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date: 21 September 2020

Abstract and Keywords

What do we know about what police do and how they do it? Ethnography, or the close-up study of culture and how meaning is produced, distributed and understood, has a long history in social science, criminology, and criminal justice. It has been the primary technique that established the foundational work in the field of police studies. Ethnographic work published in English is carried out in a context of assumptions about policing. It has followed the drift of police studies generally, assuming the “Peel model,” stable democratic governance while keeping an Anglo-American focus. The early ethnographic works became visible and powerful icons of the policing literature. This essay discusses the virtues and some of the insights of ethnography in the police context. A significant number of ethnographically-based monographs, articles, and chapters done in the last fifty years are summarized. There is a recent concern with private policing and innovations in policing technology. Conventional ethnography remains with some innovations in style and focus. Trends in funding, graduate training, perceived career prospects, and governmental evaluation systems do not favor the production of more published ethnographies.

Keywords: enthography, field work, qualitative research, police research

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