Call for papers

CFP for a Special Issue: Thinking through police, producing theory: the new anthropology of police as mode of critical thought

Abstracts are currently being solicited for a special issue of the journal Theoretical Criminology on the theme “the new anthropology of police as a mode of critical thought” (see full description below). Send abstracts for consideration by August 1st 2015 to Full drafts should be ready to submit for peer review by September 15th, 2015.

Images of police, punishment and crime were central to the thought of several of the key thinkers of the 20th century: the interpolative hail of the policeman for Althusser; the violence of the policeman in the shadow of Law’s excess for Benjamin; the figure of the panopticon and, later, of police as the administration of Man internal to the State for Foucault (to name just a few). Police, crime and punishment were useful to think through a wide swath of issues including subjectivity, inequality, sovereignty, power and text. Although less often noted than parallel field such as Sociology, Criminal Justice, Political Science and Psychology, police and related officials have long been recurrent figures in the ethnographic texts of Cultural Anthropologists, where police often served not as inconsequential bystanders but as a crucial analytic fulcrum for the text. For example, in Clifford Geertz’ famous essay on the Balinese cockfight it is a police raid that allows him to establish the “rapport” central to his vision of anthropology as a project of “reading over the shoulder” of non-Western others; in Tristes Tropiques Claude Lévi-Strauss uses an extended anecdote of his encounter with police to reflect on and propel his analysis of modernity; urban ethnographers from Ulf Hannerz to Phillipe Bourgois have used police as a kind of short hand for mechanisms of socio-spatial distributions of power. However, until recently, it was extremely rare for anthropologists to focus squarely on the practitioners of crime control and punishment—police, security guards, prison employees, etc.—as their main research subjects. This special issue asks: if police have been such a productive tool through which to think, how does the emergence of anthropological research projects focused squarely on such practitioners stand to change that thought? Pushing this question more broadly, how does studying such subjects “head on” reshape how we think about the larger issues in critical theory today? This collection of articles will attempt to address such questions through ethnographic accounts in which the limits and alternative possibilities of such key concepts as the State, Law, Ethics, corruption, identity, race, and cultural difference as well as the work of theorists such as Althusser, Strathern, Derrida, Rancier, Benjamin, Weber, and Aristotle are interrogated through attention to the daily practices of policing, from Niger to Israel, São Paulo to Uttar Pradesh. In the process these articles will push us to reexamine the practices of policing at the heart of collective life in such a way that challenges not only our understanding of such critical theorists and their work, but also the sense of “justice,” “morality,” “violence” and the conceptual and aesthetic frameworks upon which such formulations traditionally rely. More than just a corrective to models of social action and meaning, such explorations hold the potential to place a critical police studies at the center of our understanding of what it means to be human today.


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