Welcome back to In the Journals! This ongoing series aims to bridge conversations that are often siloed by discipline, geographical region, language, and race. One of our goals is to make sure that the diverse voices currently reporting their research on policing, crime, law, security, and punishment are presented here. We are continuing our catch-up and also reaching back further to develop article collections around different questions and themes, with this post highlighting articles on police abolition both historically and in this present moment.Continue reading
Welcome back to In the Journals, a brief look at just a few articles that have been published in previous months on policing, law, and governance. These particular articles were published in their articles between January and February, 2019.
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. It’s been a while since the last post so this time we are going to try to play catch-up, so it might be a little longer than usual. The particular articles for this post that range from January 2018 to October 2018.
In January, Rosana Pinheiro-Machado published an article in Global Networks entitled “Rethinking the informal and criminal economy from a global commodity chain perspective: China-Paraguay-Brazil”. In this article the author puts to work 15 years of multi-sited research in China, Paraguay, and Brazil to present how products and economic practices oscillate between categories of il/legality. This piece does a clear job of presenting the immense variation in legal statuses that products take on in a way that extends the concept of the integrated in/formal economy to include what is often considered as a separate, “criminal” sector by social scientists, governments, and international organizations. Pinheiro-Machado observes toys and clothes, that are produced legally in China as licensed material, as they move through Paraguay’s minimally regulated market to their destination in Brazil, all the while slipping between degrees of formality, legality, and illicitness. Often what is a legal, unbranded “knock-off” product, such as a toy or article of clothing, is deemed as illegal because it is assumed to have been smuggled in because of its assumed Chinese origin and the fact that it is being sold in street markets. Despite the fact that the same product is often sold in more formal retail settings such as storefronts, who very well may receive products that have legally and illegally entered the country, informal street markets suffer violent and excessive policing measures for selling such products.
In February, Antipode published an article with the title “Securing the Return: How Enhanced US Border Enforcement Fuels Cycles of Debt Migration” by Richard L. Johnson and Murphy Woodhouse. The article is the result of qualitative research that took place between 2012 and 2015 in Guatemala, which focused on the experiences and motivations, particularly as they pertain to debt, of individuals who had attempted, failed, and/or succeeded in unauthorized migration to the United States. The authors make an important argument for the importance of debt in migration to the United States from Central America. In an economic setting that often has little to offer individuals without a significant amount of capital in the form of crops, land, or business, people often find the best option is going into debt to take a chance on arriving in the United States to fetch a much better price for their labor. Increased policing presence and intensity on the US border with Mexico has meant deportation for many of these people, which leaves those who took on debt with far less means to pay it off than expected when they accepted their loans. In turn, this drives many to gamble with additional loans. Here, Johnson et. al effectively portray debt as “a central enabler, driver, and outcome” of migration. The authors argue to bring the significance of debt to conversations on US border policy and policing practices.
In April in Criminology and Criminal Justice published a study in Helsinki, Finland by Elsa Saarikkomäki with the title “Young people’s conceptions of trust and confidence in the crime control system: Differences between public and private policing”. Saarikkomäki carried out a study with girls and boys between the ages of 14 and 17 in Helsinnki between 2012-2013 who had encounters with police and security guards in an investigation on how youths understand private and public policing. The study focuses on youths because of their particular relationship with public and semi-public places (malls, shopping centers, etc.) and the security guards that patrol them. The author takes on the extremely complicated task of trying to parse out youths’ ideas and conceptualizations of the differentiation between public and private police, discovering that youths did not necessarily see private security officers as different from state police officers because they were hired by companies versus the government. They saw private guards more as unnecessary members of a broader bureaucracy, for whom they had less trust and confidence than the state police because of reputations and experiences of unprofessional and abusive behavior. However, despite the ambiguity that the teenagers expressed when discussing the difference between private and public police, there still seemed to be a significant separation between the two. Even though teens felt more inclined to distrust security officers for their lack of training, professionalism, or education, and did not comment on how private agents are institutionally separate from police officers, the lack of trust and confidence in guards did not bleed onto feelings towards public police. The author asserts that this is indicative of the complex nature of private policing and how it operates outside of the state, yet simultaneously, within its confines and reinforcement. Private policing, the author concludes, is increasingly prevalent in the western world, and this study suggests how this might affect people’s understandings of and trust in police agents and institutions.
Public Culture published an article in May by Yinon Cohen and Neve Gordon that looks how Israel has historically, as well as currently, employed a combination of legislative, demographic, and cultural tactics to colonize territory. The article titled “Israel’s Biospatial Politics: Territory, Demography, and Effective Control” recounts how the state’s biospatial techniques have heavily reduced the political, economic, and geographic resources of Palestinians and non-Jewish groups in Israel, By classifying land as uninhabited, abandoned, or in possession of the state, historically Palestinian land became free to be populated by Jewish neighborhoods, forcing Palestinians that have remained in Israel to live in enclaves that, unlike their population, haven’t grown. Often, what are historically populated villages and enclaves are not formally recognized, prohibiting connections to basic infrastructure such as power, water, and garbage collection. In addition to land classification, demographic categories are based on religion. This effectively reduces people to one of two broad types, Jewish or Non-Jewish, hiding generational ties that Palestinians have with the land as well as any Arabness that Jews might be attributed with otherwise. It also allows for Jewish foreign residents/citizens to go unmarked and even includes individuals with Jewish familial or marital ties, while maintaining a stark separation from Palestinians.
In another article from Criminology and Criminal Justice published in May, “Policing as a performing art? The contradictory nature of the contemporary police performance management”, Jacques de Maillard and Stephen Savage examine police performance measurement and management systems in England. The authors use a qualitative approach in assessing the efficacy of new “advanced” forms of performance management, which they define as being qualitatively focused on problem solving, flexibility, and long-term orientations. Despite administrations attempts at rolling out these new systems of performance management to move away from box-ticking, senior and middle management still relied heavily on numbers, using them to compare themselves with other precincts. They did this as opposed to interacting reflexively to their own specific contexts, largely because of funding and reward systems that favored better numbers. The logic of performance measurement among officers, supervisors, and the institutions at large are conflicted and contradictory. This case study exemplifies of how policing is not just a practice of ethical and moral negotiation, but that whatever good policing is or might be is subjective, contextual, and immensely complex. The contradictions that the English police experience when critically engaging with a system of performance assessment speaks to the consistent struggle that even officers have with what policing actually is.
In August, the journal City & Society published an article named ‘“We don’t belong there”: New Geographies of Homelessness, Addiction, and Social Control in Vancouver’s Inner City” by Danya Fast and David Cunningham. The authors explore how gentrification and poverty management tactics are reshaping the lived experiences of marginalized drug users in Vancouver. The article is based on eight years of research on the part of the first author and 14 years of activism and ethnography from the other. The article examines how poverty management and other government subsidized forms of social control are affecting addiction, homelessness, and urban space. The management of homelessness and addiction, the authors argue, have pressured marginalized youths in Vancouver to take on, in Deleuzean terms, particular “lines of flight” that often lead to further displacement and potential disaster. Instead of having nowhere to go, homelessness became more of an endless cycle of transition and eviction from housing projects. Fast and Cunningham argue that the “compassionate” city’s famous approaches to managing poverty, homelessness, and addiction has more so displaced and rearranged these issues as opposed to deal with them. The article is a solid example of testing policies and programs through analysis of the reality that unfolds on the ground level, which is especially important in the case of Vancouver, which has been used as a model for management in other cities.
The Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology published an article in September by Maarit Forde that deals with the effects of hierarchies of ethnicity, gender, and class work in conjunction with infrastructure and legislation in Trinidad to affect daily experiences of space and civic engagement in peripheral enclaves and neighborhoods. In the article titled “Fear, Segregation, and Civic Engagement in Urban Trinidad”, Forde traces contemporary social hierarchies in Trinidad to their historical roots in colonialism. Through housing projects and infrastructural design, different areas have been cut off or hidden, with limited access to resources and transportation, many of which have been stigmatized through media coverage and rumors based on the prevalence of gang activity and violence. This stigma works to keep outsiders from other parts of the area out of the enclaves, while simultaneously generating fear for many who live on the inside, leading them to stay inside with locked windows and doors. Because of these pressures, much of what residents in these enclaves concern themselves with in terms of civic life pertain almost exclusively to the communities in which they live, limiting their participation in public life. A result of this is an endemic value system based on “respectability” that some residents aspire to in order to separate themselves from being lower class, othered, or less desirable.
Briefly returning to Guatemala, an article by Kevin O’Neill was published in Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space in September on how fast food restaurants navigate the insecurity of Guatemala City, listed as one of the world’s most dangerous cities. The article, entitled “Disenfranchised: Mapping red zones in Guatemala City”, explains how fast food chains in Guatemala City’s largest and most dangerous zone, Zona 18, determine the addresses to which they can deliver based on the risk involved with the route that would be taken, which if an area is too dangerous, it is classified as a “red zone”. Despite investment in security guards and systems, some high-end neighborhoods and shopping centers prove to be too dangerous for delivery because the routes needed to arrive are simply too dangerous for risk of robbery or gang extorsion, traffic accidents, poor road conditions, or geographic factors (canyons, blind spots, etc.). However, other areas, such as the prison, or other neighborhoods or enclaves that might have a bad reputation, are very safe to deliver to. O’Neill indexes how this emphasizes the major role that mobility, defined as “sites of transit and passage”, plays in security. In addition to fortified houses and neighborhoods, cases like this one show that security can be more of a question of arriving and leaving as opposed to staying. In contrast to the delivery maps, police maps of the zone classify the entirety of Zone 18 as red based on the amount of reported murders, a heavy-handed generalization that many residents do not take seriously and attribute to the police’s fear of Zone 18. Meanwhile, McDonald’s managers are actively trying to get a cheeseburger in the hand of everyone who wants one, which leads them to engage with the geography of insecurity in a different way than the police. For this fact the maps serve as indicators for the city’s neighborhoods and their overall desirability and security. When people are un able to order a pizza because of their location, it means something.
Finally, in October, Annual Review of Anthropology brings us an article (first posted in July) by Jeffrey T. Martin that is an important and thorough overview on the anthropological sub-field on policing named “Police and Policing”. In this review, Martin considers recent anthropological research on police and policing to make a case for the future of the field. The author starts with a historical survey of ideas of personhood and policing, exploring the dynamics of the relationship between the police, the state, and citizenship. From this survey he argues that the experience of police control on the margins is increasingly defining personhood under late capitalism. Next, the article dives into the relationship between sovereignty and policing, using a wealth of recent ethnographic research on the police to point out the issues with the monolithic descriptions of the police such as those given to us by Weber and Benjamin. Laying out the evidence and indexing officer subjectivity, limited agency, and the complex relationship between police, violence, and sovereignty, the article shows the reader the massive variation in policing practices and cultural notions of what the police are, and what they should do. In considering all this, Martin links police power to larger cultural understandings normalcy, a defining characteristic that separates it from “raw violence”. In doing this he highlights how police work is tethered to the moral systems that underlie and organize the contexts in which policing practices take place, and that the inconsistencies and contradictions of moral systems play a central role in policing.
Image from ACLU.org