Academic journal article Journal of Theoretical & Philosophical Criminology

Policing and Its Spatial Imaginaries

Academic journal article Journal of Theoretical & Philosophical Criminology

Policing and Its Spatial Imaginaries

Article excerpt

Introduction

As an assemblage of heterogeneous security practices, policing1 is often mapped across a number of spatial imaginaries. In common parlance, when we talk of the 'thin blue line', 'crime scenes', 'bobbies on the beat', 'accident hot-spots', and 'no-go areas', a particular topography of policing practices is implied, albeit one which is metaphorical and representational. Yet such terms also function as heterotopias of control, danger, and exclusion, and invest 'real' places with meaning, value and significance, marking them out as spatially bounded, territorialised sites of protection, investigation, risk-management, and surveillance. At the same time, recent attention to global and transnational policing (Bowling and Sheptycki, 2012) - and other scalar abstractions such as neighbourhood, local, national, regional and international policing - imagines a vertical scale, or a 'nested hierarchical ordering' (Howitt, 2002: 305) of policing terrains which, 'etched from shadows cast from above' (Marston et al, 2005: 420) move upwards and onwards in terms of operational level, geographical scope and territorial size. Moreover, the emergence of pluralised, nodal and networked policing (Jones and Newburn, 2006; Loader. 2000), which works across territorial, sectoral and organisational boundaries, suggests a more spatially fluid and extensive policing terrain which not only has reach and scope beyond the constricting enclosures of fixed, jurisdictional spaces, but which also acknowledges that proximity and distance, the here and there of policing have been dissolved within horizontal planes of cooperation and partnership. It seems reasonable, therefore, to suggest that how we talk, write and think about policing and, importantly, how we do policing, is cast within a distinctly spatial lexicon. For all that, the spatialized and spatializing relations of policing remain, at best, under-theorised and, at worst, unexamined and left to speak for themselves. Indeed, within criminology in general, and policing studies in particular, forms of space - that is, spatialities such as territory, borders, scale and network - as much as the phenomenon of space itself are seldom topics for discussion or theoretical rumination; as Massey notes, '(it is) a debate which never surfaces; and it never surfaces because everyone assumes we already know what these terms mean' (1994: 250).

Why should all this matter? At one level, of course, to obsess about such commonly used, and culturally embedded spatial expressions could be regarded as an exercise in pedantry. If, however, 'everything, but everything, is spatially distributed' (Thrift, 2006: 140), then space is deeply social and emerges from the continuous interplay of bodies, nature and things which encounter, interact and connect with each other in more or less organised, and more or less continuous circulations (Massey, 1994). Yet, when viewed through a criminological lens, space is consistently figured as a neutral or abstract backdrop, or as an inert, empty container within which events unfold. Even when, especially when policing is analytically foregrounded as a territorialised, bordered, scaled and/or networked set of practices, forms of space are presented as conceptual givens, as always-already ordered templates upon which the 'real' analysis can be superimposed. As a result, criminology's ontological commitments to, and political investments in different spatialities remain unquestioned and unproblematised. In the next several sections, I unpack the conventional wisdoms which pervade criminological approaches to territorial, bordered, scaled and networked space. This sets the ground for opening up a conversation with poststructuralist geography and its innovative work in thinking space relationally; in so doing, the paper engages with topological frameworks of spatial analysis and goes on to delineate an ontology of policing space centred on Schatzki's (2002) concept of 'the site'. …

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