The Policing Web.

AuthorShearing, Clifford
PositionBook review

Jean-Paul Brodeur's last book, The Policing Web (2010), (1) was initially entitled "A Treatise on Policing." The Concise Oxford English Dictionary (9th ed.) defines treatise as a "written work dealing formally and systematically with a subject." The Policing Web is undoubtedly a treatise and a very significant one at that. It is a tour de force that will undoubtedly become for decades a crucial reference work and a definitive text on policing, for scholars, policy analysts, and senior police practitioners. A central feature of this work, and one that sets it apart from other texts on policing published in English, is that it systematically avoids the Anglo-American centrism that has characterized so much of this literature. This is a significant, and much needed, achievement. This book is quintessentially "Brodeur." It is thorough, it is critical, it is deeply rooted in philosophy, it is exceptionally well researched, and it is written in a recognizably "Brodeur style"--a style that is authoritative and that does not "surfer fools gladly." Particularly appealing is the fact that it is refreshingly personal--it is full of insights from his research and writing--while at the same time it is utterly scholarly.

Although one can, and most certainly should, query many of the interpretations, arguments, and conclusions that Brodeur offers (indeed, he and I engaged for decades in a long, and at times vigorous, conversation), he always has good grounds for the positions he takes. Brodeur set out to write a very comprehensive book and this is precisely what he has written, although he often acknowledges that there are many areas that are not explored as thoroughly as he would have liked.

This treatise on the web of policing is a stunning contribution to out field and a fine tribute to the maturity and wide scope of Canadian policing studies and its criminology more generally. In explaining the title that he has chosen for this treatise, Brodeur makes clear from the outset that his use of the web as metaphor is not meant to imply that what happens within the domain of policing is a coordinated set of activities. Policing does not constitute a system or, indeed, a network, although there may be parts of the web of policing that are networked in one way or another at certain times and in some places. To emphasize this, he prefers the term "the police assemblage" (4) to identify the range of police agents and agencies engaged in policing. Indeed, "The Police Assemblage" is the title of the first chapter. The notion of an assemblage nicely captures Brodeur's view of policing--a field he understands as a complex of agents and agencies that are sometimes indifferent to each other, sometimes contesting, and sometimes, though not always, a coordinated and supportive set of nodes. He extends this view to policing organizations themselves as a way of deepening the plural and complex conception of policing that the book presents. He shows how the components of police organizations, such as state police, are themselves sometimes indifferent, sometimes coordinated, and often contesting:

The fact that the "nodes" of a potential policing network are in themselves a basket of loosely connected pieces that may not behave in a consistent way should be taken into account in developing a theory of "nodal governance" in the field of security. (35) In this treatise, Brodeur takes on the challenge of a plural conception of policing. He does so by seeking to construct what he terms a "theory of policing" (17) that is not limited to state policing. Throughout his exposition of this theory, Brodeur carefully separates out description from normative hopes and intentions--he keeps apart, analytically, what is from the aspirations of what policing ought to be, which are so often tightly bound together within the policing literature.

The picture that Brodeur paints of the what is of policing is straight-forward. It is a picture in which, at a conceptual level, no policing node is given conceptual priority. This does not mean that he does not find, empirically, that some nodes, in some places and at certain times, have failed to achieve a predominant position for themselves. It also does not mean that Brodeur, himself, does not have clear normative preferences as to where priority in policing should lie. He does, and this normative agenda is an important feature of his book.

In developing his theory of policing, Brodeur explores the questions of where, how, and in what ways different policing nodes, both through their own actions and the actions of others, have been assigned or have taken up different positions within policing assemblages across both time and space. In his descriptions of the nature of the policing assemblages, and their various components, Brodeur is very careful to avoid having his vision obscured by untested assumptions. In particular, as I have already noted, he is careful to avoid normative preferences from clouding his vision.

In seeking to establish a clear lens through which to examine the world of policing, Brodeur reminds us of the work of Edmund Husserl. A phrase that has come to be associated with Husserl's philosophy is "back to the things themselves." Brodeur refers to a paper that Husserl wrote on the work of George Bernard Shaw. He cites a passage in which Husserl talks of a "renewal of science" founded on a "freedom from presuppositions" (38). It is precisely such a renewal (and the freedom it offers) that Brodeur seeks, in The Policing Web, to bring about for policing studies. What he finds throughout his review of the work of others is that many of the understandings that have shaped thinking on policing are presuppositions, which, for a renewal of policing studies, need to be replaced with empirically founded claims.

In seeking to articulate this renewal, Brodeur cautions against building theory that is too neat by refusing to allow what he thinks of as profound antinomies to be smoothed over. He expresses this when he writes, "'[B]uilding a theory is not an operation of sanitization. What is contradictory, conflicting, and ultimately tragic in reality should not be ironed out to produce a quiescent, self-satisfied theory" (39). This is precisely, he argues, what has all too often happened in policing scholarship because our policing reality has often been normatively uncomfortable. As he moves through his analysis, Brodeur is careful to recognize and remedy this tendency.

One place where he engages in this work of clarification is in his consideration of the definition of policing: he insists that we not sanitize the reality of policing by recognizing only legitimate and legal forms of policing. One of the ways in which Brodeur expresses this is to argue that "the reduction of policing to the activities of the public forces is untenable" (34)--an unambiguous statement in favour of a plural, polycentric understanding of policing. Accordingly, he insists that, alongside legitimate enforcement, we should recognize delinquent enforcement; that is, legitimate policing should be recognized alongside "criminal organizations and secret societies, such as the Maria, Cosa Nostra, triads, and yakuzas" (33). For Brodeur, as I have already argued, policing is a diverse and multifaceted field of complex assemblages that form a web in which strands are not always linked and certainly do not all pull in the same direction.

This is a book that fully accepts that policing is plural and that seeks to recognize and understand this diversity--there are few normative assumptions masquerading as empirical claims here. Within The Policing Web, state police have no a priori analytical privilege. For Brodeur, understanding the place of any node in the web of policing requires empirical scrutiny. What this scrutiny reveals varies across place and time, so that no simple generalizations can be made. For Brodeur, a key question that an adequate policing theory ought to address is what varies within the full spectrum of policing? He expresses this by asking "whether the components of the police assemblage share anything in common besides their function of providing order and security" (35).

Another antinomy that Brodeur is determined not to sanitize in his account of policing...

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