Epistemological Impossibilities

Against the Romance of Community Policing

Community policing is a confusing term. It joins together two of the most ambiguous words in the English language. Despite this ambiguity, its power resides not in what it purports to mean—a partnership of the police agencies and the people they protect forged through the fluid exchange of intelligence from the latter to the former—but in what it reveals about the purpose and mechanism of the police-led fabrication of social order. Here are some thoughts about why we should be wary not simply of community policing but of community itself.

New Publications on Pacification and Protest Against It

Over the past couple weeks, I've published some new articles. Most importantly, Humanity has published my article "To Secure the Global Great Society: Participation in Pacification." This is my first sole-authored peer-reviewed journal article, and it's in one of my favorite journals, so I'm very excited about it. The article grows out of a chapter of my dissertation, and it also continues some of the research and thinking that first appeared in a journal article and a book chapter that I co-authored with Ananya Roy and Emma Shaw Crane.

Here is the abstract:

The U.S. federal mandate of community participation, which defined the social-welfare programming of the Great Society’s War on Poverty, was recapitulated in U.S. foreign aid through Title IX of the 1966 Foreign Assistance Act. Many agencies adhered to this mandate, including, surprisingly, those concerned with counterinsurgency in South Vietnam. This article, therefore, inquires into the mechanics of pacification, demonstrating that the population whose security was at stake was responsible for its own participation in achieving security. By placing the linkage between community development and security in a transnational frame, this article shows that pacification must be considered a productive, not simply destructive, form of governance.

The article has several goals, all organized by an insistence on placing US domestic governance and US overseas rule in a single analytic frame.

Defining Key Policing Terms

In the spring semester of 2016, I taught a seminar in the Harvard History Department called The History of Policing in the United States. It was a wonderful experience, chiefly because of the brilliant and hard-working students. In one of the first weeks of the seminar, we read the famous "Broken Windows" article by George Kelling and James Q. Wilson from The Atlantic Monthly, published in 1982, as well as a critique of it published soon thereafter by Samuel Walker in Justice Quarterly. Over the semester, the class discussions continually referred to issues these articles raised, about police tactics, police philosophy, police reform, and the uses of history to shape, legitimize, and critique policing.

As I was preparing for our initial discussion of these readings, and because I was also writing a short article on broken windows policing at the time (in Harvard Design Magazine), I found it necessary to do some parsing of muddy terms. The terms are Broken Windows, Quality of Life, Zero Tolerance, Stop and Frisk, and Order Maintenance.

Against Punitive Approaches to Safer Streets

Yesterday, on Halloween, a driver killed three people and injured four on a sidewalk in The Bronx. This morning, across New York City many streets were free of automobiles. Public space usually reserved solely for cars and trucks became dedicated to runners in the Marathon, spectators, and anyone who wanted to enjoy a bit of the fleeting car-free utopia on foot, bicycle, skateboard, or whatever. The contrast is stark. Not only are NYC streets given over to private vehicles almost all of the time, when a driver rampages onto a sidewalk, on the day when children are most likely to be frolicking on sidewalks and streets, the city seems to give a collective shrug—despite waking up to the pacific, friendly experience of today’s utterly different streetscape.

Advocates for safe streets rightly insist that deaths like yesterday’s are preventable, not inevitable. (So too can we fix the very dangerous situations of aggressive and irresponsible driving witnessed daily on city streets that don’t lead to death or injury.) Advocates also recognize that such deaths signal or portend the failure of the efforts on the part of the Mayor’s office and the Department of Transportation (DOT) to make streets safer, whether as “Vision Zero” or in the more diffuse and myriad forms that have proliferated since Janette Sadik-Khan began her six years heading the DOT in 2007. For many advocates of safe streets, however, this failure also signals a need for a punitive, police-led effort in preventing such vehicular violence. Here is where I part ways with (some of) my fellow advocates for safe streets. The carceral state is no answer.

Ralph Henry Gabriel Prize, American Studies Association

At the 2015 American Studies Association Annual Meeting in Toronto last weekend, I was honored to receive Finalist mention (second place) for the Ralph Henry Gabriel Dissertation Prize, awarded annually by the Association. I am grateful to the prize committee, Professors Alyosha Goldstein, Lisa Hajjar, and Karen Shimakawa, for their recognition of my dissertation, "American Streets, Foreign Territory: How Counterinsurgent Police Waged War on Crime." As the ASA says, "The Ralph Henry Gabriel Dissertation Prize, established in 1974, has been awarded annually since 1987 by the Association for the best dissertation in American Studies."

New Writing

I finished my dissertation this spring, with the defense at the beginning of May. To finish was a big relief but in many ways it was anticlimactic. There were too many intermediate steps at which I was almost done. I never felt like I was actually done, even when I graduated. On the bright side, at each almost-done step, I celebrated. Here's a snapshot of what I did in the ensuing couple months.

I have mostly left the dissertation aside in the weeks since I finished, trying to estrange myself from it so that when I return to it to begin revisions it will not be so familiar. The other day I glanced at a page while looking for a citation. I read a sentence or two. Though extremely familiar, they did not sound exactly as I thought they sounded the first hundred times I re-read them. That is a good thing. A little while longer, and I will be ready to begin rethinking.

In the meantime, I've been doing a lot of other writing.

Gene Wise - Warren Susman Prize, American Studies Association

I presented a paper on a wonderful panel at the 2014 American Studies Association annual meeting in Los Angeles. This year's annual meeting was a special one for me personally because the president of the American Studies Association is Lisa Duggan, professor in my department and one of the primary influences for me to join American Studies. The panel was entitled "What Comes of Fury? Responses to California’s 1960s and 1970s Urban Crisis," and it was organized by Nic Ramos and also featured Aaron Bae and Ryan Fukumori. We all analyzed various aspects of state and emergent public-private responses to, and definition of, "urban crisis" in California, from policing to education to healthcare. The panel was well-received, organically cohesive, and, to my mind, fascinating. Professor Daryl Maeda chaired, and Professor Josh Sides commented.

Another highlight of the annual meeting was that I won an award from the American Studies Association for the best paper presented at the meeting by a graduate student, the Gene Wise - Warren Susman Prize.

Advice for Graduate Students: How to Win External Fellowships

This is the third and final in a series of posts on applying to and winning external grants and fellowships in the humanities and (humanistic) social sciences. In the first post, I covered why you should apply. In the second post, I covered to what and when you should apply. In this third post, I am covering the most difficult question: how to create a successful application.

Advice for Graduate Students: To What Fellowships and When Should You Apply?

This is the second in a series of new posts on professionalization for PhD students in the humanities and social sciences. In the previous post, I offered five key reasons to apply for (and win) external grants and fellowships. So that was the “why” post. This post focuses on two other important points that often fall into the category of “no one tells you because you’re supposed to know already”: what and when. What kinds of fellowships are out there and when should you apply for them?

Advice for Graduate Students: Why You Need External Fellowships

This is the first in what should be a series of new posts on professionalization for PhD students in the humanities and social sciences, based on my own experience and advice I have collected along the way. (A prior post in this vein concerned how to embark on archival research.) The meaning of professionalization can be somewhat unclear until you're actually doing it. Moreover, the reasons to do it are also often opaque: there may be no direct reward for success other than good vibes, nor a direct penalty for failure other than feeling glum. We know, in general, that successful graduate students become successful academics by adhering to certain norms and expectations, though we don't always know what they are. My focus here is one domain, however, in which there is a clear reward for successfully following the guidelines: winning external fellowships and grants.


© 2016 Stuart Schrader