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Provisional Authority

Police, Order, and Security in India

Publication supported by the Bevington Fund

Policing as a global form is often fraught with excessive violence, corruption, and even criminalization. These sorts of problems are especially omnipresent in postcolonial nations such as India, where Beatrice Jauregui has spent several years studying the day-to-day lives of police officers in its most populous state, Uttar Pradesh. In this book, she offers an empirically rich and theoretically innovative look at the great puzzle of police authority in contemporary India and its relationship to social order, democratic governance, and security.
Jauregui explores the paradoxical demands placed on Indian police, who are at once routinely charged with abuses of authority at the same time that they are asked to extend that authority into any number of both official and unofficial tasks. Her ethnography of their everyday life and work demonstrates that police authority is provisional in several senses: shifting across time and space, subject to the availability and movement of resources, and dependent upon shared moral codes and relentless instrumental demands. In the end, she shows that police authority in India is not simply a vulgar manifestation of raw power or the violence of law but, rather, a contingent and volatile social resource relied upon in different ways to help realize human needs and desires in a pluralistic, postcolonial democracy.
Provocative and compelling, Provisional Authority provides a rare and disquieting look inside the world of police in India, and shines critical light on an institution fraught with moral, legal and political contradictions.

240 pages | 22 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2016

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Asian Studies: South Asia


Law and Legal Studies: Law and Society


"Relying on extensive research with the police force in Uttar Pradesh (UP), the book explains the workings of police authority as “an amorphous and multidimensional” everyday practice in UP and broadly in contemporary India. Grounded in a theoretical review of what constitutes “rational authority,” the book goes beyond the typical narratives of power, sovereignty, and the originary violence of law that dominates ongoing scholarship about police authority. Instead it argues that police authority is essentially configured by qualities of specialized knowledges, capabilities, positionalities, and exchange networks within which the force operates in a certain sociopolitical order."


"Provides what might become a textbook example of fine ethnographic work. Jauregui is a Hindi speaker and seems also to get the rough drift of a number of minor vernacular languages. Without these skills it is difficult to imagine a work of such depth and sensitivity being achievable. Reading this book as a criminologist engaged in a project to envision a new criminology unhooked from metropolitan master discourses, I felt I was seeing unfold before me new ways of thinking and new practices of research suitable for work in the global South."

Law & Society Review

 “A fascinating, rich, and resonant book. I know of no study that brings such an acute ethnographic sensibility to bear on police stations and structures as social institutions, or on those who work and live within those institutions. This is an engagingly written and exceptionally thought-provoking study, one that both illuminates a consequential—and often highly contested—contemporary Indian institution and provides a methodological and interpretive model for thinking in subtle and generative ways about institutions of all types—and in a wide range of state settings.”

Donald Brenneis, University of California, Santa Cruz

“In splendidly clear and incisive prose, Jauregui takes us to the ‘cutting edge’ of everyday policing in North India. This is a surprising and sometimes violent world where, as she lucidly explains, authority is always in the end in some sense ‘provisional.’ Jauregui’s fieldwork is genuinely pathbreaking, while her theoretical analysis unerringly swerves away from the received clichés that too often dominate writing on the postcolonial state. Like all great books, Provisional Authority has created its own genre—a genre in which Hindi noir meets the banalities of everyday life in the police barracks and tea shops of Uttar Pradesh. The result is a terrific book that is at once highly readable and intellectually challenging.”

Jonathan Spencer, University of Edinburgh

Provisional Authority is marvelous. It is clearly the best ethnographic book on the Indian police ever written. Jauregui writes incisively about both theory and practice, interweaving frontline stories with larger theoretical points and analysis. She shows the living reality of Indian police at the ‘coal face’, brilliantly laying out the nuanced problems of access and observer involvement in India.”

David H. Bayley, author of Governing the Police: Experience in Six Democracies

"One comes away understanding the complexity of navigating gatekeepers, unearthing perspectives, and finding definitions for concepts that are not easily defined. This book is an admirable example of field research presented in commendable fashion to an audience that goes beyond those of us who study policing in India." 

Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Book Reviews

"...Provisional authority excellently contextualizes police practices and perceptions within the fabric of everyday and political life, revealing Indian policing to be a precarious activity carried out by individuals who are unavoidably entwined within larger societal struggles."

David Sausdal | Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Police and Provisionality
Chapter 2: Corruptible Virtue
Chapter 3: Orderly Ethics
Chapter 4: Expendable Servants
Chapter 5: Bureaucratic Politics
Chapter 6: States of Insecurity

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