Narratives as plausibility structures: It's stories, all the way down

Rowe, Mike; Turner, Elizabeth and Redman, Scarlett (2023). Narratives as plausibility structures: It's stories, all the way down. In: Fleming, Jenny and Charman, Sarah eds. Routledge International Handbook of Police Ethnography. Oxon, UK and New York, USA: Routledge, pp. 543–555.



The significance of stories in policing and in policing research has been widely remarked upon. They are said to function as tropes and precedents or as therapy, and they are told and retold in countless canteen conversations and research interviews. They are seen as an integral part of ‘police culture’, conveying knowledge about what works from officer to officer, from old hand to recruit, shaping police behaviours and actions. In this chapter, we develop a different approach to narratives that draws upon 6 years of ethnographic research with officers in three police forces. We recognise the fragments of stories to be found in an officer’s local knowledge, in briefings and intelligence and in the interpretation of the actions of others, projecting forwards into potential future scenarios and represented subsequently in an authoritative account. These interlocking stories are integrated to form plausibility structures that become themselves a story passed on as intelligence. The chapter explores the value and implications of such an approach to the analysis of ethnographic data and to the understanding of policing.

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