L’oeuil incommode: Police Surveillance in Eighteenth-Century Paris

Thumbnail Image
Marrs, Sean
France , Police , Surveillance , 18th century
This dissertation analyzes the surveillance of foreign visitors and members of the diplomatic corps by the Paris police between 1774 and 1791. Based on the reports submitted by the police to the secretary of state for foreign affairs, this project investigates the role of surveillance and the connections between a city police force and the foreign ministry. It asks to what extent were foreigners surveilled by the police and for what purpose? What does it mean to surveil foreigners in Paris and what does it tell us about the nature of the Paris police and the French state? The Contrôle des étrangers contains over 18,000 entries. I catalogued and analyzed every file, meticulously looking for patterns and coming to conclusions. This dissertation is a result of three years of careful analysis. The reports reveal a police and a state that was hungry for information. Agents of the Paris police observed, recorded, and filed information on the activities of countless foreigners coming to and living in the city. This dissertation establishes the police surveillance of foreigners as an essential activity to secure Paris. This surveillance was one of many police activities, but it was one that connected the police to larger actors outside the city and brought ordinary police operations into the realm of high politics and foreign policy. The French authorities viewed foreigners as a threat, even if most were only innocent travellers. It analyzes the connection that this surveillance had to the development of the information-state. In this respect, police observation was suspiciousless surveillance. Information was widely collected on foreigners with the belief that it was necessary for a future in which this information was useful. Knowledge about foreigners shaped the police’s understanding of Paris, even if nothing more was done with the reports other than putting them on a shelf. Finally, it argues that the surveillance of foreigners must be related to the international political issues of the day. The work of the police was a political surveillance. Agents took specific orders that corresponded directly with the foreign policy of the French state. The surveillance was a tool for gathering news on public opinion and observing hostile actors – even when the hostility of those actors was only imaginary.
External DOI