What is the Curriculum for the Anthropology of Policing?

Hello Anthropolitians,

After surviving baptisms by fire, ice and everything in between (lukewarm beer, mostly) in my new position, I now have recovered enough to aspire to blog. In particular I hope, over the next few months, to write a series of posts musing on the following topic: “What is the curriculum for the anthropology of policing?”

To begin, I would like to start thinking about the different ways in which the anthropology of policing fits into the contemporary markets for higher education. I wonder if we can identity a set of core concerns that effectively translates between these different contexts?

For example, suppose that you are an anthropologist joining a department with a broader social-sciences identity (e.g. sociology/criminology/anthropology). And suppose that this department is – shockingly – rather cohesive as an intellectual community. Your colleagues consider interdisciplinary give-and-take a font of inspiration, and treat the department’s disciplinary fusion as a substantive asset rather than an administrative convenience. And now suppose that, as the newest member of the club, you have been asked to develop a “signature” course in your specialization – policing. Moreover, you are asked to develop it in a way demonstrates the distinctive assets that anthropology brings to the conversation, and do this in a way that harmonizes synergetically with the theoretical interests your sociologically and criminologically trained friends have in the police. How do you design your syllabus?

Now, by contrast to the above syllabus, suppose that you are an anthropologist working for a college that offers degree programs in criminal justice and social work (among other things). You have been invited to develop a course in your specialization – policing – with the purpose of contributing an anthropological (or “cultural”) perspective to these semi-professional degrees. How do you design this syllabus? Just how different is it from the one you designed above?

Now, finally, suppose you have been hired by a department that does nothing but anthropology for anthropology’s sake. And, your only teaching requirement is to lead a graduate seminar designed to establish the anthropology of policing as a viable sub-disciplinary specialization. What is the syllabus for this course? Does it have any overlap with the above two syllabi?

Look forward to any thoughts folks might have. Next, I will post the syllabus from the policing course I taught last semester, providing fodder for more specific points of critique while I work through the lessons I learned while trying to teach it.


3 thoughts on “What is the Curriculum for the Anthropology of Policing?

  1. Great questions! My computer is being slow, so I’ll post more later, but this made me think of a potential name for our next AAA panel… Pistols, Tasers & Canons: what is the anthropology of policing?


  2. So finally i get back to this…

    I think this is a great question, if only because I’ve had to think about it myself. I’ve taken a course I developed as a writing-intensive anthropology course within an anthropology department but for mostly non-anthropology majors (the Writing Police/Power one available under the Resources tab) to one that’s (still a writing-intensive course) within a department of Sociology, Anthropology & Criminology, for mostly sociology majors who want to specialize in criminology.

    Now, this transition also meant going from perhaps the best public university in the world (UC Berkeley) to a more modest liberal arts college in the middle of Massachusetts. So on the one hand, this meant cutting down on the reading load and slowing down the pace a bit. On the other hand, since I’m one of only two anthropologists in the department and there was no anthropology pre-requisite for the course, it meant spending a bit of time on what ‘ethnography” is and how anthropologists use it to learn things. I found John Van Maanan’s Tales of the Field did that work quite well, while using his own research on policing to show the centrality of representational style–or genre–for shaping what it is we learn from such accounts.

    Now, eventually, after a bit more of a foray into different generic forms and going over skills like building paragraphs and paraphrasing quotations, we’re going to read a series of social scientific articles on policing–from a variety of disciplines–while, hopefully, learning to bring an anthropologist/ethnographic eye to the debates. That is, we’re going to try, as a group, to see how anthropology can intervene in this literature…

    I’ll keep you updated as to how it goes…


  3. Pingback: Resolved: Culture is the Center of the Anthropology of Policing « Anthropoliteia: the anthropology of policing

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