A Uniform Not Uniform: An Ethnography of Police Clothing, Performance, Gender and Subculture in Neighbourhood Policing.

De Camargo, Camilla (2017) A Uniform Not Uniform: An Ethnography of Police Clothing, Performance, Gender and Subculture in Neighbourhood Policing. PhD thesis, UNSPECIFIED.

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Police officers are distinct and unique actors in public spaces. They experience a peculiar familiarity with wider society: they often do not personally know the citizens in the areas they patrol but everyone knows that they are part of the police by their uniform. Beyond the visual iconography of the basic clothing that police officers wear, the characteristics of ‘the police’ are embedded in everything that police officers use to do their job effectively: clothing, equipment (including discretionary equipment) and vehicles. This thesis examines the construction and communication of the police uniform and how this is conveyed through individual roles, ranks and gender. In recent years the police service has undergone a number of changes with the introduction of neighbourhood policing (NP) being one of the most significant. The arrival of neighbourhood police officers, neighbourhood beat officers and police community support officers have enabled a new position from which to analyse the uniform. Within this context, the thesis utilises an in-depth ethnography to examine the practical and symbolic uses of officer uniforms. The research involved approximately seventeen days on patrol (equating to roughly 140 hours) over a period of four months across four research sites in a northern police force. The findings reveal the strength of dominant policing discourses linked to the uniform, gender, identity and performance show the ways that these discourses are also infused and subverted by different sets of meanings and behaviours. The police constables (PCs) and police community support officers (PCSOs) involved in the study were seen to manoeuvre and navigate these contested discourses and fragmented nature of policing culture through the lens of their uniforms. Using Erving Goffman as a theoretical framework, along with the complementary work of Judith Butler (1993; 1999) and Malcolm Young (1991; 1992), this thesis contributes to the theoretical debate on the influence of the police uniform on the wearer; provides a gendered analysis of how equipment, vehicles and accoutrements are used to feminise and masculinise ‘unisex’ police clothing; and it provides an account of how rituals of purification are used in an attempt to avoid the symbolic, moral and physical contamination of the police occupation. The concluding discussion of the thesis presents a number of contributions in relation to contested binaries and polarities present through the use of occupational uniforms in neighbourhood policing.

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Thesis (PhD)
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13 Dec 2021 17:50
Last Modified:
12 Sep 2023 00:49