Numbers 1972, reprinted circa 1983 by Barry Flanagan 1941-2009

Numbers 1972, reprinted circa 1983 Barry Flanagan 1941-2009 Presented by Sue Flanagan, the artist’s former wife 1985 via Tate UK

Studies in Police Science often use language such as “police initiative x was found to be successful because of an x% reduction in crime.” But what does this actually mean, in any lived sense? To gain perspective I reached out to an officer I worked with during my thesis research back in 2012, to which he replied:

“Crime stats don’t really mean too much on a patrol level. Stats are used by police chiefs to say, “Look what we have done.” Crime has nothing to do with arrests. Poverty has everything to do with it. (His patrol area) used to be one of the most dangerous in the U.S. But when initiatives started pushing out the poor, crime sank to an all-time low. (His patrol area) is yuppie-ville; it has nothing to do with the police department. Most officers like to see spikes in crime when they don’t like the chief. It’s an easy way to get rid of them. When the public feels unsafe the head of the organization gets replaced. So that’s how crime states are used on a patrol level.”

So, there you have it. It appears that crime stats (at least in one officer’s opinion) join the ranks of the other politically charged facets of the criminal justice system. Now more than ever, I’m wondering exactly why these stats carry so much weight in determining which initiatives are “best”…


Wondering About Crime Stats

Commentary & Forums

Some thoughts on the London “riots”: Foucault’s genealogy of neoliberalism and “police as a public service”

I have to say I resisted writing this post.  I have a visceral distaste for academic discursive hermeneutics performed from afar–this is partly why I’m an ethnographer, after all– and, that’s even more the case when trying to write au courant journalistically

However, despite having absolutely no ethnographic expertise among British police and only a concerned collaborator’s familiarity with the issues on the ground there, I’m going to just get over it–tempered still, hopefully, by a degree of humility and a recognition of our responsibility to ignorance.  The reason I’ve made this decision is to emphasize an ethnographic fact that I think is important for this blog: so much of what makes police a salient issue in broader terms are in fact riots and, conversely, so many riots, uprisings and rebellions are in fact about police.

All that was a way of putting a large preliminary asterisk on certain observations I’ve made following the news coverage via my own personal extended network of interwebs (BBC, CNN, NPR, Jeff Martin’s twitter feed…).  I’ve noticed a narrative dynamic emerging that I find a bit frustrating: on the one hand, news coverage presents the familiar “these are criminals/hoodlums without a politics,” with all its logical absurdities (is criminality innate and apolitical? If so, if these are innate tendencies and not the result of social conditions, how has London and then other cities in the UK suddenly–within the last several days– sprouted so many of this type? What would be the litmus test for whether determining this is a political act, by the way?).

On the other hand, often in an effort to show “the other side” or to emphasize some diversity of opinion on the events, news coverage includes another narrative which risks being equally tired and absurd, the “this is an expression of political-economic disenfranchisement” argument (with it’s equally non-falsifiable claims–what, again, are the criteria for deciding that this is political, and when where these events put to that criteria? what factors and/or data were considered? what would apolitical events look like? If at least one of these criteria should be statements of such from the protesters themselves, it does not seem to meet the definition…)

Even within stories framed in such a manner, however, I’ve noticed an interesting set of dissonances; some contradictions that, if properly attended to, don’t quite fit the dominant framing:

  • Generational conflict.  The “this is political” camp insists that the events are the result of the UK’s disinvestiture in social programs while experiencing wideing gaps in real wealth, but within that analysis there’s a type of inter-generational awkwardness, especially between what I think of as the Stuart Hall generation, associated with the Tottenham riots of the early 1980′s, and the present generation of protesters.  What’s interesting is to watch the older leftists struggle with understanding and/or translating the events; I’m thinking of some of the interviews with the MP from Tottenham and others, such as Darcus Howe, who seem to be attempting to work out some space for understanding them within a framework of social dis-investiture in the absence of an actually articulated voice of such a grievance.  The terms, or even the very language, seems to have moved somehow in the last 30 years.
  • Policing is a social program.  On the other hand, the “these are hoodlums” camp–set up as critics of the protesters (and thus anti-anti-dis-investiture)–emphasizes the affected business people and residents, often pointing to their calls for more police presence and in fact outrage at the lack of protection.  The contradiction here, of course, is that policing is a social program financed through government.  If anything, this is the voice criticizing dis-investiture.  What to make of that?

I think a less contradictory framing is possible if we make use of Foucault’s geneaology of liberalism (which I’ve written a bit on before), itself formulated during a crisis-point in global capitalism, which identifies neoliberal efforts to “reduce government” as one strategy, within a longer history of liberal political thought, which attempts to find external principles of limitation on government.  Part of why Foucault spends so much time on this is that it offers a prescient insight into so much of the nature of policing, security & surveillance today: namely that it springs from the same concern and theory of government.  Although often misread, I think, Foucault’s point is that the policing techniques of surveillance (much used in Britain) which skeev many of us out are not efforts to achieve a tightly controlled police state, but the opposite: it’s a strategy of governance which, for many reasons, sees such totalitarian aspirations as ineffectual and unnatural.  In this sense, security strategies of surveillance are attempts to provide a “policed” state (in the older sense of “happy, well -ordered and thriving”) with minimal police (in the sense of a specialized political organ claiming the monopoly of legitimate violence) interventon; police without policing.

In this sense, the policing strategies so heavily relied upon by Britain over the last several years are both part and parcel of a political rationality that also focused on finding more “economical” forms of government.  The same rationality which leads to a dis-investiture of the social programs targeted by “austerity measures.”  The two sides of the framing in the popular news-framing, then, are certainly not contradictory, nor is the one an effect of the other: they are two sides of the very same political rationality; one that more and more seems diseased.  What will be the alternative? I’m not sure, but finding a useful answer, I think, depends on understanding the political logic in which we find ourselves.


Resolved: Culture is the Center of the Anthropology of Policing

This is the second entry in my series of posts on the question: “What is the curriculum for the anthropology of policing?” As promised, in this post I will share a syllabus I taught last semester, and follow Kevin’s lead in using critical reflection on my teaching experience as a way to think about the challenges of “canon formation” for the anthropology of policing. Before I do this, however, I should put all my cards on the table and say that I am beginning from a particular assumption about the anthropology of policing. My ‘original position’ (apologies to Rawls) is this: (a) the disciplinary core of anthropology is its concern with culture and, therefore, (b) the integrating core of the anthropology of policing is an anthropological concern with culture. Based on this assumption, I expect the answer to the question of my previous post (i.e. overlap in the syllabi for three hypothetical courses on the anthropology of policing pitched to the distinct audiences of (i) practitioners, (ii) undergraduate liberal arts majors, and (iii) anthropology graduate students) to be “Yes.” And not just “Yes,” but “Yes, there is an overlap. And it consists of a particular literature about the culture of policing.”

So, the ultimate purpose of this exercise in public auto-critique is to rise to the challenge of converting the vague prejudices of an American-cultural-anthropologist into a bibliography of canonical ideas about the culture of policing. The job will be finished when we have assembled a bibliography robust enough to answer critiques registered on behalf of any of the three audiences listed above. And if, at the end of this ordeal, my culturalist prejudices have not been crushed under the jackboot of political economy, or scattered to the winds of the policy community, then I will call myself a winner and buy everyone a drink at the November AAAs.

So, on to the syllabus. It is for a course I taught last semester, called Policing: An International Perspective, as an elective in the University of Hong Kong’s masters program in criminology. This is a popular two-year coursework-based degree “designed as a professional qualification for practitioners in criminal justice and related fields (including NGOs), [but also] open for people with an interest in the field of criminology in general.” The program is housed within a sociology department that awards PHDs in sociology, anthropology and criminology. Thus the experience of working here has thus brought me into contact with all three audiences mentioned above. The course itself enrolled 18 students, about half of whom were serving in what is locally known as the “disciplined forces.” I designed the course before I came to Hong Kong, however. And the lack of a practical familiarity with my audience gave a rather free rein to my personal sense of the how the anthropology of policing fit together as a coherent topic of instruction.

So, without further ado, for your apprasial and critique, here is the syllabus.

Where do you think its grand intellectual vision crumbled most dramatically in its confrontation with the realities of the classroom?


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.

Commentary & Forums

Deja vu all over again: the recurring problem of post-social policing in France

An update along the lines of our continued interest in policing “after the financial crisis”…

Le Monde reports that, come January 2010, there will be a full stop on the deployment of the unités territoriales de quartier (UTEQ), the socially-oriented policing groups developed by Nicolas Sarkozy after the banlieue riots of 2007 (and after he had virtually eliminated another socially-oriented style of policing, in 2002, known as the police de proximité).

The reason? Minister of the Interior Brice Hortefeux explains that he doesn’t have the means (“moyens”) to implement the program in light of the loss of 2,000 posts this year.  This doesn’t mean a complete loss of on-the-ground policing, however (the translation is my own):

Le rapport prône également l’élaboration d’un diagnostic “approfondi” dans chaque territoire et un “partenariat sérieux” avec les élus. Un tel scénario présenterait l’avantage de combler les trous, mais mettrait à bas la philosophie même du dispositif : être en contact régulier avec la population.

[The report also argues for a "deeper" diagnostic analysis in each territory, and a "serious partnership" with elected officials. This scenario has the advantage of filling the holes in the budget while having at its core the same philosophy: to be in regular contact with the population]

So we’re back to exactly the point we were at in 2002, when Sarozy dismissed the police de proximite as irresponsibly uneconomical even while those on the left emphasized that close contact with those being policed is essential for proper police work.

This is the “problem of a post-social police” that I wrote about in my dissertation (and which I’ve been trying to develop in an article I’ve been working on): how to devise a style of policing once the object to which its been oriented (which it helped create)–the social, as represented in a population–becomes only one in a larger array of governing objects?  This is the question police, and we as social scientists, still face and for which there are as yet no adequate answers…

Announcements, Conferences

Panels on Policing & Security at the 2009 American Anthropoligical Association Annual Meetings

I’ve compiled a list of panels and individual papers on security and policing-related issues at the upcoming AAA meetings.  You can see them below.

I’d like to give a special shout-out to the panel THE END/S OF POLICING: ETHNOGRAPHIC PERSPECTIVES ON POLICE POWER (Fri., 8:00-9:45 AM in rm 406) organized by the newest anthropolitician, William Garriott of James Madison University, also featuring myself, Michelle Stewart, Thom Chivens, Eva Harmon and Mindie Lazarus-Black of Temple University.  It should be good times.

Other than that, the following look interesting (panels are in bold):

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Announcements, Conferences

Anthropoliteia at the American Anthropological Association’s 2009 Annual Meetings, pt. 1

As we get closer to this years Annual Meetings of the American Anthropological Association, I’ll be calling our attention to several of the police & security-related panels and events that will be a part of the “festivities.”

As I’ve already mentioned in the latest edition of Anthropolitieia In the News, one of these events will be a roundtable discussion with several of the authors of Cultural Anthropology‘s recent “virtual issue” on security.  The roundtable, entitled “Thematizing Security,” will be held Friday December 4th at 12:15pm and will discuss the “future of critical, cultural studies of security”.  Discussion participants will include Didier Fassin, Ilana Feldman, Andrew Lakoff, and Joseph Masco