The editors of Anthropoliteia welcome Johanna Römer with a Dossier in our From the Field section.
“The history of prisons in Spain?” a Catalan prison guard asked me, a man in his mid-forties, his hands resting on a heavy leather belt. “Everything has already been written. Our vocabulary, our forms of punishment – even the word cell itself, all come from Catholic and monastic practices.”
He turned to face the thick glass wall of the bunker.
“I spent years teaching…in law enforcement, in the private sector, and now I just want to be here, with these guys [inmates], where I can have peace and quiet,” he said, nodding towards a small group of men talking softly around a checked tablecloth whose color was imperceptible through the glass.
“Look at that. No one makes problems.”
While monitoring the inmates through the glass, the guard narrated other stories of prison work; but his last seemingly unremarkable comment, “no one makes problems,” stayed with me.
From May 4-7, 2014, a workshop was held at the Institute for Advanced Study on the topic of “Ethnography and Policing.” Below is a short summary of the workshop’s premise and scope, as described by Didier Fassin, who organized the gathering.
In the past half century, there has been a considerable amount of scientific literature in criminology, sociology, political science and legal studies on urban policing, that is, on the practice of law enforcement mostly in the poor neighborhoods of large cities. Part of this work is grounded on some form of participant observation, which complements other techniques such as interviews or questionnaires, and nourishes the analytical and theoretical arguments developed by the authors. However, this ethnography rarely appears as such. It is usually not presented, save occasionally in the form of short vignettes, or discussed, from the perspective of the specific contribution of this method. Significantly, until recently, anthropologists themselves seemed to ignore policing practices.
In the past decade, however, this situation has begun to change, as scholars increasingly and explicitly include ethnographic elements in their study of police work. The objective of the workshop was to bring together social scientists who have conducted research on urban policing in different parts of the world, using ethnography, in order to collectively reflect on the conditions, potentialities and limits of this method, the problems of interpretation and the ethical issues it raises, and the way local findings can be related to larger historical context and sociological issues. The general idea was to take ethnography seriously rather than as a mere background rendered invisible in the process of writing. Considering the importance of public debates on policing in contemporary societies, particularly on the way law is enforced in poor neighborhoods, which raises questions about racial discrimination, display of violence, and reproduction of an unequal social order, the exchange of ethnographic experiences has been rich. The outcome of this workshop will be a collective volume.
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
To quote Timbaland, “It’s been a long time/ Shouldn’t have left you / without a dope beat to step to”
That’s right, it’s time for one more pre-AAA Annual Meetings edition of Anthropoliteia In The News.
Cultural Anthropology & Security
Thanks in part to one of our co-Anthropoliteia-ers, Michelle Stewert (along with Vivian Choi), we not along can enjoy a special “virtual issue” of the journal Cultural Anthropology on the theme of “security” but we can look forward to a discussion with several of the authors at this years Annual Meetings of the American Anthropological Association. The event will be called “Thematizing Security” and will be held Friday December 4th at 12:15pm. Discussion participants will include Didier Fassin, Ilana Feldman, Andrew Lakoff, and Joseph Masco
Policing the Rio Olympics
In the wake of being awarded the 2016 Summer Olympics, a violent outburst between police and drug gangs which left two dozen dead has garnered increased international scrutiny for Rio police forces, NPR reports. Chief among the Rio police’s strategies are community-policing style attempts to integrate the police force into the poorest and most troubled areas.
Whether these strategies will actually reduce violence is unclear. As one woman lamented, “The violence you are seeing on TV which happened last weekend you have almost every day. If not in this favela, you have it in another favela.”
“Nation’s Top Cop”
Former Boston, New York City–and now Los Angeles–police chief Bill Bratton stepped down from his position as the nation’s “top cop” in order to work for a private security consulting agency. Bratton has been closely associated with both the “zero tolerance” and “broken windows” philosophies of urban policing. On his last day he addressed the LAPD via radio dispatch, repeating his motto, “cops count, police matter” to the listening troops.
(Not) Famous Last Words
The Clock Is Ticking
Anthropoliteia-er Meg Stalcup writes, over at On the Assembly of Things, about the release, by the US Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism, of “The Clock Is Ticking,” a progress report on what has happened with the recommendations made in the 2008 World at Risk publication.