a perspective of historical and sociological critique, allows to analyze the cultural foundations underlying their constitution and their implementation. Such a study can also bring elements of information interesting the general problem of the social reaction (value system, norms and ideologies). The establishment of a reasoned catalog of the multiple forms of social reaction to deviance in space and time would open the way to the elaboration of an anthropology of regulation systems in human societies.

The statistical study remains a privileged mode of approach for the research in criminal sociology. Actually, it allows to understand the crime “from the outside”. Certainly, the criminal statistics do not fall from the sky ! They are a social production among the others, and it is important to adopt counter to them a critical attitude by analyzing the historic and social conditions of their production. Thus, the diverse sources supplying the criminal statistics must be considered with caution, and we precisely wondered if they did not express just as much the level of efficiency, as well as the diverse cultures of professions and the professional ideologies of the administrations and actors/agents in charge of establishing them, than they measured crime. Depending on the theoretical orientation he wants to give to his study, the researcher will refer to one source or another, with keeping in mind the limits of any “data”, generally. Beyond these reserves, it remains that the statistics supplying the figures of legal crime constitute a relevant indicator of the state of the crime such as we were able to define it: the social reaction to the transgression of legally codified rules. Thus, they convey institutions’ modalities of functioning (police, justice, prison, etc.) and express the state of social relations in a given society at some point. It is up to the researcher to proceed to the theoretical and methodological arbitrations (critique of the sources) necessary for the scientific conduct of his research.

The statistical analysis allows to extract a structure of criminality (the relative frequencies of the various categories and types of crimes), as well as its evolution. Once the structure of the global criminality is underlined, we shall try hard to study the relations between diverse sociological variables and criminality (sex, age, civil status, nationality, profession, space—urban/rural—social rhythms, economic phenomena, etc.). We can also recourse to comparative mapping to study possible specificities (“criminogenic” areas, “sensitive” districts, regional peculiarities, etc.). The study of the combinatorial between these variables (multivariate analysis, factorial analysis) reveals particular configurations which draw the main lines of crime constellation peculiar to such social universe, to such group, in such time, to such society… Thus, for France, in the second half of the 20th century, we notice that, generally speaking, crime appears as an essentially male phenomenon; that there is a specific structure of the feminine crime (more cunning); that the structure of crime also depends on the age, the profession, the civil status, the nationality, etc. and differs as a function of the diverse modalities of combination of these various variables. In the end, the statistical analysis testify to the eminently sociological and polymorphic character of the criminal phenomenon.

The tendencial regularities emerging from the statistics authorize the formulation of hypotheses relative to likely chains of determination, emphasizing factors susceptible to account for as ociogenesis of the forms of criminality. The statistical analysis brings elements of answer to the following interrogation: “What are the social conditions of production of such or such crime?” Actually, these tendancial regularities allow the constitution of typologies. Then, the point is to operate a synthesis, to order in a global perspective the diverse meditative elements of information. We shall define particular types of classification, depending on the methods of distribution of the various variables taken into account in such or such category of infraction. The constituted types could serve as beacons for the construction of new hypotheses whose the probation will allow to get fresh ideas feeding the theoretical reflection.

It is also important to combine quantitative study and qualitative study, in order to open to differentiated sources of information and perceive “the movement of the whole, the living aspect of the phenomenon” in its interrelations. Therefore, depending on the established typologies, we will be able to conduct case studies again. These can be carried out from varied documents: files of judicial archives, miscellaneous statements, survey reports, personality inquiries, handrail of commissionership, etc. The in-depth and meticulous study of typical cases, the statement and the analysis of exemplary or exceptional biographies (condemned persons, actors/agents of the judicial institution, of the police, etc.) allow to enrich the “cold” statistical apprehension, and to approach such or such crime in its specifically dramatic aspects. It is at the reconstruction of typical criminal dramas that we can then end up, taking into account “in situation” the interrelations between the multiple elements and the diverse social actors/agents forming the criminal nexus2 . Hence is outlined the way to an anthropology of the relations between aggressors and assaulted in criminal matter. In this perspective, a comparative sociological approach to the condemned persons and the victims, embracing the study of their interrelations, constitutes a promising research lead.

The field of the criminal sociology also includes the study of the social reaction. It is to say that it is moreover necessary to take into account the role of the diverse institutional actors/agents and “entrepreneurs of morality” who participate in the elaboration of rules, codes and collective representations of deviance and crime, their implementation (representations of the norm, the crime, the justice, the criminal), and the operations of labeling and stigmatization which will lead so-and-so to be considered as a criminal. Besides the police institution, one of the privileged theaters where these constituent operations of the social reaction express themselves is the court. The observation of the trial, in particular the trial of assizes, allows to see at work, through the combined actions of diverse actors/agents (magistrates, witnesses, policemen, experts, members of the jury, lawyers, etc.), the multiple aspects which compose the social reaction, and contribute to stigmatize the individual qualified as criminal. These observations can be completed by biographies, reconstructions of delinquent or criminal “careers”, deepened interviews with the actors/agents of social control previously evoked, but also with other speakers of the criminological field (jurists, psychiatrists, medical, prison, specialized education agents) or other institutions of work and social control, without forgetting the media.

A particular chapter of the criminal sociology also owes to be dedicated to the facts of terrorism. Terrorism indeed represents a particular aspect of crime and their study puts in a crucial way the question of the specificity of the facts of individual crime and collective crime, as well as the question of the borders between legal violence and illegal violence.

Many other leads, that we can not enumerate all-comprehensive here, offer themselves to the ingenuity of the researcher in criminal sociology. Without forgetting the issue of the evolution of the customs, the law and the modes of infraction which go together with the evolution of societies (e.g., the development of the infractions in informatical matter). In any case, the research field of the criminal sociology remains opened…

The Explanatory Theories

Investigation work on the diverse aspects of the field of the criminal sociology, ending in the observation that crime is a social production, opens the way to theoretical elaboration. Any structure of society generates its own types of criminality (and of deviance), and we can rightly speak about a sociogenesis of the facts of deviance and criminality. If we want to grasp the processes of sociological order which underlie the criminal phenomenon in its various updating, it is then necessary to replace the information collected through the exploration of the multiple research leads (previously evoked) in the structural frame of the considered groupings and societies types. Hence were elaborated diverse schemes of analysis of the facts of crime.

We can mainly quote:

  • the analysis developed by E. Durkheim advancing the notion of anomie;
  • the theory of the culture conflict by T. Sellin and the theory of the differential association by D. Sutherland;
  • the explanation of functionalist type by R.K. Merton;
  • the analysis in terms of class struggle or class conflict by R. Dahrendorf;
  • the approaches in terms of social reaction—stigmatization and labeling—by H. Becker.

Doubtless, the various explanatory schemes we have just evoked partially report—each at its level—the sociogenesis of certain forms of crime. However, the variety through which the criminal phenomenon appears makes vain any attempt of univocal explanation which would claim to account for “crime” in general. Indeed, it would be illusory to hope for embracing in a unitarian theory a phenomenon which becomes updated of multiple manners. That is why the main explanatory theories developed to analyze the criminal phenomenon must be considered more as additional than contradictory.

A Transdisciplinary Direction

Should one resolve to see in what it is advisable to call “criminology” a mere artefact, the product of the coincidental conjunction of viewpoints from different disciplines on a protean phenomenon ? In short, in scientific myth? Indeed, some people think that, strictly speaking, “criminology” does not constitute a science but rather a domain both of research and applications. The “criminologist” would be a kind of king without a kingdom… Already fifty years ago, Thorsten Sellin wondered if “criminology” was a science of synthesis. “Criminology is not a science in the limited meaning of the word. However, this term of “criminology” has to remain, either to simply cover the different studies more or less connate which only have a common aspect, being interested in the crimes and in the criminals, or to designate a discipline which assigns to itself as essential function the integration and the synthesis of the conclusions provided by (this) research.”

Then? Multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary? In very truth, “criminologi cal” research and action are related to the one or the other depending on the case. Multidisciplinary when several researchers collaborate in the study of the same object, each staying within the limits of its discipline3 . Interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary when researchers’ approaches from diverse disciplines do not consist in a simple juxtaposition but, weaving footbridges, proceed to recombinations, reorganizations, hybridizations. As a bastard science, rich in these combinatorial, “criminology” shows itself sometimes centrifugal, sometimes centripetal, oscillating between unexpected swarmings, empires’ arrangement and discovery of unsuspected horizons. Actually, “criminology” theater constitutes a privileged place of paradigmatic tension, convenient to scientific discovery. It facilitates the expression of this essential tension evoked by Thomas Kuhn, a dialectic mobilizing quite at once the expression of convergent (classical or conservative) and divergent (creative or formative) ways of thinking, “in the perspective of rectified errors which characterizes scientific thought”.

In his article entitled “Criminology”, a discipline of synthesis, Sellin concluded: “I am inclined to give the royal title (of king without kingdom whom would be the criminologist) to the one who makes the integration and the synthesis of the researchers’ conclusions in the diverse biological, mental and social sciences”. In fact, in the scientific domain as in the political domain, monarches’ time is past. Doubtless, the disciplines do exist and their existence is necessary for the advancement of research. But beyond disciplinary withdrawals, cenacles or chapels, for us, researchers who investigate the domain of crime, “the knowledge line is the same, as soon as we tear ourselves away from the narcissistic sphere of our own normality”. All things considered, it is up to the diverse citizens-researchers working in the domain of crime to build together the savant city of the “criminologists”.

Confronted with the dislocation of criminology and the multiple partial explanatory plans which are proposed by the diverse sociological theories relative to crime, we can wonder if it is possible to elaborate an integrated theory of deviance and criminality. If we herewith understand a theory which would simply render an account of the diverse modalities through which crime shows itself, the answer is certainly negative. It is important to adjust the methodological principles, useful to make possible the theoretical synthesis required by the observation of the facts, to the complexity of reality. As well, in order to try to grasp the criminal phenomenon in its constituent pluridimensionality, it is advisable to adopt a determinedly transdisciplinary approach. Beyond formal disciplinary splits, it is thus important to open the study of the facts of deviance and criminality to the anthropological viewpoint.

Toward an Anthropological Approach to Crime

De facto, the study which takes for object the criminal phenomenon brought to light in diverse landings of the anthropological reality. It is thus towards the perspective of the interrelations which animate, at various levels, these varied hierarchical landings, that henceforth turns the research. To understand a phenomenon, it is indeed necessary to embrace, as much as possible, all the processes which govern it. It is thus advisable to approach the study of the diverse constituent landings of the criminal phenomenon (psychoanalytical, biological legal, statistical, economic, linguistic, psychological aspects, etc.) on a dynamic prospect. Then, we shall see that if the social acts on us “from the outside” (field), it also acts “from the inside” (habitus). And the consideration of the constituent totality of the criminal phenomenon commands to investigate these two aspects whose the articulation (social reaction / acting out) is the heart of the criminological interrogation. It is in this theoretical and methodological prospect that are gradually outlined the features of a criminal anthropology.

Retying with a secular tradition (French and Italian pioneers of the end of the 19th century indeed met themselves, during the international congresses, under the banner of anthropology), and going beyond the bounds of a frame appearing as obsolete and henceforth suspect of a summary biological determinism (as the one into which the upholders of the “sociobiology” lock themselves), the criminal anthropology, as a science of synthesis, tries hard to combine in one global view—taking into account the general economy governing human behaviors—, the study of the diverse constituents aspects of the criminal phenomenon. The idea is thus to integrate the particular approaches aiming at the same object: crime, institutions, and the actors / agents it implies. We can indeed, from the results of the statistical analysis and the theorization of the classic sociology, prolong the analysis in an anthropological perspective, by integrating, in a synthetic way, the observations operated at diverse levels.

Crime: A Total Social Phenomenon?

Crime lies in the conjunction of the individual and the collective, staging actors / agents and institutions. The criminal is an individual incriminated according to his behavior. Individual/incrimination, actors-agents/institutions… There are additional, inseparable sectors, whose the study requires the implementation of all the spectrum of analysis possibilities offered by anthropological sciences. The history of crime sociology shows us the passage from an aetiological approach (mainly attached to the study of the act (of the behavior) which will be qualified as criminal), to an approach focused on social reactions, that is globally attached to the study of the processes of incrimination. Actually, here are two main aspects, (but there are many others…) of the totality to be studied. Thus, Durkheim shows that if the norms, faiths, social practices act on us from the outside (and it is to this level that we can read the processes commanding to social reactions) they also act on us from the inside (and it is at this level that we can approach the processes commanding to the acting out). It is in the same perspective that the notion of social control, “designating at first the social processes which have for object the production of behaviors conform to the norms, came to cover all the mechanisms which assure the interiorization of the social order, the regulation of the personal expression, the structuration of the Ego”. The consideration of this totality constituting the criminal phenomenon thus demands to study the external regulations (institutions) in their connections with the internal regulations (the people as they are instituted through diverse modalities of socialization). To a sociological approach to the reasons and the actions of the penal, it is advisable to articulate an anthropological approach to the actors / agents and the diverse constituent elements of the criminal phenomenon (criminal, victim, entrepreneurs of morality, legislator, experts, judges, etc., but also the economic context, the groups, the classes or the social formations).

Doubtless, crime can be approached as a total social phenomenon, as one of these social facts which imply multiple landings of the reality—legal, economic, linguistic, religious etc., making us enter groups’ life—and which sometimes moves the totality of society and of its institutions. Let us see, in this perspective, some results that the anthropological approach applied to crime has already allowed to obtain and, following the main thread of some current studies, let us explore the leads offered to research and reflection.

New Research Leads

The anthropological approach allows, for instance, to clarify certain aspects of the process of violent acting out (controlled or not). We saw that the statistical studies concerning crime indicate, generally speaking, that crimes more particularly involve individuals stemming from the most disadvantaged social strata, specifically laborers. But, if the statistical analysis reveals that the social and occupational hierarchy of legal crime illustrates, in its way, the “classic” opposition between social classes—laborious classes, dangerous classes—, at a closer look, it seems that the major anthropological criterion which orders in a relevant way this hierarchy designates more exactly the opposition between manual and intellectual, between gesture people and speech people. Indeed, the social and occupational scale of criminality carries, in its two extremities, on the one hand categories whose the common characteristic is to be manuals (whose the type can be embodied in broad outline by the laborers or handworkers—exactly, those who work with the hand—who are strongly over represented among the condemned persons, with crimes as murder, compound theft or lethal knocks), and on the other hand categories whose the common characteristic is to be intellectuals (whose the type can be embodied by the professors—those who carry forward the word—who are, them, strongly sub-represented, with crimes as false entry, the qualified breach of trust or the diversion of public deniers…). Although, this antinomic bipolarisation (manual/intellectual) whom shows the criminal statistics refers to a fundamental anthropological reality: the constituent bipolarity of the “anterior field” which makes possible, in the homo sapiens, the relation between the hand and the face, between the gesture and the speech, and which expresses, through the joint production of tools and symbols, an essential characteristic of humanity… (Leroi-Gourhan, 1993).

This interdependence of the gesture and the speech, whose the criminal statistics denounces the caesura, reveals a fundamental perspective of research (centered on the connection between the anthropological foundations of the behavior and learning theories), whose the methodical investigation allows to grasp better the relationships between action and symbolization (Bessette, 1982).

De facto, the approach to the criminal phenomenon in terms both socio and psycho-linguistic brings a particular lighting on this question. Social practices interfere with linguistic practices, differentiated social practices promoting the development of different linguistic practices in manuals and intellectuals. The positions occupied by both in the social relations of production find an echo at the linguistic level which expresses symbolically these positions and the capacities which are attached to it. Linguistic practices convey and model specific sociological and psychological features—emotional, cognitive and, in the end, behavioral—. Thus, in order to replace this analysis in the criminological frame, it is worth noting that in a conflicting situation, the ones (the intellectuals) verbalize more easily, tending to resolve the conflict by the symbol, whereas the others (the manuals) use more easily the gesture, the acting out.

The sociolinguistic approach showing the influence, socially determined, of the differential speech code development on the forming of personality (Bernstein, 1971) and simultaneously on likely behavioral determinations (acting out) can also get integrated into the biologic approach. Indeed, recent findings in neurosciences allow to specify the neurological substratum and the functional modalities governing the incorporation and the expression of impulsive behaviours and thoughtful behaviours, in particular regarding the connections hand / face, gesture / speech, drives / symbols. The answers to a situation of conflict (attack, illness, frustration) are susceptible to varied modulations in mankind, depending on the sociocultural incorporated learnings (habitus). Thus, we begin to perceive more accurately the set of processes through which certain violent behaviours—mastered or not—get actualized (Laborit, 1970; Karli, 1987).

The anthropological approach, integrating the legal, economic, statistical, sociological, psycholinguistics, neurological landings, authorizes a global, dynamic, interrelational vision of the phenomena and, in this perspective, the acting out can appear as a particular mode of adaptation, making unnecessary the recourse to interpretations of pathological kind. This research orientation is directly in line with the continuation of the issue of “the total man”, such as Mauss had anticipated it when he wrote in Sociology and Anthropology (third part: Real and practical relations between psychology and sociology): “in society itself, when we study a special fact, it is with the total psychophysiological complex that we are dealing”. De facto, the sociolinguistic approach and the knowledge always more detailed of the neuronal man confirm the intuition of Mauss by clarifying it.

The legal criminal statistics and the analyses which it elicits bring to light this distinction between “instinctive or rather total men that we meet in the broadest strata of our own populations and above all in the most backward strata”, and “the civilized men of the higher castes of our civilizations (…) who [are] able to regulate the different spheres of [their] consciousness”. The labourer, “average man is not master of himself… he is a total”. The professor, on the contrary, “is not only divided into halves in himself: he is divided… he knows how to exercise, thanks to his education, to his concepts, to his deliberated choices, a control over each one of his acts”. This study of “the relations between the different compartments of the mentality and those which exist between those compartments and the organism” (Mauss, 1960), as well as the study of the links existing between a sociology of the practices and a sociology of the representations, find in the anthropological approach applied to crime the way of their realization. To go forward in the knowledge of the criminal phenomenon, it is henceforth up to the researchers to enter the subtle game of transdisciplinarity.

A Model of Transdisciplinarity: Master’s Degree in Sociology/Criminology of the University of Franche-Comté (France)

The Criminology specialization that was created within the Master’s Degree in Sciences of Man and Society at the University of Franche-Comté shows a high degree of interdisciplinarity—one of the principles of criminology. Its subject matter, the social fact “Crime”, will be examined by researchers and by experts on norms, deviance and crime specialists from a wide array of backgrounds: lawyers, historians, psychiatrists, psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists… but also civil and police officers, attorneys, prison employees and social workers, whose different perspectives will allow the development of a truly criminological vision (that of a synthetic science). The purpose of this specialization is to give students and potential continuing education candidates both theoretical and methodological tools that can be applied to problems related to deviance, crime and criminality, in order to develop more specific skills which can, in turn, find an application in urban, social or public policies. This specialization should be of interest not only for young social workers, but also for civil officers, doctors, lawyers, psychologists, special needs educators and high-ranking local authorities or police officers. Beyond its rich socio-anthropological content (the integration of common tools of analysis, the culture of discipline, and the familiarization with various authors, categories and systems), this course will let students acquire and master the theoretical and methodological tools specific to the field of criminology. Therefore, the acquisition of knowledge in the legal, historical and aetiological (sciences of the mind) fields should enable students of this course to approach social events related to abnormal behaviors, crime and criminality with the necessary critical hindsight to take action.

This course then brings together history, law, medical science and psychology, though it is still rooted in a socio-anthropological approach of the social fact “crime”. This approach implies that all social actors/agents are taken into account, not only as producers (politicians—legislators—, authorities, police officers, experts, social workers and other institutional actors), but also as products (criminals, deviants, social outcasts) of social activity. The social and historical logic of the production of values, of norms and of laws will be analyzed, as well as the conditions of their application as a regulation system of the social.

To Conclude…

Any social life evolves between the two bornesthat are the sameness and the otherness, the norm and the transgression. “So that there were no crimes (nor deviance)—wrote Durkheim—a leveling of the individual consciousnesses would be needed (…) which is neither possible, nor desirable; But so that there was no repression (no social reaction), an absence of moral homogeneity would be needed, which is irreconcilable with the existence of a society” (Durkheim, 1983, translation mine). Consequently, in a society, the definitions of “normal” and “abnormal” behaviors are generally complementary. With the result that the today’s deviance is sometimes the tomorrow’s norm. And in front of the always increasing hold of the technological rationality over our societies which, in a very democratic way, invades and controls bodies and souls, the deviants’s existence—those “Strangers” or “Oustiders” evoked by Camus or Marcuse—shows after all the inalienable opening of the field of the human adventure. In a world which aims at unidimensionality, a critical look leads us, by a reversal of perspective, to meditate this reflection of J. Monod: “the contempt that the overwhelming majority of men dedicates to those whom they hold for enslaved in a worse savagery than theirs, this contempt is too deep not to indicate that the condition of the so-called “civilized” results almost everywhere from a forced integration” (translation mine).

Navigating between norms and transgressions, between singularity and otherness, the problem of the deviance finally refers to the fundamental problem of anthropology which aims at unveiling the socio-historic processes presiding over the differentiation. Isn’t it the ability to constantly reinvent himself the peculiarity of being human, and does not the anthropological reality consist in the production of differences (cultures), from an invariant matrix (homo sapiens)? Isn’t man, quite at once, a producer of standards, but also of differences? This issue reveals the dialectic of the individual and the collective, the actor and the system… This fundamental interrogation recuts the questionings of “criminology”.

In the end, the anthropological study of the facts of deviance teaches us that the deviant is always “the other”… As well, by inventing their deviants—which are the negatives on which they re-elaborate ceaselessly their own image—societies make once again nothing else than—according to the expression of Marcel Mauss—paying themselves of the counterfeit money of their dream.