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Actes de colloque/Conference Proceedings

The unique legacy of a cosmopolitan thinker

Tributes to Jean-Paul Brodeur
Benoit Dupont
Translated by Joseph Grades
This article is a translation of:
L’œuvre singulière d’un penseur cosmopolite [fr]

Index terms

Mots-clés :

(Brodeur) Jean-Paul, police
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1This collection of articles is a tribute to Jean-Paul Brodeur who passed away on April 26, 2010. Above all, it is a reflection of his insatiable and uncompromising intellectual curiosity, developing a distinctive thought structured by an ethics of action. Emerging from his roots and headed for a very promising career in philosophy, Jean-Paul Brodeur decided to branch off in an atypical direction in 1978 to an emerging field of studies: criminology. He made this decision during a period in Quebec’s history when the social sciences were breaking free from a long reign of subordination to Thomistic philosophy (Fournier, 1976). He never regretted this audacious decision, even though he sometimes disapproved of his new colleagues’ ‘sloppy’ thinking, as Philip Stenning recalls later in this issue.

  • 1 See the annex for the complete list.

2As an author and editor of 26 works including special issue journals1, Jean-Paul Brodeur tirelessly continued his work until the end, never surrendering a moment to the disease he discovered he had a few months before. His greatest satisfaction was finalizing what he considered his Magnum opus, his object of predilection, the sum of his research and thoughts that occupied him throughout his career on policing. He never had the chance to flip through the pages of a hardback copy of his book The policing web (Brodeur, 2010). An oeuvre he reflected upon for years and frequently revised due to his desire for perfection, which was published by one of the most prestigious English academic publishing houses. However, what he originally intended as a modern treatise on policing will make his intellectual heritage heard by giving all who contemplate the functions of police activity a very rich theoretical and empirical framework.

3It would be simplistic to confine Jean-Paul Brodeur’s body of work to his research on methods of policing, even if they are his most known works. The question of sentencing also played an important role in his career. From the mid-1980s until the end of the 1990s, he demonstrated this through his will to make criminal justice fairer and more humane. Instead of confining himself to the comfortable position of an outside observer, where critics can freely situate themselves without fear of interfering with the dull unforeseen contingencies of the political-administrative world, he chose the role of adviser by working alongside Anthony Doob and a few other‎‎ criminologists for the Canadian Sentencing Commission (1987). This resulted in the construction of clear principles designed to assist in the creation of a fairer penal policy. This perilous exercise required the accommodation of opposing points of views, and undoubtedly tested Jean-Paul Brodeur’s determination. But his pragmatic nature allowed him to arrive at compromises that became evident. As Anthony Doob recalled, he liked to quote a Rolling Stones song to illuminate the machinery of this pragmatic approach: “You can’t always get what you want / But if you try sometime, well you just might find / You get what you need."

4Offering scientific support to practitioners was an anchoring point in his career, whether he worked with political decision makers responsible for reforming the criminal justice system, the heads of public commission of inquiries mandated to expose the malfunctions of police, military and intelligence institutions or directors of those same institutions wishing to improve the quality of their public services. Collaborating as often as he did could have easily dulled the critical sense of a less experienced scholar, however these interactions nourished his thoughts. Traces of this are evident in the many publications targeting a purely academic readership.

5Jean-Paul Brodeur’s role as interlocutor was not limited to the interaction between the fields of research and application. He equally felt it his obligation to respond to the numerous requests from the printed press (of which he was an avid reader) and electronic media on questions related to police work and terrorism. He believed the public had the right to explanations allowing them to reject the noise of sensationalism and catastrophes that normally contaminate such debates. He was a writer for a bimonthly feature on a Radio-Canada morning show from 1999 to 2001. Afterwards, he wrote a bimonthly column on criminal justice published in the journal Le Devoir from 2001 to 2003. He was not content to be used as a foil for the purposes of the journalists who interviewed him. He purposefully rephrased the questions asked of him, offering an alternative of scientific clarification in opposition to the media's injunction to simplify. Various news professionals paid homage to him publicly. Some, like Michel Lacombe of Radio-Canada, even devoted a long segment of their show to him who they admired for his ability to bring together the roles of the intellectual and the citizen. But maybe the most eloquent display of respect was given by the radio talk show host Michel Desautels during his end of the day national news segment. He interrupted his program to announce Jean-Paul Brodeur’s death. He said that Jean-Paul Brodeur "allowed (journalists) to appear more intelligent and listeners to be better informed." He was undeniably a prominent voice in Quebec public debate and his influence extended well beyond the borders of la Belle Province.

6His publications, which were equally divided between French and English, were unavoidable references on questions concerning policing and security on both sides of the Atlantic. He regularly attended the annual American Society of Criminology conferences. He was a guest professor in many English speaking institutions and was an author of entries on police and police technologies in the latest edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. He also worked along the side of Dominique Monjardet and Frédéric Ocqueteau to develop international and comparative events for the Institut des hautes études de la sécurité intérieure (IHESI). He greatly influenced police studies in Belgium. And during the 1990s, he put a lot of effort into establishing projects to develop and strengthen human rights in Africa.

7The diversity of the contributors gathered in this issue (Canada, France, United States and Australia) clearly illustrates his propensity throughout his career to weave together privileged connections with collaborators from worlds and academic traditions that generally ignore each other. This ability permitted him to play the role of an intellectual broker. It allowed him to impose on the Anglo-Saxon world, for example, the eminently continental concept of high policing, or to nourish his French speaking colleagues’ thoughts on the myths and realities of police work, with data taken from North American empirical research. The contribution of his research and the innovative dimension of his work were acknowledged unanimously by his peers. They commended him in 1990 at The Royal Society of Canada and granted him a Killam Scholarship in 2002, which is hands down the most selective and prestigious academic funded program in Canada, all fields considered.

8His highly active participation in scientific and editorial affairs was accompanied with significant administrative responsibilities. From 1988 to 1996 he became the head of the International Centre for Comparative Criminology, one of the most important groups of researchers in the field. He then took up the post again from 2004 to 2010, facilitating its development in a very tight budgetary environment. He was never willing to sacrifice the quality or integrity of research for the sake of financial constraints. In this aspect, he was a fierce negotiator and a cunning strategist whose relationship with the administrative authorities was one of esteem tainted with suspicion and awe.

9Thus on April 14, 2011, at the Université de Montréal, a tribute was paid to a philosopher, a criminologist, an advisor, a scholar, a popularizer, a manager, but most of all a friend. The collection of articles in this special issue of Penal Field resumes and enriches the presentations delivered on that day by a few of those who were his closest and most frequent interlocutors of the last 40 years.

10In the first article, Georges Leroux describes in detail the reasons why Jean-Paul Brodeur was compelled to leave philosophy behind, a decision laden with consequences, which he never explained publicly. The quick and severe judgment he passed on postmodern philosophy and the sterility of its apprehension of reality naturally attracted him to the empirical methods within the social sciences in general and criminology in particular. It did not stop him at all from speaking out in a rather harsh manner on the deficiencies of a field that was also threatened by a certain self-indulgence and an inability to integrate into its analytical framework the most extreme and complex criminal behaviors. The article De grandes espérances (Brodeur, 2007) represents a stern indictment against the wandering, naïveté and inadequacies of criminology, which he regretted was unable to take root sustainably in France.

11The second article by René Lévy shifts the debate and examines the place history had in Jean-Paul Brodeur’s reflection on police institutions. More precisely, he raises the ambivalent connections the former maintained with this field, as he judged it at risk of getting stuck in the same rut as philosophy and demanded of it more than a simple chronology of events. The genealogical function, in Foucault’s use of the term, that he associated with history would explain why he chose to favor an interpretative environment from where two contradictory models of policing emerged: a French "high policing" model at the service of the political power having acted as a straw man to the creation of an English "low policing" model protecting the population. If this polarization, remaining classic in the Anglo-Saxon works on policing, struggles with a deep historical analysis, René Lévy suggests here that such an approach comes from a deliberate choice made by Jean-Paul Brodeur. Erasing historical nuances allowed him to overcome a major "epistemological obstacle" by reintroducing the notion of political policing in Anglo-American criminology, freeing it from the monopoly exercised upon it by the Neo-Marxist approach.

12The reception of the high policing concept in the English speaking criminological sphere is analyzed in the article by Peter K. Manning. The author illustrates to what extent adding the political dimension and the examination of policing practices that result (the collection and analysis of information, the use of informants, the proliferation of databases, the trivialization of illegal procedures) allowed studies on policing to make a decisive breakthrough. Because it opened the door to a more systematic way of doing research on the specialized and little-known aspects of the police’s mandate, while continuing to break down the myth of the police as an institution essentially concerned with fighting crime. He also reviews Jean-Paul Brodeur’s predictions (1983) on the role new technologies would play in high policing in light of the measures put into place following 9/11, and notes the degree of foresight of this text put together nearly thirty years ago.

13If Manning only makes two modest comments on updating the concept of high policing as it is in The policing web (about the open nature of the police mandate, and the discrepancy between the actual amount of force used by police versus the very virile representation of it in the media), Fabien Jobard gives a much more detailed critique of the use of force in his work. Returning to the antinomies Jean-Paul Brodeur addressed in his effort to theorize police, Fabien Jobard refutes the argument that the discrepancies raised constitute an obstacle to fully understanding the object, and instead sees them as constitutive functions by which the police institution would adjust to the various contexts and spaces in which they intervene. He mobilizes the concept of "Schmitt’s decisionism" to show how Jean-Paul Brodeur’s paradoxes would instead reflect the fundamentally political dimension of the police mandate. Jean-Paul Brodeur would have without any doubt delightfully welcomed this invitation to continue the debate.

14Where initially he targeted the work of public intelligence agencies and law enforcement, in recent years, the concept of high policing has been extended to the private security sector which witnessed the spread of companies taking on missions related closely to national security. Frédéric Ocqueteau revisits in detail the development of Jean-Paul Brodeur’s thoughts on this subject, and particularly on his belief that we would see a “police industrial complex" emerge whose outline he had begun to sketch. From his own investigations on the professional trajectories of former directors of public high policing agencies who repositioned themselves in the private sector, and more specifically in the "competitive intelligence" sector, Frédéric Ocqueteau offers 5 important research questions likely to explain the conditions of their emergence and the progression of this trend. If a few in-depth journalistic investigations, documenting in a relatively detailed manner, showed how the American armament industry broadened its activity to offer a panoply of surveillance solutions to public and private clients, the French situation seems quite different. Frédéric Ocqueteau effectively shows the reasons why it still seems early to resort to the notion of “police industrial complex" without establishing the preliminary distinctions between the various national contexts.

15Philip Stenning’s article reflects upon the need for contextualization. He dwells on the critique elaborated in The policing web against some works on the alleged exponential growth of the private security workforce. The works attempt to show a complete reversal of the ratio of public and private employees in security services, with the public services gradually handing over their monopoly to private companies, while a more in-depth analysis of the statistics shows that these results for some countries are attributable to a systematic overestimation of the private workforce and a underestimation of the number of public agents. Moreover, focusing intensely on statistical questions and their implications for governing security obscures the technological dimension too often neglected by researchers, though it inextricably determines the way in which public services and private enterprise deliver security.

16Stéphane Leman-Langlois was Jean-Paul's main collaborator on questions concerning terrorism for the past 10 years; he offers a look at their joint research. The uniqueness of their approach resides within their inseparable analysis of the various manifestations of terrorism and the responses of the anti-terrorism institutions, demonstrating the symbiotic relationship of these two phenomena. By making a list of the various forms of recycling to which the bloodiest attacks inevitably give rise, Stéphane Leman-Langlois and Jean-Paul Brodeur contributed to an increased level of theoretical and empirical understanding of the issue, so often misguided by mundane public discourse rooted in doomsday prophecies of self-proclaimed experts.

17Anthony Doob devoted his tribute to the deterioration of the quality of public debate on sentencing and the role of incarceration in Canadian penal policies. He comments with bitterness on the repressive drift that seems to be affecting contemporary Canada despite the efforts deployed at the end of the 1980s by himself, Jean-Paul Brodeur and several other criminologists. They attempted to give substance to their ideas of integration and improvement to the criminal justice system. Since then, electoral considerations have motivated the majority of penal legislations adopted by successive governments (regardless of their political views), without taking into consideration the general economy or consistency within the criminal justice system. In the end, the implementation and efficiency of these measures matter less than the simplistic announcements that preceded them. This proliferation of repressive and demagogical laws is evidently not exclusive to Canada; a similar analysis could certainly be carried out in the French context as well.

18In the last article of this special issue, Samuel Tanner addresses the theme of extreme forms of violence. A topic that was very important to Jean-Paul Brodeur. Even if the former never formally addressed these questions in his research program, he accumulated encyclopedic knowledge on the most important genocides in history and constantly questioned the ability of "classic" criminology to integrate these mega-crimes into the psychopathological reference framework. Starting with Hannah Arendt’s thesis on the Banality of evil, a thesis that fascinated Jean-Paul Brodeur, Samuel Tanner invites the reader to delve deeper into the process by which groups of ordinary individuals can come to commit such extraordinary crimes. He expands on the concept of "banality" through four complementary forms (similarity, familiarity, ideas and repetition) opening new perspectives for understanding the phenomenon of mass execution.

19Each of these nine articles embodies a discussion prematurely interrupted that each one of their author sustained with Jean-Paul Brodeur. They express with modesty the enormous regret of having lost a formidable debater and a trustworthy friend. Nevertheless, the concepts patiently forged throughout his particularly fruitful career will certainly outlive him and continue to inspire new generations of researchers for some time to come.

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Brodeur J.-P., 1983, High Policing and Low Policing: Remarks about the Policing of Political Activities, Social Problems, 30, 5, 507-520.

Brodeur J.-P., 2007, De grandes espérances, Criminologie, 40, 2, 161-166.

Brodeur J.-P., 2010, The Policing Web, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Commission canadienne sur la détermination de la peine (1987), Réformer la sentence : une approche canadienne, Ottawa, Gouvernement du Canada.

Fournier M., 1976, Les conflits de discipline : philosophie et sciences sociales au Québec, 1920-1960, in Panaccio C. (dir.), Philosopher au Québec, Montréal, Les Éditions Bellarmin, 207-236.

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List of works and special issues of journals written or edited by Jean-Paul Brodeur

Brodeur J.P. (2010), The policing web, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Leman-Langlois, S., Brodeur, J.P. (Eds.) (2009), Terrorisme et antiterrorisme au Canada, Les Presses de l’Université de Montréal, Montréal.

Brodeur J.P. (Ed.) (2006), Air transportation and risk management, special issue of The Canadian Journal of Criminology, 48(3).

Brodeur, J.P., Jobard, F. (Eds.) (2005), Citoyens et délateurs. La délation peut-elle être civique ?, Éditions Autrement, Paris.

Brodeur, J.P., Mingasson, L. (Eds.) (2005), Sanctions, special issue of the journal Informations sociales, 127.

Brodeur J.P. (Ed.) (2005), La police en pièces détachées, special issue of the journal Criminologie, 38(2).

Brodeur, J.P., Rigakos, G. (Eds.) (2005), Security, policing, and governance in Canada, special issue of The Canadian Journal of Criminology, 47(1).

Brodeur J.P. (2003), Les visages de la police, pratiques et perceptions, Les Presses

de l’Université de Montréal, Montréal.

Brodeur, J.P., Gill, P., Töllborg, D. (Eds.) (2003), Democracy, law and security; Internal security services in contemporary Europe, Ashgate Publishing Company, Aldershot.

Brodeur, J.P., Monjardet, D. (2003), Connaître la police. Grands textes de la recherche anglo-saxonne, La Documentation Française, Paris.

Brodeur J.P. (2002), Como reconhecer um bom policiamento. Problemas e temas, NEV-Nucleo de Estudos da Violencia, Sao Paulo.

Brodeur, J.P. (1999), Comparisons in policing: an international perspective, Avebury, Brookfield.

Brodeur, J.P. (Ed.) (1998), How to Recognize Good Policing, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks.

Brodeur, J.P. (1997), Violence and racial prejudice in the context of peacekeeping, Commission of inquiry into the deployment of Canadian forces to Somalia, Government of Canada, Ottawa.

Brodeur, J.P. et al. (1994), Canada 21. Canada and Common Security in the 21st Century, Centre for International Studies, Toronto.

Brodeur, J.P. (Ed.) (1993), Michel Foucault et la post-modernité, special issue of the journal Criminologie, 26(1).

Brodeur, J.P., Monjardet, D. (Eds.) (1993), L’insécurité : la peur de la peur, special issue of the journal Revue Internationale d’Action Communautaire, 30(70).

Brodeur, J.P. (1991), Access to Justice and Equality of Treatment, Law Reform Commission of Canada, Ottawa.

Brodeur, J.P. (Ed.) (1987), La détermination de la sentence, special issue of the journal Criminologie, 20(2).

Brodeur, J.P. (Ed.) (1984), La police après 1984, special issue of the journal

Criminologie, 17 (1).

Brodeur, J.P. (1984), La délinquance de l’ordre, Hurtubise HMH, Montréal.

Brodeur, J.P. et al. (1977), Le syndicalisme universitaire et l’État, Hurtubise HMH, Montréal.

Brodeur, J.P. (Ed.) (1976), Philosophie au Québec, Bellarmin, Montréal.

Brodeur, J.P., Nadeau, R. (Ed.) (1975), La philosophie et les savoirs, Bellarmin, Montréal.

Brodeur, J.P. (Ed.) (1973), Culture et langage, Hurtubise HMH, Montréal.

Brodeur, J.P. et al. (1970), Québec occupé, Parti-Pris, Montréal.

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1 See the annex for the complete list.

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Electronic reference

Benoit Dupont, The unique legacy of a cosmopolitan thinkerChamp pénal/Penal field [Online], Vol. IX | 2012, Online since 11 May 2012, connection on 23 March 2023. URL:; DOI:

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Benoit Dupont

International Centre for Comparative Criminology, Université de Montréal. Contact:

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