One of the core contributions of the strong tradition of police ethnography is the emergence of a powerful critique of police culture. Through this work, researchers have explored the informal norms that structure police practices and the implications both for the experiences of policing and for central questions of social justice. Yet while research has demonstrated the power of occupational cultures in shaping what professionals consider important and thus what they do, there has been little attention paid to the culture that underpins the work through which police ethnography is produced. This paper explores how ethnographers construct accounts of fieldwork with the police and interrogates the patterned understandings that structure the way researchers think about and do police ethnography. Returning to unpublished field notes generated as part of a major study of policing in the aftermath of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, it explores their connections with published fieldwork ‘confessionals’ to uncover the unarticulated conventions of what has come to constitute authoritative fieldwork. It suggests that accounts of ethnographic fieldwork reproduce a narrative of research in which researchers attempt to conform to the dominant norms of the setting; which emphasises tales of physicality,endurance, risk and action; and in which raw, undirected emotion is excised. This suggests a central irony in police ethnography: the dynamics of police culture it so powerfully criticises are reflected in the construction of the ethnographic process.
- police culture