Culture, Leisure and the Police

a crowd of paris police in front of a cinema

A short text on the police and urbanism. From International Situationniste #10 (March 1966).

Submitted by Fozzie on February 22, 2023

It would only be stating the obvious to say that urbanism aids the police; and that the police, in the age of concentrated capitalism, are quite readily urbanist. Maintaining close relations with these two specializations — relations that have barely been brought to light — is the significant domain of leisure. In 1965, to avoid the threat of teenagers on school vacation being driven to delinquency by their boredom, the French police opened "28 recreation centers, 14 controlled by the CRS1 and 14 by municipal police, reaching a total of more than 5,000 adolescents. And it seems that this is only the beginning" (Le Monde, 2 September 1965). The author of the article added that the CRS eventually intend "to minimize their role as the force of order. . . . The creation of recreation centers for teenagers has been something of a public relations campaign, a sort of demystification of the traditional role of the police." You have to admire the complete inversion of the term "demystification" in this passage, an inversion whose way has been paved by its long-standing sociological fashionability. The mystification would therefore be the studied, baroque, utopian, incomprehensible — situationist, as it were — image of the policeman operating as a member of the force whose job is to maintain order. To a demystified consciousness, then, a policeman would appear as what he was in essence: an entertainer, a psychologist, a humanist. And that's not all: "Police stations should be equppied with hostesses to greet and provide information to the public. This revolutionary proposal was made yesterday by the police themselves at a press conference given by the 'Joint Union Committee for the Police and Sûreté Nationale2 '... For the Joint Union Committee would like to make the relationship between the police and the public less intimidating." (France-Soir, 12 June 1965). And in the editorial of its 97th issue (6 September 1965), the police prefecture's information bulletin, Liaisons, notes that "since ancient times, the police have been identified with the City," and describes the consequent magnitude of their task:

Apart from exceptional circumstances when national cohesion is the instinctive response to a seemingly adverse fate, communication between different social groups proves to be difficult. Each group has a tendency to shut itself off, to think and react according to its preoccupations, its aspirations, and its own language, to a point where words themselves sometimes take on meanings particular to whomever is using them. The individual does not always spontaneously open up to those who do not directly share his concerns, and he often tends to identify with those who do share them, establishing a system of solidarities, partial in that they are limited to but one of the elements of the "self." Contact, in the philosophical sense of the term, becomes more difficult, and so what is supposed to be dialogue is often only a confrontation between two monologues. The Police have to take these partial solidarities in account. . . .

This research into police transparency, into a language of cybernetic consent, into a spontaneous solidarity beyond all real social separations, is capable of directing its conclusion toward an eminently concrete perspective:

To speak of civilization is certainly to speak of material organization, but also of moral concepts, order, security. The developments of urbanization cannot be considered without at the same time taking into consideration the means of putting it at the disposal of the police so that it can face up to its heavy responsibilities. Once again, one cannot content oneself with what is: it is necessary to envisage what will be, and this future is already known.

In this already known future, which is therefore only the spatial extension of the present order, the megapolice will possess the means of meeting their heavy responsibilities. According to an AFP dispatch from New York (1 December 1965), "A custom built television camera was unveiled in New York yesterday: it can operate in complete darkness thanks to a helium laser that projects an infra-red beam. The device could be used in police surveillence operations, as well as for scientific purposes." But if the police are always the priority when it comes to application of scientific development, their function has expanded from a strictly repressive role to a role of preventative integration. It is here that the specialized forces of sociological Sûreté are beavering away. How can the atomized, television addicted mob in the grands ensembles of the new urbanism be led to this "contact, in the philosophical sense of the term," from which the police anticipate the delicate extirpation of any "particular meaning"? This is the role of culture, the new leading commodity in the age of the consumption of leisure. In France, a state run organization is being set up for this very prupose, and the drugstore that has it on display is called a "community arts center": the era that has manufactured the most gaping cultural void is precisely that which is beginning to introduce the museum into everyday life, to tautologically fill the same void. In June 1965, a "Colloquy for grands ensembles Community Leaders" was held, as would be expected, in Sarcelles. Their Official Journal of 30 November published a decree constituting "artistic councillors delegated to artistic creation" divided across "regional action districts."

All that the spectacle spreads is general devaluation: it recuperates the gold of the old contestation and turns it into lead; in the spectacle's universe, all possible value is invisible. Its leaders are therefore so comical that we can depart joyously from the old cultural world, a simple facade maintained by the manipulators of a son et lumière show that lights up the entire surface of society with the same factitious poverty. On his 15 May 1965 visit to Bourges, known in the press as "the capital of cultural leisure" because of the promising results of early surveys ("63,000 inhabitants, 63,000 spectators in eight months" according to the formula in France-Soir, 15 November 1964), de Gaulle declared: "Culture, in our modern world, is not only a refuge and a consolation in the midst of a time that is essentially mechanical, materialist and altogether hectic. It is also the prerequisite for our civilization. As modern as it can be and more modern than it should be, it will be always be guided by spirit."

Spirit often seems to have forgotten and lost itself, but inwardly opposed to itself, it is inwardly working ever forward (as when Hamlet says of the ghost of his father, "Well said, old mole! canst work i' th' ground so fast?") until grown strong in itself it bursts asunder the crust of earth which divided it from the sun, its Notion, so that the earth crumbles away.

— Hegel

The Social Space-Time of Crime

COLOGNE, Tuesday: Criminolgists meeting in Cologne have arrived at the conclusion that most murderers attack members of their family and that most of them kill on the weekend, that is, between Friday evening and first mass on Sunday morning.

France-Soir (9 December 1965)

Translated by Reuben Keehan. From

  • 1Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité, the State Security Police.
  • 2France's federal criminal investigation bureau.