Besides its real activity, police action is also largely based on the representations that it makes of itself and that the public or political authorities have of the institution. To put it another way, the police are not just what they areis or what shemade, she is first of all what she thinks she is or what you think of her(stereotypes, common places, caricatures). These discourses of the police and about the police are two facets of the same phenomenon which, influencing each other, participate in the creation of an identity, of a professional culture. These are common values, shared, promoted within and around the police. In an institutional logic, they guide the way in which police work is carried out. They then participate in defining the legitimacy and strengthening the cohesion of the institutions., especially by memory, above theturn-overpersonnel. For the researcher, the analysis of these representations sheds light on the functioning and transformations of fonts.
Both the speeches on and the speeches of the police are historical objects: they vary according to the period, the context and the institution considered. These representations and the resulting identity logics are also constructed through confrontation. A font defines itself - says what it is, is not or would like to be – compared to other fonts, on a country scale or from an international perspective. The researcher will mobilize “model” logics, “hybridization” or “repoussoir” to characterize this dynamic.
The analysis over time of these representations, emphasizing both permanence and moments of inflection within them is an open door to understanding the articulation between police, state and society. What is a good font? What do we expect from the police? What qualities are required of police officers? Conversely, these representations also define the image of the inadequacies and deviations of the police.
Ideally, the study of font representations considers the genealogy of representations, the places where these identity characteristics are defined, then the means and actors of its distribution. Finally, the historian must be attentive to the use made of these representations. He will be interested in everyday police life as well as in moments of crisis or profound transformations of bodies. The analysis of representations is then based on the mobilization of numerous sources, testifying to the diversity of the police object. These sources naturally require special critical reading.
In a certain way, police practice records reveal the mental world of police and policemen, in particular by the construction of the speech and the vocabulary used. But the police also produce other revealing documents: professional press (official and corporatist) ; written briefs, memories and police writings; "Great figures" and famous policemen; "Institutional history" long written by police officers for police officers. Every time these are documents where the police speak for themselves. Combining individual perspectives and institutional discourses, the oral archive (the "police testimony") is also very rich in deconstructing these representations. Iconography is essential (recruitment posters, institutional communication). Finally, representations are built in police objects and rituals: uniforms, badges, banners, weapons, vehicles, decorations but also the ceremonies are as many realities feeding the analysis.
For those interested in speeches about the police, media speeches, artistic productions, but also scientific or activist comments are the main resources available. Their use requires a triple contextualization. It is anchored in a material and intellectual history of the media (birth of news items, detective story, constraints and technical progress in the press ...), in a contextual socio-political approach and finally, in a general history of fonts.