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Durham e-Theses
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An anthropology of the police: semantic constructs of social order

Young, Malcolm (1986) An anthropology of the police: semantic constructs of social order. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



The police play an increasing role in the public construction of order and control. This thesis explores the modes of thought by which police practices are generated in pursuit of this control. A publicly proclaimed approval of social research is not supported by the analysis and academic enquiry is shown to be a binary opposite to a preferred ‘practical mastery'. This suggests the police maintain structural invisibility while appearing to be massively accessible to society. The 'insider/anthropologist' operates in a kind of extended liminality, with the potential to illuminate such hidden beliefs by a seditious interpretation. Reflexive participant observation therefore threatens and creates anti-structural possibilities for a society obsessed with conserving known and inculcated practice. This analysis of manufactured reality reveals a dramatic creation of ‘real’ and marginal policemen and villains, where the use of extreme metaphor, language and masculine symbols of status translate thought into action. Intrusion of women into this ideal world creates structural anomaly, for the world of ‘crime’ is dramatised to reinforce traditional belief in a masculine criminal justice system. An exploration of ambiguity caused by policewomen illustrates their incorrect place in the world of 'street-visible crime control’. Archetypes of feminine susceptibility are invoked, just as the archetype of 'hero‘ is attributed to the detective, 'fighting his war against crime’. However, analysis explodes the mythology surrounding the idea of 'crime', showing it to be an arbitrary police construct directed against the 'dangerous classes', manipulated and produced as a social drama. The revelation that this major structuring principle is used to preserve a known social etiquette is impossible to acknowledge and explains how research or academic enquiry into philosophies of power must be resisted. The police world has a public face, but a well-concealed private reality which this semantic exploration makes apparent.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Date:1986
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:08 Feb 2013 13:48

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