A Chair of Criminology at the French National Council of Universities. Great!… no, wait!
by Knut Fournier
Knut Fournier is currently completing two LLMs, in Human Rights and Public International Law. He teaches the International Protection of Refugee seminar at the National Law University, Delhi, and is a visiting researcher at the College of Europe, in Bruges, Belgium. He will be starting a PhD in International Law and Human Rights at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, from September 2012. His current research interests include the freedom of movement in the European Union, transnational regulatory networks in Asia, and the right to privacy.
On the 13th of February, French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, officially raised criminology to the status of an independent discipline in French universities. This could be an occasion to celebrate: criminology has long been a sub-discipline; of penal law, psychology and the scientific aspects of forensic evidence. This move will result in dedicated criminology degrees being available for students who previously had to study abroad to achieve their training. They will have access to a complete criminological curriculum in France, from the bachelor’s degree through to post-doctoral studies. Dedicated journals, reviews, conferences, and more financial means should also follow this elevation of criminology to an independent discipline. The decree is a victory for Sarkozy’s advisor, Alain Bauer, who left the socialist party a decade ago to join the current president in his crusade against urban criminality.
The political bias of the pioneers behind the new criminology department is obvious. That they will focus on petty drug-dealing, car theft and repeat offenders should be the least of our concern. Rather, the lack of academic training and credibility of the one designated to lead the criminology division at the French National Council of Universities (CNU) is much more of a problem. It is certainly a positive development that criminology be recognised as an autonomous field. But it should be advanced as an academic discipline, not a politically-driven tool employed by rightist politicians to justify their contested research. Alain Bauer has been criticised for his research methods, findings, and for the general bias of his so-called research. In 2003 he was awarded the ironic ‘Big Brother Award’ by Privacy International, for his tireless work in favour of more surveillance over privacy.
Without proper academic training, some people are able to produce perfectly valid results, by adhering to a code of conduct, methods and tools that act as a safety net for researchers, protecting against common mistakes, political bias and gross misconduct. These methods can be acquired through training and practice of academic research. However, Mr. Bauer joined the CNAM, a Paris-based Grande Ecole, in 2009. Alain Bauer will not benefit from any of the tools and methods that protect academics from common mistakes. He has been regularly criticised for his fantasist interpretation of statistics, most notably at the time of his nomination as a professor of criminology at the Centre National des Arts et Metiers (CRAM) in 2009. He will maintain his current research topics (private urban criminality), his current methods (denounced by sociologists, law professors, and NGOs) and probable findings (that more powers be given to the state and that the police will ultimately resolve problems associated with criminality). In Bauer’s works, criminology is to be understood only to facilitate the arrest of urban criminals, no other approach, intent, or research interest has ever been presented by him or his fellow ‘researchers’. On a more serious note, he will now benefit from the legitimacy of being an ‘academic’ despite never having published anything that deserves this label. Some of his previous work, approximately 40 books on criminality, include: ‘Violence and Urban Insecurity’ (2006), and ‘Video-surveillance and Video-protection’ (2008). These works take academic form, but do not adhere to academic standards in terms of methods and evidence-based conclusions. At the time of his nomination at the CNAM, the sociologists Michel Lallement and Philip Milburn, as well as the law professor Christine Lazerges co-signed an Op-Ed in Le Monde, a major French daily newspaper, exposing the ‘impressive’ list of criticisms Bauer faced for each and every one of his publications. They then summarized the methodological errors of these books and articles, a list certainly no less impressive. Mostly, his books are driven by narrow political motives. For one, Alain Bauer disproportionately focuses on urban petty criminals as opposed to the crimes of powerful state elites and companies, portraying a bias of political partisanship. This focus is combined with ‘threat-based’ criminological research, which places the state at the heart of method, findings, and remedy, thereby enabling it to pursue its politically motivated agenda under the guise of such ‘research’. The failure of this approach in criminology studies in the United States, however, has not prevented Alain Bauer from promoting this brand of criminology in France. In truth, this outdated approach sets the field a hundred years back in time, when the raison d’Etat would have justified the most serious violations of human rights by governments.
The method used to create this criminology department in France illustrates the pretentious tone that has characterised the entire Sarkozy administration, which has prescribed French security policy for more than 10 years. Academics have been ignored; the results of public consultation have not been published; professors and members of the CNU have been deprived of their right to participate in the debate. Their opinions on the purpose of such a move and also on the methods have been erased by the President’s desire to see an American and United Kingdom-like criminological culture penetrate the world of French universities.
I believe that universities are not mere places and institutions of teaching and knowledge. Just like any other institution, they reflect their time and the society that forms them. That the CNU has been run over by politicians, without having had a say in the modification of its organization and governance, perfectly illustrates how current politics in France seek to delegitimise academic knowledge, in favour of addressing ‘real issues’.
As a result of these changes, the works and efforts of those who have pushed for years for the consideration of state criminality in criminology studies has now been displaced in France. Now, researchers, human rights activists, sociologists and law professors will have to persuade a new variety of academics; academics without doctorate degrees who have been put in place by politicians.