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Collection « Les sciences sociales contemporaines »

Une édition électronique réalisée à partir de l'article de Jean-Louis Loubet del Bayle, “Youth, Police and the Changes in Social Control.” In revue Cahiers de la sécurité, no 1, juillet-septembre 2007, pp. 57-64. Un numéro intitulé : “La violence des mineurs.” France : Institut National des Hautes Études de la Sécurité et de la Justice. [Autorisation de diffuser cet article en libre accès dans Les Classiques des sciences sociales accordée par l'auteur le 24 novembre 2015.]


Jean-Louis Loubet del Bayle

Historien des idées et sociologue de la police
Professeur émérite de Science politique
à l'Université des Sciences sociales de Toulouse-Capitole

Youth, Police and the Changes
in Social Control

In revue Cahiers de la sécurité, no 1, juillet-septembre 2007, pp. 57-64. Un numéro intitulé : “La violence des mineurs.” France : Institut National des Hautes Études de la Sécurité et de la Justice.

© Ministère de l'lntérieur - DICOM

Considering juvenile delinquency as an especially sore symptom of a larger change in all modern societies, this study sets out to analyse the relationships between these phenomena and the alterations affecting social control processes, as well as the repercussions that ensue in how police institutions are led to adapt and modify the ways in which they intervene in social life.

Jean-Louis Loubet del Bayle

Jean-Louis Loubet del Bayle is Professor of Political Science at the University of Social Sciences and the Institute of Political Studies in Toulouse, where he founded and directed the Centre for Studies and Research into the Police. He also oversees the "Security and Society" collection published by Harmattan. Furthermore, as a historian of ideas, his personal contribution to the sociology of police institutions has particularly focused on the role of police institutions in the socio-political organisation of societies, according to changes in types of social control. He is noted as author of the book "Police et politique. Une approche sociologique - Police and Politics. A Sociological Approach". (Paris, L'Harmattan, 2006).

Many countries are experiencing a spread of delinquency involving increasingly younger delinquents, with a variety of more or less atypical incidents, ranging from urban or school violence, to what is generally categorised under the somewhat vague term of anti-social behaviour.

Questions into this change can be classified by isolating the phenomenon and analysing it as a specific behavioural component, characteristic of a generation and a particular section of the population. However, it can also be regarded as a symptom of a broader change affecting the whole population, and yet more generally, all developed societies, which, in certain surroundings and countries, manifests itself in more spectacular and conspicuous ways than others.

Although we shall not stray from the first perspective, it is the second one which shall be studied herein. We shall consider juvenile delinquency and the violent forms it can sometimes assume as a particularly obvious and sore manifestation of an overall change, which raises the issue, often brought up today, about the nature of social ties, their foundations and evolution in modern societies. Directly referring to these issues are the many observations relating to "the crisis of points of reference," the failure [58] of the socialising role of school and the family environment, and more widely, what sociology terms the crisis in socialisation processes. These matters do indeed oblige us to question the mechanisms which are at the root of the organisation, functioning and sustainability of societies. In this way, apropos of juvenile delinquency we can ascertain the fundamental problems which form the basis for sociological questioning.

Such basic enquiry pertains to the relationships individuals have with their social surroundings and, in particular, those which individuals have with the rules and standards forming the framework of social relationships and upon which social life is based. To be yet more precise, such questioning relates to the processes which make individuals conform to these rules, such compliance being intended both to benefit society and the individuals who comprise it. These processes are referred to by sociological analysis as social control or social regulation.

If we refer to an introductory book on sociology in current use in order to define this concept more specifically, social control may be defined as "the process intended to ensure the conformity of behaviour to norms established in a given group, to preserve between members of this group the common denominator required for its cohesion and functioning !' The same book continues by emphasising that, a contrario, it is also "the process intended to discourage all the various forms of non-conformity with norms established within a group." [Rocher, 1975,1.1, p. 55.] Thus, these are mechanisms which, apart from any motivations linked to individual perception social actors might have for their personal and immediate interest, are likely to induce them to conform to social norms. When we talk about a "crisis of reference points," It is indeed this problem which emerges with questions as to the content of such reference points, and especially the mechanism which makes individuals take them on aboard and conform to them.

It is worth digressing to analyse the basic mechanisms of social control and their various forms, and it may help us to make progress in understanding the phenomena considered herein.

Theoretical analysis of this concept demonstrates first of all that social control can take two forms : positive or negative depending on whether the regulation of individual or group behaviour which it achieves, results in rewards being given for behaviour which conforms — this is the positive form — or, on the contrary, in punishment for deviant behaviour — this is the negative form. Moreover, this analysis also reveals that internal social control can be differentiated from external social control.

Internal, or internalised, social control results from individual self-discipline rooted in an internalised feeling of moral obligation, with no consequence in the event of deviance other than a personal sense of guilt. The authority and power influencing moral rules, politeness or good manners, are largely based on the internalised feeling of obligation which characterises forms of internal social control. As Durkheim remarked [1963, p. 72], "moral rules have particular status as a result of which human will conforms to their influence simply because they command leaving aside any possible consequences that the prescribed acts might have" Although this mechanism has its origins in social learning, when it functions it nonetheless remains a mechanism of individual self-control. The individual thus conforms spontaneously to social norms because he has a private feeling of "duty" to conform to them.

It is not the same in external control which is based on more or less restrictive external social pressure to make individuals conform to established norms. Be that as it may, external social control is in itself likely to take on two forms. The first form of external control can be termed immediate or "societal" It is a form of spontaneous unorganised, informal, social control which results from the scrutiny of one another by individuals comprising a group, by mutually punishing their conformism or deviance. The activity of control is thus spread amongst the entire group, each of the members of the group being made to practise it. Rumour, gossip, ostracism and lynching may all be considered as forms of control of varying intensity, which generally typifies societies referred to as interconnecting ; that is, somewhat small societies in which the visibility of each person's behaviour enables control of everybody by everyone else. This type of informal social control has long characterised traditional rural societies. "In traditional society" remarks sociologist Guy Rocher [1975, t. II, p. 100], "social control is exerted immediately and direcdy because the social arena is small and everyone knows each other. In a village, a deviant is pinpointed faster than in a large city and is punished almost immediately. In a small withdrawn community, control of each person by everyone is carried out on an almost continual basis." Hence, reduction of deviance results from the direct and immediate pressure exerted on individuals by the group or members of the group.

This first type of external, spontaneous and immediate control must be differentiated from another type of external control which can be termed organised or institutionalised control. In this case, social pressure is not direct ; it is mediated by a more or less structured institution which takes over in the event of deviance, by intervening on behalf of the group. Religious or legal institutions can fulfil this role as they are able to exert various kinds [59] of pressure. In this field, a special form of institutionalised social control is the police type, which offers the choice of using force, if required.

To summarise and to some extent simplify matters, within a society there are four fundamental social control mechanisms :

1) the moral type of social control, based on individuals' spontaneous observation of norms, whose compulsory nature has been internalised by the individual ;

2) the societal type of control, based on informal pressure which the social environment exerts on individuals ;

3) the institutionalised type of control, relying on the intervention of special social institutions, which is non-police control when the institution concerned cannot use physical force ;

4) finally, institutionalised control of the police type when, as a last resort, control results in the use of physical force.

Therefore, to take a concrete example, when pedestrians comply with the rule to use protected crossings to cross a road, this may first of all, independently of social control, result from a personal appreciation of the danger there might be in not doing so (for example, the risk of getting run over). However, respect for this rule may also be the consequence of individual public spiritedness and the ensuing feeling of obligation (self-control of the moral type). It may also be connected with the fear of disapproval expressed in a more or less open manner by other people present (immediate and societal control as is the case in countries such as Germany or Switzerland). Lastly, it might be due to the presence of a police officer and the fear of him intervening if an offence occurs (institutionalised control of the police type).

In all societies, these different methods of social control may be considered as comprising a system, that is, a whole whose components are interdependent. However, the configuration of this whole, particularly the respective role each of the processes plays, may vary greatly according to groups and societies, and analysis of the variations in this configuration may help us to define better some of the problems caused by youth crime in modern society.

It can be said that very integrated traditional societies — the societies which are sometimes described as holistic — were characterised by a social control system mainly based on a combination of informal, internalised control, often with a more or less religious foundation, and, above all, immediate and extremely firm societal or community control, based on the transparency of behaviour and scrutiny of everybody by everyone else. This was the very close, rigorous type of control exerted on individuals in relatively closed societies where generally there was little room for the concept of the individual — neither socially nor conceptually — faced with the needs of the group which weighed down upon him or her.

From this, we can put forward the hypothesis that, historically, institutionalised forms of social control — in particular, legal and police - made an appearance later on, at the same time as the development of state forms of organisation ; and that they were put in place when the informal methods of traditional social control — internalised control, especially interpersonal community control — partially lost their influence and effectiveness because of various phenomena, such as the progress in communication, population mobility, urbanisation, diversification of jobs, the anonymity of social relationships, and the pluralism of cultural references. At this time, whilst continuing to co-exist with the traditional processes [60] of regulation in a certain number of fields, it became necessary to complement them in order to compensate for their deficiencies and unsuitability when confronted with new situations, created by the change in society. The growth of these institutions has thus partly been a consequence of the changeover from holistic-type societies, which were very integrated but, let us remember, very restrictive for the individual, to societies where there has been an individualist evolution progressively creating for the individual ever more broad areas of liberty.

Societies which can be described as modern have to date been characterised by a combination of informal, non-institutionalised methods of social control — internalised and societal — and institutional techniques, in proportions varying according to the society, and also depending on the areas of social life concerned. It is this type of configuration which seems to be increasingly called into question by the changes in modern societies, particularly by the weakening of the role played by internalised and societal methods of social control.

Indeed, in modern societies, it can be observed that what some call "post-modern" societies seem to progress whilst lessening the role of informal processes which were connected with this "moral civilisation' [Elias, 1990a] or with this "culture of politeness" [Muchembled, 1997], which resulted from the scrutiny of others, in combination with the influence of internalised norms to incite the individual "to obey the normative duty to be and remain within currently accepted limits" [id, p. 315]. The constant development of individualism in mentality and behaviour, fostered by extended institutional support from the State, the justice system and the police [1], and by the anonymity of social relationships, and the pluralism of cultural references, has had the consequence of a progressive reduction in the role of these traditional and informal processes of social control, whether they be internalised control of the "moral" type or societal control of the "community" type.

This crisis in the traditional mechanisms of social control first of all affects the internalised form of social control of the "moral" type. Moreover, the word moral itself has practically disappeared from the language of modern society ; and in a discussion it is sufficient to accuse the person one is speaking to of referring to a "moral order" to remove his credibility [2]. It is this disrepute and the "twilight of duty" which is associated with it, which are, for example, described by the sociologist Gilles Lipovetsky [1992a, p. 51 ; 203] when he observes, "In a few decades, we have passed from a civilisation of duty to a culture of subjective happiness. (...) The post-moralist age coincides with the delegitimisation of obligations towards the group and the social re-enfranchisement of the strictly interindividual sphere of ethical life, separated from its imperative character." This change is so profound that when, in spite of everything, it becomes necessary to ask questions of a moral nature, to avoid pejorative connotations associated with the term, it is preferable to speak of ethics, for example, which is precisely what the author of the previous text has done.

Certainly, one can object to the fact that discussion which apparently moralises about "values" tends to persist, but if we closely analyse it, we can see that, in practice, it is unrelated to any reference to the individual obligations which these values might entail. Commenting on the findings of an opinion survey, Gilles Lipovetsky [1992b] noted a few years ago that : "The ethical framework was rehabilitated but not the ideal of full and entire commitment It is the right to live for oneself which prevails. We are seeing not so much a return of morals as the increase of post-moralist regulation, eroding sacrificial ideals as much as principles of unconditional obedience to duty, whether, individual interindividual or social (...) We want respect for values, without the obligation." More generally, it can be said that all the processes of individual self-control are weakening whilst at the same time, there is a tendency to increase external legal control to compensate for the failure of this mode of behavioural regulation.

At this point, it should be noted that the undermining of internal modes of regulation is significantly related to the crisis in socialising institutions which ensured more or less obviously or latently this type of moral education and through whose influence individuals learnt social norms and values and were made to internalise their compulsory nature. The weakening and implication of the socialising role of the family, school and churches, is the most obvious manifestation of this phenomenon, insofar as, willingly or unwillingly, like it or not, these institutions are no longer able to fulfil this social role, or only fulfil it partially and occasionally.


To the moral social control crisis can be added the crisis in the mechanisms of societal control, particularly in its immediate and informal forms. Indeed, in order to work, this type of control presupposed a certain homogeneity of morals and cultural reference points as well as a certain social transparency of individual behaviour, with additionally, all the problems which this can cause for the liberty and independence of individuals.

Yet, these conditions are no longer met in societies which are characterised on the one hand by anonymity and mobility, and on the other, by the disintegration of cultural norms and practices, these phenomena particularly affecting large urban agglomerations. Nowadays, any form of social disapproval is rejected and delegitimised, being interpreted as the manifestation of unjustifiable and unacceptable intrusion into one's private life. On a cultural level, the modern evaluation of the concept of "intolerance" is partly indicative of this generalised refusal to accept "other people's" views, or social judgement on individual behaviour. Furthermore, the anonymity and disintegration of social relationships have tended in any case to render inoperative the social stigmatisation mechanisms which characterised traditional society.

To summarise, it can be stated that because of these changes, we are now witnessing a socialisation crisis, i.e., a crisis in the traditional social mechanisms which once ensured a certain number of norms governing social behaviour were handed down, internalised and observed. As we have seen, this crisis is structured around the unstable situation surrounding the influence of the social environment within which social integration especially operated ; namely, the family and school environment in particular, to which one should certainly add the crisis in the socialising role of work and professional integration, due to the instability and disequilibrium in work relations and, above all, the spread of unemployment.

A situation results from this change which is rather well summed up by a successful French actress, "I have no inhibitions [= no internalised control]. / don't care what people think of me [no societal control]." Although she probably did not evaluate all the consequences, and even if the reality is undoubtedly somewhat different, this is still indicative of the prevailing contemporary social ethos, and the way in which modern man sees himself, giving value to an ideal of the self based on the principle of personal freedom, and rejecting, consciously or unconsciously, anything which might be considered as an attack on this liberty.

In a more scientific manner, a good many sociological analyses, generally taking their inspiration from Nobert Elias's work, draw the same conclusions. One example is the English sociologist David Garland [2000], who describes modern man as a "situational individual," who acts according to his own and immediate interests, without social reference points or internal control holding him back, and whose behaviour only obeys limited rational reasoning, being the product "of the emancipation of emotions and dysfunction of reflexive control" In France, this viewpoint is shared, for example, in Hughes Lagrange's work [2002, p. 21-22], when he raises the topic of this change under the euphemism of "flexible morals" establishing a link to the problem of youth behaviour treated herein : "We must put forward the hypothesis that the spread of flexible morals amongst young people has been brought about through education, following moral changes in the adult population. It was during the socialisation phase, i.e., the time at which moral dispositions were acquired that the changes must have occurred. It can be considered that the loosening of self-control specifically produces adolescent behaviour patterns. This is because, at that age, one is far more likely to put them into action." Taking this line further, he adds, "In affluent backgrounds, or amongst middle-class children, the weakening of inhibitions would above all have had consequences on sexual morals and the consumption of psychoactive drugs. Amongst children from poor backgrounds, more flexible self-control and also a lack of supervision, result in acts of delinquency and especially violence"

Generally speaking, the decline in self-control comprises a factor which fosters "impulsive" behaviour, often resulting in irrationality and unpredictability, both of which are frequently mentioned in analyses of juvenile delinquency. This enables us to explain the trend towards "spontaneity," which results in attacks and vandalism whose "gratuitous" nature is often noted ; or in delinquency characterised by a disproportion between the expected benefits and the risks taken, both for the victims and the delinquents themselves. In the same way, awareness vanishes simultaneously as to the varying degrees of offences and the penalties incurred which depend on the gravity of the acts committed. This change can also be blamed for the increased ease with which verbal violence slides into physical violence, or how attacks on property switch to attacks on people, there having been a resurgence of such acts over the last few years. Similarly, it is often observed how difficult it is to awaken in perpetrators of such behaviour a sense of awareness of the impact of their actions and a feeling of guilt, or, at least, responsibility.

In addition, these self-control mechanisms start to be eroded at the same time as the temptations of the socioeconomic environment in consumer societies increase, and frustration intensifies resulting from the broadening gap between ever more insistent invitations to consume, [62] and the lack of means enabling these desires to be fulfilled. Consequently, a cumulative process sets in because simultaneously, this environment also tends to weaken both the concept of "norm" and even the principle of normative self-discipline of individual behaviour which are seen as illegitimate "hindrances" to the full development of personal happiness, of which consumption is considered an essential part. As has been seen, the neo-liberalism of modern consumer societies has become "the most fierce attacker of old moral traditions, specific cultures and 'middle-class' values, which, in its view, get in the way of the emancipated individual and the free market" "More generally," adds the author of this analysis "the mere notion of norms, whether they he cultural, moral, customary or associative, is judged negatively by neo-liberalism. ... In all domains, including those of ethics and citizenship — the real liberals claim to be diehard deregulators. It is true that the market requires absolute fluidity of demand maximum flexibility in the expression of commercial preferences, a non-stop renewal of even the most flighty of fads and fashions, which, competitive "supply"' sufficiently promoted can fulfil in real time Thus, the market needs to work to eliminate anything which is fixed or constitutes a stabilising factor, and if absolutely necessary, anything which is reassuring. In this respect, the market is in perfect symbiosis with the media world which is also governed by changing curiosity, a glut of novelties and mental nomadism..." [Guillebaud, 1999, p. 72].

This situation with its contradictory characteristics, is not unreminiscent of the observations made by Durkheim [1960, p. 223 ; 281] on the anomic evolution of modern societies, which seem more relevant today at the beginning of the Twenty-First Century than at the end of the Nineteenth Century. "As the groups to which the individual belongs disintegrate, the less he will depend on them, plus, as a consequence, he will be answerable solely to himself to recognise only those rules of conduct which are based on his own personal interests. ... One no longer knows what is possible, what is not, what is fair, what is unfair, what demands and wishes go beyond the bounds... Because we have increased prosperity, our desires are intensified The most tangible prey which is offered to them stimulates them, making them more demanding more impatient with any rule, while it is precisely these traditional rules which have lost their authority. Hence, the state of disorder or anomie is yet more intensified by the fact that passions are less bridled at the very moment when they need to be more reined in."

Such an approach thus leads us to consider that the situation regarding young people and their "deviances" is in large part, the consequence of the changes affecting all modern societies. With young people, this results in more or less specific manifestations, particularly violent forms, whilst in adults, the changes lead to other equally real, but undoubtedly less spectacular effects. Indeed, one can, for example, link to this change the weakening in a number of domains of regulation mechanisms, which to date were not subject to any organised monitoring and which were mainly based on individual self-discipline. This can be the case, for example, in professional ethics, which are increasingly being replaced by regulations of a legal nature and uncertain effectiveness. Likewise, the disappearance of these self-discipline mechanisms certainly has consequences in situations where the nebulosity and complexity of social mechanisms make external control of the legal and police type difficult ; for example, when it comes to elite crime, with phenomena of corruption and economic and financial criminality ; hence, every in every case where, to date, regulation of behaviour was based on professional conscience or on the individual "morality," i.e., on individual self-control.

This trend is even stronger due to the technological revolution — with, for example, the development of IT — as it simultaneously encourages temptation and its fulfilment. This change in forms of social control is thus generally characterised by the trend towards the obsolescence of informal mechanisms - self-control, societal control - and by the extension of institutionalised control, especially the police type. This can be seen in the relationship young people have with society, and particularly, in the relationship that police institutions have with them, of which the police are intuitively aware, as is demonstrated by a police officer's remarks, who implicitly raises the transformations in social control which we have previously attempted to analyse, "I grew up in Montreuil. In the 1970s, there was order. And what was order ? It wasn't the police. It was the caretaker and the newspaper man ! Today, there isn't the caretaker anymore or the guy who delivered L'Huma on Sunday and who used to say to his mate, 'Hey ! Watch out, your son did something stupid again just now,' or 'Watch out ! He walked on the grass again.' Today, you can piss on the grass, throw your beer can on the pavement and nobody gives a damn ! Not in those days ! There was always a guy you could respect and who would give the call to order, the call to law. Not in the security sense, but, simply to maintain social cohesion, the rules of the game and manners. Today, everything's fallen apart, and we have to deal with it on the front line." [Corcelette, 2003, p. 154].

For police institutions, there are two types of consequences. Firstly, quantitatively, this enables us to understand why police institutions and officers are finding themselves increasingly involved in dealing with young people, ever younger, in such a way that the role of traditional social [63] supervision has faded into the background to be replaced by a growing recourse to legal intervention in social life [3]. Recently, we have seen children of ten years old prosecuted, whilst in another era, one would have been satisfied with an admonition and summoning the parents. Here, as elsewhere, there has been an ensuing increase in, and diversification of, the tasks burdening the police and the expectations one has of them. It might be considered that the problems raised herein are not unrelated to the corresponding development of private security practices and types of private police. At the same time, some police officers stress that the number and precocity of these contacts in a repressive and institutional context can have a dysfunctional effect : "One of the aspects of the crisis of the family unit is in the relationship young people have with authority. Often, the first authority they encounter is the police, but this follows an offence. The law marks out for them what is not allowed, before they could learn any limits set by parental authority and teachers. This has extremely pernicious effects on the functioning of our society because the confrontation between the youth and the police officer — which should have taken place between the youth and his father or mother — inevitably becomes considerably more tricky to handle, insofar as there is no longer any emotional relationship which can exist between the youth and his family" [Duglery, 1996, p. 112].

Generally clear awareness about these difficulties also leads to some qualitative consequences in the way in which police strategies are orientated in modern societies to adapt to this change. There is a common tendency to try to reactivate forms of control which had fallen into disuse. Therefore, through preventive policies striving to appeal to citizens' sense of responsibility, their "public spiritedness" and a sort of "moral rearmament," the aim is actually to restore more or less explicitly internalised forms of social control. Or, to effect the change via community and neighbourhood police programmes, which generally have a clear objective to rally society so that citizens contribute to their own safety and do not leave everything, passively or exclusively, to other specialised organisations which are often overwhelmed by what is expected of them.

Here again, we find these trends in police policy relating to young people. Hence, the creation, for example, of police interventions of the educational or social activity type, which get the police to play a replacement socialising role, as compared with what police often denounce as the failure of traditional socialising authorities such as the family or school. Police intervention in learning the highway code or informing young people about the dangers of taking psychoactive substances, are illustrations of this trend. This is also demonstrated by the "partnerial" character police policies take, which strive to organise and extend collaboration of police institutions with other social main players, in order to reconstruct a social fabric around young people ; something other than the confrontation between youth and police. The most spectacular demonstration of this trend is certainly the rapprochement between police institutions and schools, who are endeavouring to rediscover common points and mutually enhance their social roles, when the foundations of social ties are called into question. Moreover, these changes cannot be taken for granted and a sign of this qualitative change in police intervention can certainly be found in the recurring questions this change raises with police themselves and in their environment as to what the "real work" of a police officer is.

Beyond the more or less transitory ups and downs, by asking questions about the foundations of social ties and the configuration of the social control process, this analysis leads us to tackle general questions relating in particular to the "civilisation process" of Western societies, as described by a certain number of psychologists, such as Norbert Elias [1990b]. Indeed, in the development of self-restraint mechanisms, he saw the consequences of a plurisecular evolution, especially resulting from the mutual extension and interpermeation of different human groups and the trend towards reduction and monopolisation by political organisation of the use of physical force.

From this "rationalisation" and pacifying of behaviour with external and external results, in social relationships as in the individual "economy of the psyche," Norbert Elias [id, p. 310] also stressed the fragility, contingency and possible variations, depending on the social context. "It presupposes, he remarked, a raised standard of life, increase in safety, better protection against attacks and physical destruction and therefore, against the uncontrollable fear which often afflicts in the worst way imaginable, members of societies devoid of consolidated control for the use of force and a division of responsibilities. We are currently so used to having this kind of control and the great predictability of external attacks which result, that we no longer measure their impact on our behaviour and psyche. We do not realise that it would only take a short time for what we call our "reason," i.e., the far-sighted, thoughtful and superior component of behaviour control to disintegrate and collapse, if ever the stress in and around us changed or if the fears which affect our life suddenly increased or decreased"

Supporting this, Norbert Elias has already noted that more than half a century ago, modern Western societies experienced an upheaval in these mechanisms and he considered the Twentieth Century, in this respect, to be a transitional period in which individuals have seen some of their certainties and "control" reference points eroded, insofar as "old norms have partly been called into question" and where "new, stronger norms, do not yet exist" He pointed to several causes for this change he saw beginning, such as "the greater mobility of humans" which creates "more frequent encounters with people who have undergone other types of conditioning." Consequently, he remarks that questions are raised about "many aspects of behaviour that previous generations took for granted" and which people "did not see the slightest reason to question." "Why, in such a situation, should one behave in such a way ? Why is one thing allowed and another forbidden ? What is the meaning of such rules regarding manners or morals ? Norms which have passed unhindered down the generations now generate problems." [id. passim, p. 308].

So, if it is true as Elias believed [id, p. 313], that "no society can exist without channelling individual impulses and emotions ; without clear regulation of every person's behaviour," [64] one cannot fail to notice the weakening of self-restraint mechanisms. These were, according to him, the essential component in modern societies, to the extent that not only the types and objects of self-control are called into question, but also their founding principle itself, with the generally demonstrated refusal of any self-limitation of spontaneity of desires, emotions or impulses, which tended to make the individual rein in "the pleasure of reaching out his hand for anything he covets, likes or hates" [Elias, 1990a, p. 294]. The previous observations thus lead to the reverse of the Eliasan issue, which we can term as post-Eliasan. Indeed, what Norbert Elias studied and analysed was the way in which social change has historically brought about the development and internalisation of self-restraint processes. However, the issue here is to wonder what social consequences will likely arise from the weakening in self-restraint mechanisms which seems to characterise post-modern societies.

We may add that these issues are not only raised by sociologists but are questions which modern societies are asking about themselves, particularly when they wonder about their future in terms of a "civilisation crisis," "which means, in the everyday sense" as Raymond Aron remarked [1978, p. 412], "or the negation of values and imperatives which form the foundations of a cohesive society, or— to be more precise — the inability of adults to pass down to successive generations respect for these values or obedience to these imperatives."



Agulhon (M), 1995, « Faut-il avoir peur de l'ordre moral ? », in Histoire vagabonde. La politique en France d'hier à aujourd'hui, Paris, Gallimard, p. 254-265.

Aron (R.), 1978, Plaidoyer pour I'Europe decadente, Paris, Robert Laffont.

Corcelette (J.-P.), 2003, La police, les « mal-aimes » de la Republique, Paris, Balland.

Duglery (D.), 1996, « L'adaptation des strategies policieres », Les Cahiers de la securité interieure, n° 23, p. 110-120.

Durkheim (E.), 1960, Le suicide, Paris, PUF.

Durkheim (E.), 1963, L'éducation morale, Paris, PUF.

Elias (N.), 1990a, La civilisation des moeurs, Paris, Pocket.

Elias (N.), 1990b, La dynamique de I'Occident, Paris, Pocket.

Garland (D.), 2000, The Culture of Control. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

Guillebaud (J.-C), 1999, La refondation du monde, Paris, Seuil.

Lagrange (H.), 2002, « Violence, repression et civilisation des moeurs », Les Cahiers de la securite interieure, n° 47, p. 9-30.

Lipovetsky (G.), 1992a, Le crepuscule du devoir, Paris, Gallimard.

Lipovetsky (G.), 1992b, Le Nouvel Observateur, 11 juillet.

Muchembled (R.), 1997, La société policée, Paris, Seuil.

Rocher (G.), 1975, Introduction a la sociologie générate, Paris, Seuil.

[1] This is all the more reason why the individual ends up forgetting what institutional support brings. As Hegel has already noted, "When someone walks in the street in the middle of the night without being in danger, the idea does not occur to him that it could be otherwise, as the habit of being safe has become second nature for us and we are not aware that this safety is the result of certain institutions."

[2] On this topic, we can refer to the fascinating study by the historian of the Third Republique, Maurice Agulhon [1995].

[3] "It is an observable fact that our disorientated societies tend to bridge the gaps by an increasingly fussy, obsessional recourse to positive law, particularly criminal law, which, via a spontaneous trend, is being gradually introduced into the heart of what one used to call private space. Legal experts are the first to be concerned by what they term the "penalisation" of society ; this repressive tendency, which in an unstoppable, desperate march forward, seeks to make up for the lack of reference points by enacting ever more specific and insidious regulations." [Guillebaud, 1999, p. 21 ].

Retour au texte de l'auteur: Jean-Marc Fontan, sociologue, UQAM Dernière mise à jour de cette page le lundi 7 novembre 2016 16:50
Par Jean-Marie Tremblay, sociologue
professeur associé, Université du Québec à Chicoutimi.

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