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The revolt of Asterix

This is a little pamphlet which I sent to my Community Sanctions and Measures (subgroup of the European Criminology Society) friends and colleagues. I usually complain about French isolationism and arrogance. This time, the frog in me does a coming out.

Dear friends and colleagues, this is not a comic book announcement, nor a joke: the Frog in me is in rebellious mood – and mode.

As you might have noticed, over the last few years, I have been foolish enough to leave the comfortable shores of legal intricate reasoning and publishing – I still love it though! – and started wandering on unknown criminology territories. Foolish because:

a) I have had to write in English, my mother, but not native tongue and Lord knows that academic English is removed from my original kitchen English;

b) I have had to learn to abide by what is still to me weird methodology and article presentation rules. For instance, I still cannot fathom the need for a conclusion; as we French lawyers say if you have made your point clear in your developments, which you should have, what is the point of losing energy and time to summarize it again; the reader is supposed to have gotten it on his/her own, else he’s dumb too. Indeed, I could make just as much fun about French legal presentation and article’s formatting rules…. One thing is for sure: my journey out of my usual domain has changed me: I find it increasingly difficult to take anything too seriously; it all looks so cultural and debatable.

Anyhow, moving on to my

c) I have had to insert in the mandatory introductory part of each article, all the Anglophone literature. Forget about being excused for having my own background, academic and literature and references environment. Sure I can insert one or two French ref here and there. It makes my work look nicely exotic. But I must not forget that real references, real literature is only Anglophone.

Now I have accepted this during my first daring move into criminology research as I did have a lot to learn – and still have megatons of things to learn. I know that, like in medicine, we have no choice but to publish in English and that’s where one finds important and interesting stuff.

Lord knows that I am not your typical frog who spends her life crying her eyes out at the domination of the English language – and through its language, of its culture – and as a result, live on my little corner of Brittany, defending my last piece of heritage, knowing full well that the war has been lost a long time ago. In fact I make fun of it in my own country and urge my fellow countrymen to get out of the wood and show what they can do – and get a lot of angry, sometimes even violent reactions as a result.

Still… recently I have started to feel a wee bit resentful: I am supposed to know all English literature and to painstakingly quote it to give structure to any given research of mine, albeit knowing that none of it has ever been read or heard of in my own country and that the concepts, debates, history, that they convey are for a great part non relevant in France.

Now we are leaving mere patriotic vexed battle loser anger here, and engaging into deeper waters.

Some may reply that criminology is a science and therefore, like medicine, is universal. Really, is it that simple? To a degree yes, RNR principles, meta-analysis results are, I am sure, for the most part transferrable to France. But what about the evolution of probation services, what about the prison context, what about staff culture, what about public opinion? There is a limit to how relevant Anglophone work will be pertinent here.

Others might reply somewhat sarcastically that if French – or other non Anglophone – literature existed, then perhaps it might be relevant to quote it. Now that’s a tough one. It is true that there are few criminology works in my country. But there are other fields, such as law and sociology, psychology or psychiatry, which may have produced results that would be worth being mentioned. Also France is a sad example, but there are many other non Anglophone countries where fascinating pieces of work are published and who bothers to enquire about, let alone quote, them?

This is where non Anglophone academics will instinctively censor themselves: all this literature is bound to be in French, Spanish, Dutch, German, Italian… and we know our readers will not be able to read any of this, but with a few exceptions. So we refrain from it. Probably out of politeness. But also because we need the space to prove that we have indeed read the Anglophone literature and the introduction/methodology part of the article cannot be 15 pages long can it? If I use up too many paragraphs talking about Saleilles, Ancel, or Levasseur to present the French principles of individualisation and reinsertion, I shall not be able to quote all the desistance literature.

And this, my dear friends, is where I start getting flared up: of course I have to quote the desistance literature, but then why shouldn’t Anglophones quote Saleilles (granted some have heard of him, but do they have any idea how influential his ideas have been in my country or what the true connotations of individualisation are? Don’t think so), Ancel and Levasseur as well? Why don’t they also quote the resilience psychological and psychiatric literature whilst they are at it?

Why do I have to explain the common denominators and differences between travail d’intérêt general and pay back? Why not with German or Italian community work?

Why do Americans think they invented problem solving courts and reentry courts when France, Italy, Spain, Germany have had them for decades – with variations, granted, but still?

Why do I feel that I myself know more about the history and evolution, and current state of England and Wales’ probation than I know about my own jurisdictions’ and definitely about any other country in the world?

As a colleague recently emailed me: ‘I explained how CBT works in my country and the reviewers said ‘nothing new’, but I know by heart all English reforms of community sentences’.

Then it hit me: whenever I write something describing how we do things in France, I write as if the only audience was Anglophone – and it is for a great part – so like when I travel abroad and tell about French cuisine and dressing code, I am a polite traveller who gives a hint into my culture, but it is never about being part of a common (scientific) community sharing the same culture. It seems to only serve one purpose: it allows for Anglophone people to compare how they do things with how we do things: ‘Oh French probation services are part of prison services, we have NOMS and NOMS was not such a good idea – oh French women like wearing dark colours, oh yeah, we love red and fuchsia pink don’t we John, pass me the salt will you please?’
I am not sure I am coming across clearly here. I am trying to point in the direction of why we compare, why Anglophone countries have made a real effort to include us dominated minority lot in the recent years, but why it is just superficial and somehow not very useful. And to me, as an academic, it still feels like I am part of a third world country. It makes me feel like I or my fellow countrymen do not have a substantial role to play – not that I believe that I have beyond my legal expertise – but that we are just a little bit of that pinch of exoticism: things are better than they used to be because now ‘they’ do like to hear about us occasionally, but we get dismissed just as fast.

So I do think that some efforts should be made on the part of Anglophone scholars – and their educational system – to learn other languages and to read other stuff than papers published in English. I do think that serious efforts should be made by reviewers to accept papers which are not lavishly – and perhaps even slavishly – pasting tons of Anglophone literature but talk about their own. Politeness should go both ways. And I do think that, crucially, we must try and think about moving from traditional ‘we do this differently from you Anglophones’ kind of comparative work to working comparatively in an integrated way: Spend the time in the course of networking, to explain/and listen to others’ way of thinking, of seeing things – not just how we do things in a brief descriptive manner. The COST project of which I am a proud partner ( should be the lieu for this.

As of non-Anglophone scholars, they must learn not to speak exclusively to the Anglophone public, but to then entire universe – and at least definitely to Europe.

Now I do not have the solution to this can of worms, but I would love to get feedback on your opinion with this.