Interaction rituals, performance and police-public 'encounters'

Research output: Working paper


A key orientation of the microsociology of Collins’ interaction rituals is that it is the focused performances of situated interactions, or ‘encounters’, that need to be the centre of analysis, not ‘the individual’. It is in the moment of the encounter that structure and agency coalesce, and are performed and negotiated. As such, it is through encounters that self and collective identities are forged and given meaning, both successful and failed encounters being potential moments of high emotion and real and symbolic import to participants, marking confirmation or refutation of status and social membership. As such, rituals are crucial to understanding solidarity and the social order. Criminology has touched upon ritual theory although sometimes implicitly. Where it has done so explicitly this has most notably been in the context of formal organised rites, such as the degradation ceremony of the court, rather than in the more informal, everyday situated encounters and experiences that are at the heart of interaction ritual theory. This paper sketches the key ideas of interaction ritual theory and locates them within criminological theorising. It then uses interaction ritual theory to revisit and revise thinking on the symbolic dimensions of policing, and to explore the relationship between policing and the reproduction of social order. It argues that understanding police-public encounters as moments of ritualised recognition or denunciation that have serious consequences for citizens and officers raises important questions about police legitimacy. The argument also questions key tenets of interaction ritual theory in problematizing what counts as an ‘encounter’ and a security signifier in a world increasingly characterised by fragmented layers of policing and security, and mediated by and experienced through technologies that reconfigure ‘co-presence’. In doing so it identifies both possibilities in which to rethink police-public encounters and very real risks to the social order and solidarity.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherSocial Science Research Network (SSRN)
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 16 May 2019

Publication series

NameEdinburgh School of Law Research Papers


  • ritual
  • criminology
  • policing
  • solidarity
  • identity
  • encounter
  • emotion
  • co-presence
  • performance


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