1st Edition

Police Work and Identity A South African Ethnography

By Andrew Faull Copyright 2018
    230 Pages 6 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    230 Pages 6 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This is a book about the men and women who police contemporary South Africa. Drawing on rich, original ethnographical data, it considers how officers make sense of their jobs and how they find meaning in their duties. It demonstrates that the dynamics that lead to police abuses and scandals in transitional and neo-liberalising regimes such as South Africa can be traced to the day-to-day experiences and ambitions of the average police officer. It is about the stories they tell themselves about themselves and their social worlds, and how these shape the order they produce through their work.

    By focusing on police officers, this book positions the individual in primacy over the organisation, asking what policing looks like when motivated by the pursuit of ontological security in precarious contexts. It acknowledges but downplays the importance of police culture in determining officers’ attitudes and behaviour, and reminds readers that most officers’ lives are entangled in, and shaped by a range of social, political and cultural forces. It suggests that a job in the South African Police Service (SAPS) is primarily just that: a job. Most officers join the organisation after other dreams have slipped beyond reach, their presence in the Service being almost accidental. But once employed, they re-write their self-narratives and enact carefully choreographed performances to ease managerial and public pressure, and to rationalize their coercive practices.

    In an era where ‘evidence’ and ‘what works’ reigns supreme, and where ‘cop culture’ is often deemed a primary socializing force, this book emphasises how officers’ personal histories, ambitions, and vulnerabilities remain central to how policing unfolds on the street.

    1. Police work, personal identity, and context
    2. Police practice and the good shift
    3. The good shift as fiction
    4. More than police work: precarity, policing, and personal identity
    5. Ambition, shame, violence, and respect
    6. Individualism, transgression, coercion, and hope
    7. Accidental occupations in the post-colony


    Andrew Faull is a Senior Researcher at the Institute for Safety Governance and Criminology, University of Cape Town, Editor of South African Crime Quarterly, and author of Behind the Badge: the untold stories of South Africa’s police service members. He was previously a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) and a police reservist (volunteer) in the South African Police Service.

    "At a time when anger about police violence is voluble and global, there is a danger that the ordinary men and women who don police uniforms will be dismissed as mere villains. Andrew Faull brings a welcome dose of critical sympathy to his portraits of South African police officers. Faull is not shy to describe their violence; nor does he flinch from analysing the dark and destructive work they do. But he nonetheless keeps asking a single question with compassion and with curiosity: who do police officers think they are? The result is a work of pathos and understanding, a portrait of police officers both as agents of injustice and as authors of precarious life projects in a world they can scarcely control."

    Jonny Steinberg, Professor of African Studies, African Studies Centre, University of Oxford, UK

    "This is a very important book, contributing significantly to making sense of the complexities of the life world and the responses of the men and women of the South African Police Service. This book demonstrates that how police act is the result not simply of a workplace identity, but also as a result of their daily organisational and societal interactions. In so doing, this book steers away from stereotypes and set understandings of ‘police culture’ and ‘police deviance’ through its ethnographic and social interactionist approach which gives voice to the organisational actors it seeks to understand. My congratulations to Andrew Faull on this contribution to South African and international policing studies."

    Monique Marks, Research Professor and Head of the Urban Futures Centre, Durban University of Technology, South Africa

    "Police Work and Identity offers rich insights into the everyday workings of the South African police as well as policing elsewhere. Faull has managed to write a balanced account where our presence next to and together with the police officers from various parts of South Africa allows us to understand the world through their eyes without loosing the critical edge which is imperative in any analysis of policing."

    Steffen Jensen, Professor in the Department of Culture and Global Studies, Aalborg University, Denmark

    "In this ground-breaking book Andrew Faull brings an astute and sensitive ethnographic eye to questions of police and police-work in South Africa. Eschewing simplistic ‘cop culture’ approaches, he shows that the way policing is ‘done’ in South Africa is heavily inflected by police officers’ search for security of self and identity in a context marked by highly charged history and present-day uncertainty, inequality, and division. What goes on inside the police organization is shown to be firmly tied to the wider social, political and cultural context – and the stories people in South Africa tell about themselves and their society – thus challenging visions of timeless, context-independent police cultures."

    Dr Ben Bradford, Departmental Lecturer in Criminology, Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford, UK