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…