Williams, Chris A.
Directing Britain's police, 1780-1980: from parish constable to the national computer.
Manchester: Manchester University Press (forthcoming).
At the start of the nineteenth century, British police were self-employed artisans. During the next fifty years, policing became a task performed by a mass workforce. In the mid nineteenth century, police forces built institutions through standardised bureaucracy and pioneered the use of lifelong time consciousness in order to ensure labour discipline. In the twentieth century, they innovated and disseminated the techniques of real-time control through radio. By the 1970s they were pioneer users of operational computing technology on a national scale.
Directing Britain's Police is the first work to describe these changes in the way that policing was carried out. It is a long-term institutional history, informed by the conclusions of social history and to a lesser extent those of science and technology studies (STS). It defines 'directing ' as exercising control within an organisation, hence it focuses on the way that policing was organised, rather than how it was accountable politically or how it operated on the ground. It charts the way that, over this 200-year period, the organisation of British policing has gone through two major and abrupt transformations, as well as undergoing several processes of more gradual evolution. It explains how at times it has been at the forefront of the development of governmental technique, and at others it has lagged behind.
Each of these innovations involved policy entrepreneurs, uneven development over the country, and the ultimate issue of support by the state. In many cases, the desire for a policy long preceded the resources needed to carry it out. Each innovation had an intellectual prehistory, a political history as it emerged, and a social history as it was implemented. Within the political nation and the ranks of the various police forces, innovation involved losers as well as winners. Policy was never simply reflected by practice on the ground: management initiatives were often subject to friction or outright subversion.
Directing Britain's Police also outlines an important international dimension. In the nineteenth century, innovative British police practices were often copied in other countries. During the twentieth century, Britain was both an importer and an exporter of policing techniques, especially to and from the USA and Western Europe. From the 1950s and afterwards, the technical expertise of policing existed in a global context, and the importance of international developments to the growth of technological policing will be covered here.
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