Untold stories of police ethnography

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

Abstract / Description of output

One of the core contributions of police ethnography has been to uncover how informal norms shape police practice, directing officers’ attention to some aspects of police work and away from others. This chapter argues that ethnographic fieldwork is also shaped by unarticulated values and conventions which focus our attention on particular aspects of police work, leaving others unexplored. Drawing on ‘confessional tales’ from early police ethnographies to the present, this chapter argues that ethnographers’ stories are powerful cultural products which illuminate a dominant understanding of ‘real’ fieldwork with the police. The stories that are told, and those that are not, illuminate what has come to be seen as the appropriate focus of our attention and how we should think about what we see. It explores three common themes in ethnographers’ tales: stories of coercive power; stories of emotion; and stories of action. In each of these it examines how our preoccupations may limit the scope of ethnographic inquiry and divert ethnographic attention from important aspects of police practice. As a result, while police ethnography continues to flourish, certain kinds of stories remain untold.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRoutledge International Handbook of Police Ethnography
EditorsJenny Fleming, Sarah Charman
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781003083795
ISBN (Print)9780367539399
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2023

Publication series

NameRoutledge International Handbooks

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • ethnography
  • policing
  • story telling
  • culture
  • qualitative methods
  • reflexivity


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