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Latour and the Passage of Law$
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Kyle McGee

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780748697908

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748697908.001.0001

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The Conditions of a Good Judgment: From Law to Internal Affairs Police Investigations

The Conditions of a Good Judgment: From Law to Internal Affairs Police Investigations

(p.209) 8 The Conditions of a Good Judgment: From Law to Internal Affairs Police Investigations
Latour and the Passage of Law

Cédric Moreau de Bellaing

, Solène Semichon
Edinburgh University Press

A provocative account of police internal affairs investigations by a leading legal sociologist. Such investigations concern accusations of wrongdoing made by civilians against police officers. By deploying analytical resources drawn from Latour’s work, it becomes quite possible to make such ordinary administrative procedures reveal something essential about the nature of state violence, what counts as legitimate authority, and how law fits into the modern architecture of power. What entities, Moreau de Bellaing asks, must be enlisted, and what relations must be established between them, in order to produce a ‘good judgment’ in these inquiries into alleged police misconduct? Having followed the police investigators in their work for several months, the author is in a position to tell us. Confronting the ‘enigma’ of a severe disproportionateness between the frequency of reports of illegitimate violence and the frequency of the imposition of sanctions for such misconduct, Moreau de Bellaing notes that the compiled data themselves give no hint of the qualitative details of any particular case: as Garfinkel showed long ago, statistical reports reveal, at most, the management techniques of the organisation that prepared the reports. Thus we must plunge into the disciplinary records to extract the phases of investigation and to assemble a logic of the case grounded not in numerical abstractions but in the ‘torturous progression’ of concrete transformations, the interplay of leads, dead ends, ulterior motives, defensive strategies and proliferating uncertainties, and the circulation of value-objects required for the generation of an acceptable conclusion warranting closure of the disciplinary file. Moreau de Bellaing’s conclusion is stark and sobering: the establishment of the legitimacy or illegitimacy of police violence has nothing to do with the magnitude of force applied, as civilians would expect, but only with the successful capture, by the investigators, of the many moving pieces composing the relational situation in which any quantum of force was applied in the first place.

Keywords:   Sociology of law, Actor-network theory, Sovereignty, Law enforcement, Police studies, Legal ethnography, Law and violence

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