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Rebelling Against Legal Standards and Judicial Practices

Introduction to the dossier
Jean-Claude Vimont
Traduction de François-Xavier Priour
Cet article est une traduction de :
Les rebelles aux prises avec les normes juridiques et les pratiques judiciaires [fr]

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Photograph taken from the book by Jacques Delarue et Robert Giraud, Les Tatouages du “milieu”, Paris, 1950.

Photograph taken from the book by Jacques Delarue et Robert Giraud, Les Tatouages du “milieu”, Paris, 1950.

Collection Philippe Zoummeroff/Bibliothèque Criminocorpus

1Attending the Rendez-vous de l’Histoire in Blois in 2014 and offering a dossier on this theme in our online journal felt like a duty to the researchers involved in the publishing adventure that is Criminocorpus. The present dossier is led by Michelle Perrot, who kick-started our research, acted as thesis director for many of us, and estalished a historical field that has been growing steadily ever since. Michelle is a member of the Criminocorpus scientific board.

2Rebels are ubiquitous in Criminocorpus’ journal, blog, and online exhibitions, since justice and its customs – later its codes – has a history of suppressing and punishing all forms of rebellion, whether individual or collective, in order to protect the political order, society, and individuals. Smugglers rub elbows with psychopathic killers, regicides with gang members, 19th-century French Republican insurgents with militants from the FLN and the OAS, common criminals with those who committed allegedly political crimes. The history of justice, law, and crime is but the history of these rival associates, of those upholding standards vs those who disregard them. It is also, however, the history of those who disrupt or try to disrupt the standards while hoping to better contain the malfunctions of society. It should be remembered that there was a time when some magistrates were called “red judges”! Classically-trained jurists rebelled against their training, reassessing the very concept of Law, perceived as an “instrument of domination” – this in the context of the 1970s, when many academic fields, including History and Economics, were trying to refound themselves through their approaches, objects, and training methods as well. Rebellion does not always strike where it is expected to.

3Bad paupers, petty lords fighting royal absolutism, usual suspects reproved because of their foreing origin or for unwittingly letting out a seditious rant on a drunken night, lechers punished by a lettre de cachet or castigated by their fathers, mentally ill persons perceived as a burden to their family: all of them were targeted by schemes designed to control their “excesses”. Indirectly, by studying the categories established by public authorities in an attempt to control disorders, inferences can be made about the motivations of these individuals. Tormented souls, precursors, lunatics, avant-gardists, serial killers – heroes for some, terrorists for others? They are certainly difficult to grasp for us. Rebels, “primitives” of the revolt against the powers that be? Several sciences were designed for no other purpose than to understand them, from phrenology to criminal anthropology, with many excesses along the way. Contemplating such destinies and personalities, one is left with a sense of bewilderment.

4Our attention was caught by the antisocials, the asocials, those who, when imprisoned, become the high-security inmates, those on death row, those who end up in the psychiatric system. Because prisons – but also penal colonies, labor camps, and even hospitals – turned out to be those far-from-perfect institutions that tried to deal with them somehow. Because they managed to challenge this, denounce this, escape from this. This dossier attempts to offer new approaches of the notion of “rebel” by historians of crime, justice and penalties.

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Titre Photograph taken from the book by Jacques Delarue et Robert Giraud, Les Tatouages du “milieu”, Paris, 1950.
Crédits Collection Philippe Zoummeroff/Bibliothèque Criminocorpus
Fichier image/png, 702k
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Jean-Claude Vimont, « Rebelling Against Legal Standards and Judicial Practices »Criminocorpus [En ligne], Les rebelles face à la justice, mis en ligne le 29 septembre 2014, consulté le 04 décembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

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