Enforcing Order: An Ethnography of Urban Policing

Enforcing Order: An Ethnography of Urban Policing - Didier Fassin

Enforcing Order: An Ethnography of Urban Policing – Didier Fassin

Didier Fassin is possibly one of the most inspiring anthropologists I’ve ever read, and his 2011 Munro Lecture, “Humanitarian reason: a moral economy of our time” was without doubt the best lecture I heard at Edinburgh while studying for my MSc. So I’m now almost delirious with excitement having heard of his forthcoming book, Enforcing Order: An Ethnography of Urban Policing, the result of 15 months of fieldwork based in a police station in the Paris banlieues.

The abstract for a recent lecture at NYU summarised Fassin’s latest work as follows:

Most incidents of urban unrest over the past decades in Western countries have followed lethal interactions between the youth and the police in disadvantaged neighborhoods generally composed of working-class families of immigrant origin or belonging to minorities. But beyond these tragic events, abundantly covered by the media, little is known about the everyday of urban policing.

Over the course of 15 months, at the time of the 2005 riots, Didier Fassin has conducted an ethnographic study, the first of its kind in France, in one of the largest precincts in the Paris region, sharing the life of a police station and cruising with the patrols, in particular the dreaded anti-crime squads. Far from the imagination nourishing television series and action movies, his study reveals the inactivity and boredom of eventless days and nights where minor infractions give rise to spectacular displays of force, uncovers invisible expressions of violence and unrecognized forms of discrimination against minority youngsters, undocumented immigrants and Roma people, and explores the social conditions that make them possible and tolerable, notably decades of policies of urban segregation, racial stigmatization and economic marginalization.

Already published in French, titled  La force de l’ordre: une anthropologie de la police des quartiers, I’ll have to wait until August 2013 to get hold of the translation. Which might give me time to work through the ever-growing stack of amazing, soon-to-be-read books on my desk…

Paris, 2005

Paris, 2005


“The Clinic and Elsewhere” – forthcoming book from Todd Meyers

Trailer for “The Clinic and Elsewhere”, Meyers discussing his new ethnography about Baltimore adolescents as both ‘addicts’ and ‘patients’.


Today I got my provisional mark for my MSc by Research dissertation – a provisional 70, which is a provisional first, which gives me an overall provisional distinction. All subject to change with external examiners and exam boards, but still, right now I’m more than happy!

UC Berkeley anthropology library occupation takes on the administration and WINS!

Saw this news article from The Daily Californian about the successful occupation of UC Berkeley’s anthropology library, had to reproduce it in full. Proof that direct action and student occupations can win their demands.

70 Students, Staff, and Faculty gathered at Kroeber Anthro Library to protest libraries closing early 9 (c/o The Daily Californian)

By Amruta Trivedi

Saturday, January 21, 2012 at 9:15 pm
Updated Saturday, January 21, 2012 at 9:25 pm

The occupation of UC Berkeley’s anthropology library ended Saturday evening when campus administrators agreed to meet the demands of protesters and restore the library’s hours.

The demonstration began as a “study-in” Thursday evening in protest of cuts made to the library’s operating hours for the spring semester after a long-time library staffer resigned unexpectedly. About 30 protesters were in the library when news came that their demands had been met.

Tom Leonard, UC Berkeley’s university librarian, signed an agreement with protesters Saturday to restore the anthropology library’s hours to its fall 2011 schedule as soon as students can be recruited to work during those additional morning hours. According to the agreement, recruitment will start on Monday.

The original demands that protesters sent to administrators also requested that the campus find a full-time staff member to work in the library within the next 30 days, but the campus agreed to them only after negotiating to start the search for a full-time staff member in that time period instead, according to Yvette Felarca, a national organizer for BAMN.

Terrence Deacon, the chair of the campus anthropology department, who has spent much the last two days in the library and served as the liaison between library occupiers and campus administrators, said in an email that Leonard signed the agreement after small changes were made. During hours when there is no professionally trained library staff present, the circulation desk will be closed, but the library will remain open for computer use and as a study space, Deacon said in the email.

Deacon, who said he has been in conversation with administrators throughout the protest, said “there is good faith at the administrative level” about the students who occupied the anthropology library.

Although there were changes made to the protesters’ original list of demands, many at the library consider the agreement with administration to be a victory for their cause.

“This is an example for how to protect public education,” Felarca said. “It shows that students and community members are determining what a public university is.”


Amruta Trivedi is the lead academics and administration reporter


Dissertation full of WORDS

Dissertation word cloud

This is as close as I can bring myself to look at my dissertation again right now, after submitting at the start of December. I’m supposed to be rewriting it as a pamphlet for the Edinburgh Chiapas Solidarity Group, and as a research proposal for PhD funding applications, but so far I’ve barely dared to look at it again for fear of it being terrible.

Chiapas has 82 types of mammal and 42 types of bat!

Jaguar!Quick quote from the section on bioprospecting I’m writing for my dissertation, amazing amount of creatures!

The Lacandón rainforest is equivalent to 0.16% of Mexico’s land mass, but possesses 20% of the country’s biodiversity. It is estimated that this rain forest is home to at least 4000 plant species, 306 bird species, and at least 82 types of mammal, 46 different bat species, 23 amphibian and 54 reptile species.

From Neil Harvey, ‘Globalisation and resistance in post-cold war Mexico: difference, citizenship and biodiversity conflicts in Chiapas’ in Third World Quarterly 22(6) pp 1045 – 1061, 2001

The Least of All Possible Evils: Humanitarian Violence from Arendt to Gaza

I’m really looking forward to Eyal Weizman‘s new book from Verso. I’m still getting through Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation which is probably the most interesting and original book I’ve ever read on Palestine, after Anthropological Urbanism‘s Rakan Budeiri told me about the Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency project Weizman is involved with.

But I’m even more excited about The Least of All Possible Evils: Humanitarian Violence from Arendt to Gaza after Didier Fassin’s Munro Lecture in Edinburgh this March titled ‘Humanitarian reason: a moral economy of our time’. Fassin manages to straddle both anthropological, academic analysis and applied, practical work, and to me that’s what anthropology is all about. I should probably write a separate post about how amazing Didier Fassin is, but basically he got me thinking about how the catch-all concept of humanitarianism is really a way of depoliticising injustice, and is a banner under which all sorts of atrocities can be carried out, but is impossible to oppose. Like democracy. No one can be ‘against’ democracy or humanitarianism, but these are both ideologically flexible terms that are used by states and militaries to justify the most abominable actions, like war in Afghanistan for example, when economic and political motives entirely distinct from democracy and humanitarianism.

This is also something Badiou discusses, and of course Žižek’s Violence urges us to “think about the fake sense of urgency that pervades the left-liberal humanitarian discourse on violence” which call for moral outrage and leave no room for sober reflection (2008:3). I’m really enjoying these writers at the moment, so reading that Eyal Weizman is also joining the debate around humanitarianism fills me with nerdy anticipation.

His book seems like it might touch on similar ground to Fassin and Rechtman’s Empire of Trauma as well as Žižek’s Violence, exploring “the defining intervention of Médecins Sans Frontières in mid-1980s Ethiopia; the separation wall in Israel-Palestine; and international and human rights law in Bosnia, Gaza and Iraq,” and showing “how military and political intervention acquired a new “humanitarian” acceptability and legality”. Nonetheless, Weizman is sure to bring new insights and analysis to this discussion, and I can’t wait to get hold of a copy.