Police/Worlds: Studies in Security, Crime, and Governance

Indio Police Building (Indio, Calif.), 1958 © J. Paul Getty Trust, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10). Photo by Julius Schulman.

Police/Worlds: Studies in Security, Crime, and Governance is a new series forthcoming from Cornell University Press. It will be edited by anthropologists Ilana Feldman, Will Garriott, Kevin Karpiak, and Sameena Mulla. Download the flyer for more information.

Sage House: We’re very happy to launch the new monograph series, Police/Worlds: Studies in Security, Crime, and Governance here at Cornell University Press.  To begin, tell me about Police/Worlds. What does the title mean? What is the series focus and what makes it different from other series?

Sameena Mulla: We’re glad you asked, because we chose the title Police/Worlds to invite that question. You see two very recognizable terms, “Police,” and “Worlds,” with some punctuation between them; their relationship is not exactly clear, and that’s what we hope to explore in the series. We want to publish books that explore policing in many different contexts. That means not just traditional organizational settings—

Kevin Karpiak: What’s sometimes glossed as “Policing as the men in blue.”

SM: —but also in policing more broadly, as a set of everyday practices. Thinking of the many worlds of policing suggests different geographic, historic, and also cultural contexts.

Will Garriott: For the past few years, a group of us have been working on issues of police and policing in anthropology. For example, the blog Anthropoliteia has been a central place to develop the anthropological focus on policing. And this has put us in conversation with scholars of police in neighboring disciplines. It’s provided us with a particular perspective on issues such as crime, security, and governance. We’ve found this to be a very productive space. We hope the series will reflect this.

Our aim is to develop new conceptual, aesthetic and critical insights into policing that can push debates—and, ultimately, ways of addressing social problems—beyond existing works.

Ilana Feldman: Recent years have lent urgency to moving scholarship on policing ahead. In the U.S., #BlackLivesMatter calls for us to ask some important questions about police-involved deaths of African-American citizens. Issues of police violence resonate internationally: the uprisings in the Middle East that came to be known as the “Arab Spring” were in part catalyzed by police brutality.  Similarly, protest and political mobilization in France, Mexico, Turkey, Venezuela, Hong Kong, and Brazil all either began with, or were centrally related to, issues of policing. While all of these situations need to be understood in their local specificity, their recurrence around the globe speaks to the centrality of policing across many forms of collective life. Our series draws on the expertise that anthropologists have working across these different areas, with the goal of developing many approaches to studying “police” and “policing.”

KK: Our emphasis on critical innovation is a key component of the series’ vision and central to its original contribution to police and crime studies. Our aim is to develop new conceptual, aesthetic and critical insights into policing that can push debates—and, ultimately, ways of addressing social problems—beyond existing works in police studies, criminology and anthropology. Interdisciplinary approaches, engaging ideas and theories that travel across different social science and humanistic disciplines, is one way to cultivate innovation. We are also interested in recruiting authors who develop original forms of writing, creative methodologies, and novel approaches to theorizing policing.

Sage House: What do the four of you bring to the series and to the study of policing, security, crime, and governance as editors and scholars?

KK: Well, for one, anthropologists who study policing tend to have a broader, less defined sense of “police” and its business than the more narrowly circumscribed concept used by most traditional criminology and public policy perspectives.  Time and again such work has illustrated that approaching policing broadly—as a distinctive art of governance that overlaps significantly with practices and logics often associated with crime control, criminal justice, military operations, security assemblages, and the carceral state—can give a deeper, richer sense of how imbricated policing is in the fabric of our daily lives.  Will’s book, Policing Methamphetamine, is a great example of this.

Do we simply want to read about “social control” or “delinquency” in a textbook, or do we want to see how social control operates in a particular setting?

IF: The flip side of this issue is that while anthropologists have been interested in issues of law, order, crime, and punishment for a long time, policing has been a relatively overlooked topic. Taking a somewhat under-developed topic in anthropology into current conversations happening in our discipline about, for example, postcolonialism, bureaucracy, and state violence, opens up many possibilities for insight into the complexities of policing.

WG: We are aiming to bring a set of anthropological skills and sensitivities, both theoretical and methodological, to the long-standing expertise on policing in criminology, sociology, geography, and cultural history. Considering issues that appear similar on the surface, like police brutality, in different contexts and locations can lead to discovering new theories to add to our conceptual toolkits, so we can look at the worlds we live in and ask, “Is this really what is going on here? Or is this something else?”

SM: Our own research is often field-based, and is as much about the importance of descriptive exercises as it is about conceptual content. This kind of writing is often more accessible to broader audiences. Do we simply want to read about “social control” or “delinquency” in a textbook, or do we want to see how social control operates in a particular setting? Anthropological research is often very patient—we are in the field for years. There are so many layers to how a particular social milieu functions. For example, thinking about some of the research that the four of us have published, policing becomes very expansive and also nuanced whether we are talking about the daily lives (and paperwork) of police officers in France; the way that humanitarianism, security, and policing are intertwined in Gaza; the way methamphetamine exceeds the capacities of police forces in rural U.S. communities who must then collaborate with many other governmental agencies; or the way gender, race, nursing, and policing are part of the forensic sexual assault intervention.

It may seem lofty, but really, the aim is that the Police/Worlds series will become critical ground upon which to build towards social justice.

Sage House: What kind of books excite you as editors?

WG: We are focused on works that are ethnographically rich, theoretically sophisticated, and speak to our current moment in new ways. Anthropologists will be the heart of this series, but we are very open to working with scholars across disciplines.

KK: We are really invested in the idea that interdisciplinarity will also serve as a method for unsettling police and policing as concepts and practices. As an interdisciplinary series focused on ethnographic engagement, the series asks authors to engage and reimagine traditional social science approaches to policing, crime, and governance, such as “deviance,” “social control,” or “social disorganization.” As Sameena mentioned, we want books that can illustrate how complex these very neat concepts can be.

SM: And while we are looking for new and complex ideas, we will be even more drawn into manuscripts that are beautifully written, because the writing matters. It is more than just an exercise in aesthetics for us, but about cultivating forms of writing that can sustain innovative forms of thinking. This is pretty typical for anthropologists, as we’ve debating ethnographic writing, style, and genre for a couple of decades, but may be a somewhat novel area for (some) authors outside of anthropology. If the bones of the writing and ideas are there in the manuscript, all four of us are very willing to work with authors on revising and polishing the work so it meets both the author’s vision and our vision for the series.

IF: Authors should send us proposals that take into account the larger questions that policing entails, like social order, power, inequality, empire, and justice. Our series will feature empirical case studies of the role and organization of violence in our collective lives. It is a lot to ask of a book series, but we are working with an exciting group of authors now, who we hope will contribute to our aims to envision how policing reproduces forms of difference within the social body. Thinking about difference means thinking about inequality. It may seem lofty, but really, the aim is that the Police/Worlds series will become critical ground upon which to build towards social justice.

Police/Worlds is accepting proposals. Authors should send inquiries to Cornell University Press Senior Editor Jim Lance at jml554@cornell.edu. Guidelines for submitting proposals can be found at http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/info/?fa=text101.

Facebook: @PoliceWorldsBookSeries

Twitter: @Police_Worlds

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Police/Worlds: Studies in Security, Crime, and Governance