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Writing the World of Policing

The Difference Ethnography Makes

As policing has recently become a major topic of public debate, it was also a growing area of ethnographic research. Writing the World of Policing brings together an international roster of scholars who have conducted fieldwork studies of law enforcement in disadvantaged urban neighborhoods on five continents. How, they ask, can ethnography illuminate the role of the police in society? Are there important aspects of policing that are not captured through interviews and statistics? And how can the study of law enforcement shed light on the practice of ethnography? What might studying policing teach us about the epistemological and ethical challenges of participant observation? Beyond these questions of crucial interest for criminology and, more generally, the social sciences, Writing the World of Policing provides a timely discussion of one of the most problematic institutions in contemporary society.

320 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2017

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology


Law and Legal Studies: Law and Society

Political Science: Urban Politics

Sociology: Criminology, Delinquency, Social Control


"Policing is an important topic in criminal justice research, discussion, and debate. In this edited collection's 12 chapters, scholars from across the globe explore the institution of policing. The authors discuss policing in South Africa, India, Taiwan, Mozambique, Turkey, Chile, Bolivia, Thailand, Portugal, France, and the US. As the field of criminology has matured, the use of quantitative methods to analyze social phenomena has become widespread. This book breaks from the trend by taking an ethnographic approach to examining police and policing. The contributing authors specifically examine topics such as discretion, violence, and training. . . . This informative, well-written book will be a valued addition to university library collections seeking to support anthropology, sociology, or criminology and criminal justice programs. It could serve as a resource for research or as assigned reading for graduate seminars concerning policing or qualitative research methods in criminology and criminal justice. Highly recommended."


“Writing about the world of policing makes a difference, and Fassin and his colleagues show how in this welcome volume. This collection of superb original papers, organized around themes like ‘position’, ‘observation’, and ‘description’, is prefaced by Fassin’s masterful reflections on ‘writing up’. A classic in the making, this is an assessment of an emergent field and a vision for future research.”

Peter K. Manning, Northeastern University

Writing the World of Policing reinvents and returns ethnographic scholarship to the curiously neglected themes of the policing of poor neighborhoods, underprivileged populations, and marginalized minorities. With narrative verve, this carefully edited volume provides an empirically grounded account of just how the police everywhere shape and are shaped by the strikingly comparable work they do.”

John Van Maanen, author of Tales of the Field

“Fassin has asked some of the world’s best ethnographers of policing to reflect on the ethical, political and practical complexities of describing this unstable, if indispensable, heart of modern statecraft. The result is a unique collection of personal and reflexive essays, theoretically astute and global in scope, while deeply attentive to how the ethnographer co-produces the situation under analysis. This volume is not only timely and important at this historical juncture, it is also a contribution of lasting value that will inspire students and aspiring ethnographers and seasoned fieldworkers from all disciplines.”

Thomas Blom Hansen, Stanford University

Table of Contents

Introduction: Ethnographying the Police
Didier Fassin

Part I: Position

One     Accountability: Ethnographic Engagement and the Ethics of the Police (United States)
Steve Herbert

Two     Complicity: Becoming the Police (South Africa)
Julia Hornberger

Three   Intimacy: Personal Policing, Ethnographic Kinship, and Critical Empathy (India)
Beatrice Jauregui

Four     Affect: The Virtual Force of Policing (Taiwan)
Jeffrey T. Martin

Part II: Observation

Five     Predicament: Interpreting Police Violence (Mozambique)
Helene Maria Kyed

Six       Morality: Understanding Police Training on Human Rights (Turkey)
Elif Babül

Seven  Experience: Being Policed as a Condition of Life (Chile)
Clara Han

Eight   Aspiration: Hoping for a Public Policing (Bolivia)
Daniel M. Goldstein

Part III: Description

Nine    Sense and Sensibility: Crafting Tales about the Police (Thailand)
Duncan McCargo

Ten      Detention: Police Discretion Revisited (Portugal)
Susana Durão

Eleven Alibi: The Extralegal Force Embedded in the Law (United States)
Laurence Ralph

Twelve Boredom: Accounting for the Ordinary in the Work of Policing (France)
Didier Fassin


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