Working as a policeman: the profession of policeman in Europe, 18th-20th c.
To be held in Caen, Maison de la Recherche et des Sciences de l’Homme, Université de Caen, Campus 1, Esplanade de la paix
The history of modern and contemporary police is currently undergoing a deep evolution. For a long time, it was dominated by two approaches to a degree which varied according to national historiographical traditions.: on one hand, the traditional approach of the history of institutions; on the other, the history of crime. which prevailed in the seventies . However, both of them shared a neglect of the social history of the police institution, and of the practices and beliefs of those who were the main actors.
The diversity of historiographical situations that nowadays prevails in Europe, and the recent development of knowledge in this field lead us to think that the history of the police would gain from taking on a comparative dimension.
The period from 18th to 20th c. seems particularly fruitful, for police institutions were then confronted with urban growth, social and political unrest, the invention of public opinion and, last but not least the major crises of two world wars. Of particular interest are the successive political régimes and the different styles of government which relentlessly questioned and challenged their legitimacy and practices and to which police institutions had to adjust constantly. These are times when the police examines itself, to justify or adjust its action, to perpetuate its existence, to enlarge its means of action, its numbers, or even its authority.
The focus of the conference will be on actors situated at different levels in the hierarchy, in order to address a number of issues.
(a) How are policemen recruited and trained ? What is their socio-cultural, or family background ? What are the conditions for a successful career ?
(b)What are their professional or individual strategies, the margins of discretion and autonomy enjoyed by policemen, their relationship with society, their own agency or other authorities (political, local, the judiciary).
(c) How are police skills acquired and transmitted? Is there a specific police knowledge and how does it relate to technical and scientific developments in the field?
(d) The diversity institutions invested with police powers has to be taken into account as well as the international circulation of the main actors, the exchanges or confrontation of theories and practices, the competition of different models of policing, etc.
(e) These questions are inked to bodies of discourses on the police, of systems of representation or self-representation among the police, its personnel and units. Our purpose is not so much to present a collection of images, but rather to find a way to understand how police identities, are constructed, individually and collectively. It is also to delineate the repertory of attitudes, relationships or conflicts between the police and the people.
(f) Obviously, a “good” policeman is not so for everyone at the same time. How does one define police zeal ? Who provides the criteria and who uses them for ones own sake? One suspects that there might be contradictory conceptions and internal conflicts over such a definition, which will undoubtedly feed back on the legitimacy of police actions within society.
(g) This leads us to look into the ways police action confronts populations. What are the bases of the social legitimacy of policing, and how does the social compromise on which the so-called "public order" rests evolve ? Which style of policing is more or less easily accepted to settle which type of issue? The question of how “visible” the police should be is symbolic because it refers to the different modes of supervising populations according to circumstances : conspicuously wearing a uniform or, on the contrary, infiltrating the underworld, giving publicity to actions or keeping them secret, organizing a visible presence in certain spaces or resorting to virtual systems... all these dealings involve specific skills, forms of professionalization which can be more or less willingly accepted by populations in search of a new balance.
We hope that this project will meet a with a wide response and will stimulate a lively debate.
Proposals for papers ( one page, mentioning your details and the institution you are attached to) are to be sent on December 1st 2005, by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
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