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Policing, Pacification, and Prisons: Coercive Governance in French Culture, History, and Thought from 1925 to the present

Module Code: FR325
Module Name: Policing, Pacification, and Prisons: Coercive Governance in French Culture, History, and Thought from 1925 to the present
Module Credits: 30

Module description

This was a new module I taught for the first time in academic year 2014-15 and which I designed to tie in closely with my own developing research on ideas and practices of policing in modern and contemporary France. One of the first cohort of students won the Association for the Study of Modern and Contemporary France's annual undergraduate student essay prize for the summative essay she wrote for this module.

Over the two terms of the module we shall look at some of the characteristic features of the French policing, criminal justice and prison system from around 1925 to the present day. We shall do this by studying closely a carefully selected series of core texts (both books and films) in their historical contexts. The module will look both at the policing techniques which the state and corporations employ to force people to do things they would not otherwise do ('coercive governance') and at the ways in which such techniques have been resisted. Forms of resistance range from the prison break (we shall read the gripping account by convict Henri Charrière, Papillon, of his escape attempts from the penal colony in French Guiana in the 1930s) to the more sophisticated moves by one prison campaign group, the GIP, to break down some of the barriers between prison and the wider society in the early 1970s. Some of the questions which this module will address include:

  • Who exactly are the police in France today and why are they generally less trusted and respected than their counterparts in Britain?
  • What techniques do the police use in this period to force people to do things they do not want to do? (This is broadly what I mean by 'coercive governance' in the module subtitle.)
  • How has the treatment of young offenders changed since the 1920s and what does this tell us about the wider society?
  • Why have some particularly effective policing techniques (such as torture) been used widely in the colonial context of 'pacification' but not on the mainland?
  • What is the purpose of imprisonment and how has the prison been understood and subverted?
  • How, if at all, did the way in which la banlieue was policed contribute to the 2005 riots and how were these riots controlled and understood?
  • What are some of the key dimensions of French public and policy debates on dataveillance?
  • What is distinctive about the French policy approach to counter-terrorism and security?

Assessment Method:

A formal two-hour examination plus ONE assessed essay of 4,000-4,500 words in length
Entirely by assessed work, consisting of TWO assessed essays, each of 4,000-4,500 words in length