Accepted Paper:

Relational policing: patrolling public spaces in Ghana  


Jan Beek (University Mainz)

Paper short abstract:

The paper explores police patrol work in Ghana and the social orders it creates. Patrol work is relational, and its meaning depends on the police officers’ counterparts. The stateness of the police is perpetually lost and gained in these various relations.

Paper long abstract:

The police in Ghana claim to provide security by everyday patrolling. But Ghanaians utter widely varying assessments of patrol work, often in one and the same conversation. This papers argues that patrol work is relational and that its meaning depends on the patrol team's three main counterparts. First, patrol work is directed against traders of illicit goods, and these interactions often involve the handover of money and mutual entanglements. These practices call into question police credibility. Second, the patrol team's everyday interventions are aimed at civilians on the street. However, civilians successfully resist police interventions, and police officers have to adapt to existing social boundaries. Ghanaian police officers rarely actively produce security, in other words specific social orders; they only do so by displacing particular people momentarily from some central spaces. Lastly, police officers conduct patrols in relation to the imagined national community. Often one patrol car covers 100,000 civilians, making the limited capability of the police to reduce crime and maintain order clearly apparent. However, officer ascertain the police's authority in public spaces by merely patrolling and through rare violent acts against perceived enemies of the community. Due to this successful symbolic work, Ghanaians perpetually ask for more police patrols and cannot imagine a social order without the police, despite the patrol team's failure to act as an emergency service. Ultimately, the stateness of the police, their claim to sovereign power, is fleeting. They gain this quality more in relation to some counterparts, but less in relation to others.

Panel P067
Security and citizenship (Peace and Conflict Studies in Anthropology Network)