Boundary work: Police in West Africa
Corruption, support of violent political regimes and protection of neoliberal economic interests: West Africa’s police are usually regarded as a dysfunctional state institution, both in popular and scholarly discourses. Representing the state´s monopoly on the legitimate use of force and thus expected to be politically neutral, the police are often criticized as institutionally not autonomous. Solid empirical research on the police in this part of the world, however, is scarce. The research project analyses the autonomy of police institutions at the level of everyday police practices. West African police work in an environment of low legitimacy is faced with competing non-state policing organizations and depends on superordinate or coordinate state institutions. Police practices have adapted to these conditions and therefore have come to terms with permanent informal interference by non-police actors, in some cases using the situation to their advantage by outsourcing certain police tasks. Despite these adaptations, policemen still aim to partially preserve the autonomy of their institution.
The project analyses this ambivalent boundary work in which police and civil actors constantly adjust, redraw or preserve the boundary distinguishing them in everyday interactions. A comparison of policemen’s boundary work in two quite different countries, such as Ghana (Anglophone, stable democracy since 1992) and Niger (Francophone, presently authoritarian), permits researchers to analyze how historical and political contexts shape police practices. The comparative approach also allows to elaborate on collectively shared practices specific to the police profession and to contribute to empirical and theoretical research on the state in Africa.
In the final period (2013 till March 2014), the project will study processes of transnational transfer of police models to West Africa, their local appropriation, but also how West African police work produces innovations that may generate transfer processes in the reverse direction.
Badou, Agnès. 2009. La construction des catégories socioprofessionnelles informelles à la police Béninoise. In: Etats en chantier an Afrique au Sud du Sahara / States at work in Sub-Saharan Africa. Proceedings of the conference / Actes du colloque, Niamey 7 - 9 December. Niamey: Buco-Edit.
Beek, Jan. 2010. Étiqueter les ‘déviants’: le travail des policiers au Nord-Ghana. Déviance et Société 34 (2): 279-290.
Beek, Jan. 2011. ‘Every car has an offence on it‘: Register polizeilichen Handelns bei Verkehrskontrollen in Nordghana. Sociologus 61(2): 197-222.
Beek, Jan. 2012. ‘There should be no open doors in the police’: criminal investigations in Northern Ghana as boundary work. Journal of Modern African Studies 50(4): 551-572. © Cambridge University Press.
Beek , Jan; Göpfert, Mirco. 2011. ‘Ground work’ und ‘paper work’: Feldzugang bei Polizeiorganisationen in Westafrika. Zeitschrift für Ethnologie 136: 189-214.
Beek, Jan; Göpfert Mirco. 2013. Police violence in West Africa: Perpetrators’ and ethnographers’ dilemmas. Ethnography 14 (4): 477–500.
Beek, Jan, and Mirco Göpfert. 2013. State violence specialists in West Africa. Sociologus 63 (1-2): 103–124.
Beek, Jan, and Mirco Göpfert. 2015. ‘Travelling Police: The potential for change in the wake of police reform in West Africa’. Social Anthropology 23 (4): 465-79.
Göpfert, Mirco. 2012. Security in Niamey: an anthropological perspective on policing and an act of terrorism in Niger. Journal of Modern African Studies 50(1): 53-74. © Cambridge University Press.
Göpfert, Mirco. 2013. Bureaucratic aesthetics: report writing in the Nigérien gendarmerie. American Ethnologist 40(2): 324–334.
Lentz, Carola. 2010. ‘I take an oath to the state, not the government’: Career trajectories and professional ethics of Ghanaian public servants. Working Papers of the Department of Anthropology and African Studies of the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz 119.
Lentz, Carola. 2014. ‘I take an oath to the state, not the government’: Career Trajectories and Professional Ethics of Ghanaian Public Servants. In Bierschenk, Thomas und Olivier de Sardan, Jean-Pierre (Hg.): States at Work: Dynamics of African Bureaucracies. Leiden, Boston: Brill, 175-204.
Image: Gendarme in Niger visiting workers on a communal field. Photo: Mirco Göpfert©.