The editors of Anthropoliteia are happy to relaunch the second semester of an ongoing series The Anthropoliteia #BlackLivesMatterSyllabus Project, which will mobilize anthropological work as a pedagogical exercise addressing the confluence of race, policing and justice. You can see a growing bibliography of resources via our Mendeley feed. In this entry, Ashanté Reese discusses teaching from Zora Neale Hurston’s writings to explore many dimensions of blackness.
It’s hard to know what exactly to say, to think, to feel or how to react at a time like this; even as a scholar of police. Which is not to say that everything in the case is terribly ambiguous. Quite the opposite: another young black man has been the victim of a deadly and unaccountable state violence in front of our very eyes. I suppose the disorientation lay in how to move forward, and for that I have no strong answers.
Having said that, several of us at Anthropolitiea have been active on Twitter, I imagine in an effort to make sense of exactly that existential question. This is not dissimilar to my own reaction during and after the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman affair. Below are some of our thoughts, as we form them:
I’m sure I’m not the only one on this blog who’s been trying to think of a way to approach the whole Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman fiasco. Like a lot of scholarship, it’s just so hard to figure out what to add to the constant shit-storm of a media frenzy. But in my Police & Society class at EMU we have broached the topic, and the discussion has been both passionate and useful.
I thought I’d share the online discussion question I just prompted my students with. I’m curious to hear what readers of this blog might have to say. Here’s the prompt:
So our discussion seems to have gotten us to an interesting place: on the one hand, the question of what to do with George Zimmerman–did he have the right to be policing his neighborhood? did he have the right to carry and use a gun? did he have the right to suspect and pursue Trayvon?–brings us back to a question we’ve been asking repeatedly in the class… What should be the relationship between “police” and “society,” especially when we consider the use of force/power/gewalt? Should they be fully integral things, so that there’s no distinct institution of policing? Should there be an absolute distinction, so that only a small community can claim the right to police power? If the answer is somewhere in the middle, how would that work?
On the other hand, we’ve also been circulating around the question of freedom and security, norms and rights. Was George Zimmerman policing legitimately when we acted upon his suspicions, regardless of any evidence of law-breaking? Should the goal, the ends, of policing be the maintaince of community norms at the expense of individual liberty, or is a technocratic focus on law enforcement and civil rights the necessary priority of a democratic police force?
Anyone have any thoughts on how we can use some of the ideas and/or authors from this course to help us answer some of these questions?
This is the second entry in my series of posts on the question: “What is the curriculum for the anthropology of policing?” As promised, in this post I will share a syllabus I taught last semester, and follow Kevin’s lead in using critical reflection on my teaching experience as a way to think about the challenges of “canon formation” for the anthropology of policing. Before I do this, however, I should put all my cards on the table and say that I am beginning from a particular assumption about the anthropology of policing. My ‘original position’ (apologies to Rawls) is this: (a) the disciplinary core of anthropology is its concern with culture and, therefore, (b) the integrating core of the anthropology of policing is an anthropological concern with culture. Based on this assumption, I expect the answer to the question of my previous post (i.e. overlap in the syllabi for three hypothetical courses on the anthropology of policing pitched to the distinct audiences of (i) practitioners, (ii) undergraduate liberal arts majors, and (iii) anthropology graduate students) to be “Yes.” And not just “Yes,” but “Yes, there is an overlap. And it consists of a particular literature about the culture of policing.”
So, the ultimate purpose of this exercise in public auto-critique is to rise to the challenge of converting the vague prejudices of an American-cultural-anthropologist into a bibliography of canonical ideas about the culture of policing. The job will be finished when we have assembled a bibliography robust enough to answer critiques registered on behalf of any of the three audiences listed above. And if, at the end of this ordeal, my culturalist prejudices have not been crushed under the jackboot of political economy, or scattered to the winds of the policy community, then I will call myself a winner and buy everyone a drink at the November AAAs.
So, on to the syllabus. It is for a course I taught last semester, called Policing: An International Perspective, as an elective in the University of Hong Kong’s masters program in criminology. This is a popular two-year coursework-based degree “designed as a professional qualification for practitioners in criminal justice and related fields (including NGOs), [but also] open for people with an interest in the field of criminology in general.” The program is housed within a sociology department that awards PHDs in sociology, anthropology and criminology. Thus the experience of working here has thus brought me into contact with all three audiences mentioned above. The course itself enrolled 18 students, about half of whom were serving in what is locally known as the “disciplined forces.” I designed the course before I came to Hong Kong, however. And the lack of a practical familiarity with my audience gave a rather free rein to my personal sense of the how the anthropology of policing fit together as a coherent topic of instruction.
So, without further ado, for your apprasial and critique, here is the syllabus.
Where do you think its grand intellectual vision crumbled most dramatically in its confrontation with the realities of the classroom?