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

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

Laurent Mucchielli (CESDIP- CNRS, France)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-872-7.ch003
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Abstract

The state of a discipline—or, more simply, the state of a discourse field and the related academic practices—cannot be understood outside the historical framework of its national genesis. According to Mucchielli (2004), this ‘broad picture’ view of France suggests a three-period split: (1) paradigmatic assertions and the impossible transdisciplinary dialogue typical of the years 1880-1940; (2) the normative context of the years 1945-1975, and the fresh associations it brought about; (3) the renewed dissociation between professional rationales and transdisciplinary dialogue from the mid-1970s onwards, alongside the considerable development of social science research. Finally, the authors question the current situation and the renewed, politically motivated attempt at establishing criminology as a full discipline in France.
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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.

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