In the Journals

In the Journals – June 2015

A fully armed MQ-9 Reaper taxis down an Afghanistan runway

Welcome back to In the Journals, a monthly review of just a fraction of the most recent academic research on security, crime, policing, and the law. Summer may be in full swing, and with that comes BBQs, swimming pools, and vacations, but we here at Anthropoliteia hope that you, as a reader, can still make time to check up on these publications and these topics of interest.

The June issue of International Political Sociology features an article by Jamie Allinson titled “The Necropolitics of Drones”. The article addresses the use and capabilities of Unarmed Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), colloquially referred to as “drones”, and their place in US security strategy, particularly their use in assassination missions, or so-called targeted killings. Debates on the place of drones in the security strategy of the United States have tended to focus narrowly on two questions identified by Allinson: (1) whether the US use of UAVs to assassinate its enemies, including US citizens, is legal; and, (2) whether drones should be given the autonomy to decide when to kill humans. The article uses the concept of “necro-politics” – defined in the article as the arrogation of the sovereign’s right both to command death and to assign grievable meaning to the dead – as it emerges in the work of Achille Mbembe to criticize the assumptions of these two aforementioned questions. With reference to the text of a US investigation into a strike which killed civilians in Uruzgan province, Afghanistan, this article supports the argument that debates surrounding the endowment of drones with the autonomy to kill humans assume that current human drone operators work outside of the context of racial distinction and colonial encounter in which they make their decision to kill.

The most recent issue of Security Dialogue features the article “‘Real people in real places’: Conceptualizing power for emancipatory security through Tharir” by Ali Bilgic. The objective of emancipatory security, according to Bilgic, is to examine the insecurities of individuals and social groups that stem from oppressive power processes, relations, and structures. For emancipatory security theory, understanding the power of individuals who collectively resist oppressive power hierarchies is not simply an analytical question, but also a normative motivation. However, the image of power in emancipatory security theory does not correspond to this motivation, and inevitably compromises the attempts to deliver the theory’s main promise of studying the security of ‘real people in real places’ as emancipation. This subsequently renders the theory susceptible to substantial criticism on the grounds of inadequate analysis of resisting individuals as agents of security in their own localities. To address this issue, Bilgic conceptualizes ‘emancipatory power’ through the use of Hannah Arendt’s understanding of power, enriched by Judith Butler’s concept of performativity and feminist insights in order to tailor collective power based on trust in a ‘moment’ of emancipation, as illustrated in the protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in 2011.

Published online first, and to be included in an upcoming issue of the European Journal of Cultural Studies, the article “Open source intelligence, social media and law enforcement: Visions, constraints and critiques” by Daniel Trottier considers how recent developments in open source intelligence impact the inclusion of social media data in policing. Open source intelligence (OSINT) refers to a process whereby police or other investigative agencies gather and analyse data that are in principle accessible to any organisation or individual, as indicated by the label ‘open source’, or open access. OSINT counters a conventional understanding of security intelligence, due to the fact that it explicitly targets information that is readily available and in plain sight to virtually any social actor. This article explicates how these changes are a reflection of technological affordances by platform developers and private third-party companies, as well as police cultural and institutional constraints. Trottier argues that while open source intelligence infused with social media data enables an immediate access to social life for investigators, so too do they provoke a preoccupation with the origins and circulations of this content. Drawing on interviews with police officials and privacy advocates from 13 European Union member states, this article addresses this tension, and explains exactly how it dovetails with institutional concerns, including a lack of specialised staff, budget constraints, and a lack of clear legal and procedural protocols.

Joseph Ferrandino’s article “Minority Threat Hypothesis and NYPD Stop and Frisk Policy” from the June 2015 issue of the Criminal Justice Review utilizes a minority and Black threat framework to analyze the New York Police Department (NYPD)’s stop and frisk policy. The stop and frisk policies of the New York Police Department (NYPD) have been one of the most controversial and debated criminal justice topics in recent years as the NYPD made 4,628,936 stops and conducted 2,400,903 frisks between 2004 and 2012. Using Blacks in White-dominated neighborhoods as the reference group, Ferrandino compares four distinct police actions (frisks, searches, sanctions, and force used) during 481,027 stops in 2012 in 297 geographic information system (GIS-)-defined New York City neighborhoods. In his descriptive analysis, Ferrandino reveals the scope of isolation between Whites and Blacks, as well as the ratios of police action for each group within each neighborhood type. As it relates to security and policing, Ferrandino notes that Blacks in White-dominated and nondominated high White neighborhoods exceeded their population proportion and crime propensity ratios across all four police actions. The article discusses Black threat, defended neighborhoods, criminogenic explanations, and the out of place hypothesis, and adds to the growing sociological understanding of the racial aspects of stops and frisks in the most populous city in the United States.

The June issue of Crime & Delinquency features two great articles on policing and incarceration. The first is “Organizational-Level Police Discretion: An Application for Police Use of Lethal Force” by Jeffrey S. Nowacki. Nowacki posits that although research on police behaviour suggests that discretion is vital to police decision making, and can originate from many sources (e.g. officers, situations, structures, etc.), relatively few studies have examined exactly how organizational variables affect officer discretion. Of the studies that have tested whether organizational level influences shape discretion, Nowacki notes that even fewer of these studies have examined their influence on lethal force. This oversight is even more so apparent in light of the overrepresentation of Blacks in lethal force incidents because organizational characteristics and policies may reduce racial disparities in the application of lethal force. Using administrative policy and police department size as proxies for organizational variables, Nowacki, in his study, tests for organizational effects and examines whether these effects vary by race. Using city-level data from 1980 to 1984, he examines how organizational limits on discretion affect the volume of lethal force incidents, and illustrates the importance of considering discretion when researching police behaviour. In order to change police behaviour, especially in light of recent events, the organization proves to be a good place to start, as these organizational characteristics may prove easier to change than the structure of a given community.

The second article considered is an article by Andres F. Rengifo and Don Stemen. The authors use state-level penal data for 1978-2004 in their article “The Unintended Effects of Penal Reform: African American Presence, Incarceration, and the Abolition of Discretionary Parole in the United States” to examine whether the relationship between the size of the African American population and state incarceration rates is conditioned by the enactment of determinate sentencing (i.e., the abolition of discretionary parole release). Consistent with prior research, their findings show that larger Black populations are associated with higher incarceration rates. Their results also indicate that determinate sentencing is associated with lower imprisonment rates. What is striking, however, is the interaction between a higher proportion of African American residents and determinate sentencing is associated with higher incarceration rates, suggesting that in states with greater minority presence the abolition of discretionary parole amplifies the impact of punitive responses linked to racial threat. Rengifo and Stemen argue that this unintended effect reflects the fact that formal constraints on release decision making reduce the ability of nationwide justice systems to administer greater punishments to specific subpopulations.

The last article included in this round-up comes from Anthropoliteia’s very own Jennie Simpson, and her article “Police and Homeless Outreach Worker Partnerships: Policing of Homeless Individuals with Mental Illness in Washington, D.C.” included in the most recent edition of Human Organization. Incidents involving police and homeless individuals with mental illnesses have recently captured the attention of the public, as news media have drawn attention to both tragic shootings of homeless individuals with mental illnesses by police and the increasing number of individuals with mental illnesses in the criminal justice system. However, Simpson notes that interactions between police and homeless individuals with mental illnesses occur in cities across the United States everyday, prompted by structural changes in social and economic policies and economic dislocations that have resulted in reduced funding for public mental health services, loss of affordable housing, and a reliance on criminal justice systems to manage inequality. Using ethnographic data on partnerships between police officers and homeless outreach workers in Washington, D.C., she illuminates the political economic processes, organizational inefficiencies, and management practices that shape the field of police interactions with homeless individuals with mental illness. Simpson argues that the political economy of Washington, D.C. has impacted the public mental health system, criminal justice system, and urban redevelopment in such a way that police officers are compelled to serve as frontline mental health workers – an impossible mandate.

Every month, I find it harder and harder to pick just a couple of book reviews to share. It is inevitably harder to find time during the summer to read what we want to read, and do what we want to do, but these are must-reads if you give yourself the time. The June edition of Sociology has a review of Lisa Stampnitzky’s book “Disciplining Terror: How Experts Invented ‘Terrorism’” by David Miller and Tom Mills. Stampnitzky argues that terrorism was socially constructed as a problem in the 1970s and that experts henceforth attempted to build up a body of knowledge about the problem; attempting to ‘discipline’ the concept of terrorism and ‘enrol’ it into their ‘knowledge project’. The most recent issue of Social & Legal Studies features a review by Alexa Dodge of David Gurnham’s “Crime, Desire and Law’s Unconscious: Law, Literature and Culture”. Using provocative examples and metaphors from movies, news media, Roman and Greek myths, Victorian-era literature, and even political campaign materials, Gurnham stimulates discussion on topics such as sexual assault, non-normative sexual practices, and consent, and their relationship with the law and governance. Finally, the latest issue of Law, Culture and the Humanities features a review by Julietta Hua of Kazuyo Tsuchiya’s book “Reinventing Citizenship: Black Los Angeles, Korean Kawasaki, and Community Participation”. The book offers a comparative study of African American welfare activism in Los Angeles and Koreans’ campaigns for welfare rights in Kawasaki, revealing how race and citizenship transform as they cross countries and continents.

Finally, In the Journals will be taking a brief hiatus for the summertime. The month of July will not feature a new edition of the round-up, but rather David will be back for August’s edition, and I will be back in September, so that we can continue providing our readers with our monthly round-up of the happenings in social science publications regarding policing, security, crime, and the law.

As always, we welcome your feedback.  If you have any suggestions for journals we should be keeping tabs on for this feature, or if you want to call our attention to a specific issue or article, send an email to with the words “In the Journals” in the subject header.

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