Just police work: Ethnographic research on the police in Africa

Workshop June 12 – 15, 2013

Organisers: Carola Lentz, Jan Beek and Mirco Göpfert

There is nothing special about police work in Africa. Police officers there, like their counterparts all over the world, control traffic, patrol streets, maintain public order, investigate petty crimes and produce bureaucratic documents: it’s just police work. At the same time, police officers want to be fair and just. Through their daily routines, they indeed produce specific forms of social order, justice and stateness. Police work in Africa is not primarily about corruption, excessive violence, and political entanglements and it is not essentially different from police work in the global north.

What makes police work in Africa somewhat special is its context: the historical sedimentation of unique colonial and post-colonial experiences, competing state and non-state policing organisations, low legitimacy of the police, a multitude of transnationally circulating police models, formal under-regulation, and improvised equipment. This context brings to the forespecifics of police work that are not as obvious, but are nevertheless present in other police organizations.

In this workshop, we wish to bring together young researchers and established scholars who explore ethnographically the mundane, everyday dimension of police work in Africa. Ethnographic approaches enable new insights into bigger issues such as social order and stateness.Our aim is to create a forum for intense discussions on police work in Africa which reflect highly situated ethnographic data and, at the same time, develop comparative approaches to police in Africa and beyond.