POTERE DISCREZIONALE E POLITICHE SECURITARIE. Le chèque en gris dello Stato alla polizia/DISCRETIONARY POWER AND SECURITY POLICIES. Le chèque en gris of the Government to the Police

Didier Fassin


Studies of the police tend to pit two theses against each other: the first is the thesis of the “insularity” of the police and it emphasizes the discretionary power of police agents; the second is the “instrumentalist” thesis which considers policemen as agents of public authority. Ethnographic fieldwork conducted
in the Paris area on the patrolling work of the public safety units of the police, and more specifically anti-crime brigades, makes it possible to solve this apparent contradiction between the notion of a state-within-the-state and the conception of the police as the armed branch of the state. Building upon the observation of repressive practices seeking to enforce legislation on drugs and resituating the notorious “result-driven management” within
the context of the general reorientation of penal policy, the article suggests that the insularization of police activity constitutes the best means of its instrumentalization, especially in poor neighborhoods. It is by doing what they want that policemen also do what is expected of them. The unequal distribution of the use of force and of sanction against underprivileged populations composed mostly of recent immigrants overlaps with and legitimizes the unequal distribution of social resources. By justifying its policy in the name of collective security and the common good, the penal state thus reproduces the social order while, paradoxically, weakening public order.


The “Insularity” of the Police, The “Instrumentalist” Thesis, Anti-crime Brigades, Social Order, Ethnographic Fieldwork.

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Registrazione presso il Tribunale di Napoli n. 37 del 05/07/2012