Accepted paper:

"As police officer or as habitant of the township?" - Police officers conflicting identites and order making in Malawian densely populated townships


Paul Grassin (Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne University/CESSP)

Paper short abstract:

This communication analyses policing and order making practices in urban Malawi where police officers work and reside in the same densely populated townships. It reflects on the practical consequences of this confusion between the identity of police officer and that of township's resident.

Paper long abstract:

With more than 160 officers for less than 30 police houses at Zimbawe police station, the vast majority of police officers, especially among the rank-and-file who cannot afford to live in other parts of the city, has to find accommodation within the densely populated township where also they work as police officers. Apart from doing their job, they interact on a daily basis with their public, as landlords or tenants, employers, consumers, friends and foes and sometimes as business partners. As this communication will argue, policing and the politics of order making then mainly result from the imperatives of cohabitation between police officers and the habitants of the township; the multiple, and often conflicting, identities police officers develop as well as their perceptions and strategies as regards to their position within the social structure of the township and within the society at large. The meagre social and economic incentives officers get from the institution and the loose control the hierarchy has over their daily working practices gives more space for permanent moral adjustments between their interests as police officers and as habitants of the township. Bearing in mind that, in a context of plural policing, police officers regularly have to negotiate their right to police with other competing policing actors, I explore the practical consequence of this situation in the regulation of black market and the ruling over family disputes. The communication is based on the 'symmetric ethnography' of police daily work and police-people interactions conducted between 2015 and 2018.

panel Anth04
Urban policing and production of the city