The postmodern condition of the police

McLaughlin, Eugene and Murji, Karim (1999). The postmodern condition of the police. The Liverpool Law Review, 21(2-3) pp. 217–240.



Globalisation of economies and cultures, the advent of new information and telecommunication technologies, unfolding Europeanisation, internal multi-nationalisation, and the ‘new individualism’ means that the institutional configuration of the United Kingdom is in the process of rapid transformation. Amongst criminologists, there is a heightened sense that alongside radically different forms of risk, uncertainty and instability, and the way they are perceived, an incisive re-ordering of the techniques and logics of social control is taking place. As a result, at various moments during the last decade, there has been a recognition of the urgent need to rethink the assumptions and registers on which police studies, as a sub-field of criminological knowledge, has been premised. For certain academic commentators, the surest way to get to grips with these fin de siècle transformations is through utilisation of the general theory of ‘late modernity’. More recently, discussion has moved on to crossexamining the relationship between policing and the risk society. Whilst we acknowledge the important contribution of these lines of reasoning to the theoretical revitalisation of police studies, the central aim of this article is to argue that an important debate about the value of postmodern analysis has been closed down too quickly. The first parts of this article discuss both the attempts to conjoin the postmodern with policing and the trenchant anti-postmodernist response. After providing readers with our own critical assessment of these different perspectives, the final sections of the article elaborate on the ways we think that certain of the ideas most closely associated with postmodern cultural analysis provide an understanding of contemporary transformations in British policing.

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