Putting their Bodies on the Line: Police Culture and Gendered Physicality

Westmarland, Louise (2017). Putting their Bodies on the Line: Police Culture and Gendered Physicality. Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, 11(3) pp. 301–317.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/police/pax019


This paper looks at the way police officers talk about their bodies and reveals their beliefs about their colleagues’ abilities based on size, strength, and gender. It attempts to bring the study of ‘the body’ into the arena of police culture. Assumptions around front line policing being constantly fraught with danger, and requiring a strong, fit, and capable body are analysed by drawing upon data from an extensive period of ethnographic fieldwork. The officers’ highly sexualized and gendered notions of the body are discussed throughout the paper in terms of police culture. Their beliefs about force and strength—actual or imagined—and the ways in which the appearance of the body is important are analysed in terms of gendered policing. The way this is influenced by beliefs about bodies and occupational culture in policing more generally is examined in the light of certain tasks and activities.

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