The Policeman as worker: a comparative survey c. 1800-1940

Emsley, Clive (2000). The Policeman as worker: a comparative survey c. 1800-1940. International Review of Social History, 45(1) pp. 89–110.



In the exciting new social history of the 1960s the concept of class struggle tended to underpin much of the work on the working class in general, and on various labour groups in particular. Historians sought to find faces in crowds and to rescue others from “the enormous condescension of posterity”. The police, however, when they appeared in this history, were usually as nameless and faceless as the crowds had been previously. They were also commonly portrayed as oppressors, and even in the more perceptive and ground-breaking attempts to explore the police themselves, they were seen through the refracted lens of their working-class critics as “blue locusts” and as a bourgeois instrument for controlling a new society. Parallel research conducted at roughly the same time by sociologists, social psychologists and others developed theoretical perspectives based on two assumptions: first, that certain kinds of authoritarian personality were attracted to police careers, and second, that policing roles had predictable effects on the behaviour and personality of policemen. Subsequent research has suggested these assumptions to be largely unfounded, yet in this respect also, historical explorations of policemen as workers remain few.

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