In the Journals

In the Journals – May 2015


Welcome back to In the Journals, a monthly review of journal publications on security, crime, law enforcement and the state. As many are skirting dangerously close to the summer break, we hope you have some spare time to check out some of these recent publications hand-picked by anthropoliteia for our dear readers.

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In the Journals

In The Journals – February 2015

Weteye MK116 Mod O Nonpersistent GB Chemical Bomb - March 1964

Welcome back to In the Journals, a now monthly sweep of recent academic publications examining security, crime, policing and the law. As the slow winter months come to a close, we hope you can find some time before Spring to get some reading in. Here are some of the articles of interest to us, that we thought we should share with you.

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Ethnic Profiling as a Societal Institution in the Netherlands

The editors of Anthropoliteia would like to welcome this special “Dossier” from our own Paul Mutsaers

Psychologism and profiling ‘the other’

It is common knowledge in the sociology of police that law enforcers do not merely apply legal maxims but ‘employ discretion in invoking the law’, as Egon Bittner already put it in 1970 in The Functions of the Police in Modern Society. There is often not much consistency in the application of the law as beat officers have a large leeway when they operate in the blind spot of their desk superiors, that is, on the street. While on the beat, policing may be turned into a mechanism of social ordering that has the potential to significantly alter the life prospects of those who are encountered. When roaming in the districts, containing a demonstration, responding to an emergency call, mediating a conflict, investigating a homicide, or containing a riot, the police are actually (re)producing social hierarchies and differences in the settings in which they operate. Continue reading

Book Reviews

The Poetry of Barrio Libre

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Book Review: Gilberto Rosas, Barrio Libre: Criminalizing States and Delinquent Refusals (Duke University Press, 2012).
By Vino Avanesi, undergraduate student in Culture Studies, Faculty of Humanities (Tilburg University, the Netherlands)

The title of Rosas’ work suggests a balance between the concreteness of Mexican barrio’s and the abstraction found behind scholarly walls. One could say that ‘Barrio Libre’ did not disappoint, in fact, it surpassed expectation. In order to offer the reader a deep understanding of the phenomenon called Barrio Libre, Rosas theorizes in his work the multiple threads which come together in the phenomenon. According to Rosas these social, economic and political threads constitute the fabric of the problems underlying the emergence of Barrio Libre. Continue reading


In the spirit of continuing our discussion of the British “riots”, Jonathan Simon has an interesting post that I think echoes many of the things that came up in our own discussion.  Here’s one particularly cogent nut he offers up in describing the importation of American criminal justice techniques to Britain over the past decade:

“….[C]hronic overuse of criminal justice as a ready made tool for addressing social insecurity under Neo-liberal economic assumptions has led to collapse of both deterrence and legitimacy.”

Now there’s a thesis.  Thoughts?

Following up on the British “riots”: Jonathan Simon on GTC

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.

Announcements, Conferences

Anthropoliteia at the American Anthropological Association Meetings (2010, NOLA version)

Since people seemed to find it helpful last year, I’ve decided to try and make A@AAA an annual feature.  So here you go, my annual round-up of police, crime and security events at this year’s American Anthropological Association Annual Meetings.  As always, if you know about a session or paper that I’ve missed, let me know in the comments section and I’ll add it to the list.

Wednesday, Nov. 17th





Thursday, Nov. 18th






Friday, Nov. 19th






Saturday, Nov. 20th



Sunday, Nov. 21st