by Markus D. Dubber and Mariana Valverde (eds). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. 320pp. Cloth. $55.00. ISBN: 9780804753920.

Reviewed by Michael J. Struett, School of Public and International Affairs, North Carolina State University. E-mail: mjstruet [at]


THE NEW POLICE SCIENCE is one of those rare edited volumes where the whole is much greater than the sum of the individual parts. This is an important book because it casts contemporary and historical understandings of police, the police power(s) of states, and the meaning of the verb to police in a new light. It brings together disparate literatures on this topic from the fields of legal theory, legal history, political theory, criminology, and the general social sciences. As the subtitle suggests, a major theme of the book is to draw critical attention to the increased use of policing vocabulary in international politics. Still, the audience for this book goes beyond those interested in international security issues to include anyone interested in the sanctioned use of force and/or regulatory authority by the officers of sovereign states, both domestically and internationally. The book is also an excellent example of the continuing intellectual payouts from Michel Foucault’s suggestions on the re-conceptualization of the human sciences (1971), and that is true even though the authors represent a variety of theoretical dispositions.

In their introduction, Markus Dubber and Mariana Valverde draw out two conclusions from the book, which alone would make this collection entirely worthwhile, even were they the only contributions of the analysis. The first is that the concept of policing brings together the forward looking and backward looking powers of the state. To police a community through zoning laws and public health ordinances is forward looking, to hold criminals accountable for their acts focuses on past misdeeds. “[I]t becomes clear that “police” works as a sort of temporal-hinge word, allowing the governance of the past to be articulated with the governance of the future. Prevention and punishment are very different logics of governance; “police” is the middle term that links them.” (pp.4-5). The second is the idea that police power is always in large part discretionary, paternal, and idealized as requiring the exercise of sound judgment. Consequently, policing always sits in awkward relation to the ideal of living in a community ruled by laws. Police power is necessarily a discretionary power, which only rarely can be supervised by courts. This chapter also offers a nice summary of the range of uses of the terms police and policing; that discussion is fleshed out by the individual contributions to the volume.

Chapter One by Mark Neocleous lays out some theoretical foundations for a ‘new police science’ or as he would prefer, “a new and productive approach to the police idea and thus a critical [*630] interrogation or police power rather than a new police science” (p.18). He explains that, while the study of police powers was once integral to political theory, the twentieth century academy has for the most part relegated the study of police to criminology, and therefore a liberal conception of gradual reform of police departments as instruments of crime control has predominated (p.17). Neocleous would prefer a study of policing that is directed “toward unearthing and exploring (1) the broad powers and remit of police, (2) its essentially nonliberal connotations, and (3) its mode of functioning through a complex network of institutions” (p.18). Accordingly, for him, this study should include in its scope all of the administrative apparatus of the modern welfare state and not simply police departments as such. He further concludes that this study should address the connection between policing and security, and “in a mode that is critical of the climate of fear generated by the political manufacture of insecurity” (p.39).

Chapter Two, by Pasquale Pasquino, is an enlightening examination of the concept of police in early modern political theory, with a particular focus on protestant Germany in the later half of the 17th century. Police was in this early period synonymous with politics. Pasquino reads two works from the period, which he argues had as their theme instruction on the art of ‘policey’ meaning governance broadly. And so he links the birth of the concept of policing in modern times to its roots in the establishment of the modern state itself as a political form.

For international relations scholars, like myself, interested in contemporary debates about humanitarian intervention and the emerging international norm of the “Responsibility to Protect,” Chapter Three has a fascinating nugget. The bulk of the chapter is an examination of the clause in Canadian constitutional law that gives the monarch, with the advice and consent of parliament, the power to ensure “peace, order, and good government in Canada.” This language, common to many states with British colonial legacy, reserves this police power for the Federal government in Canada (pp.78-79). Valverde draws out some interesting comparative implications for the nature of the police power in Canada and other places, and also situates the exercise of the police power with respect to its paternalistic history in colonial practice. The nugget comes when Valverde quotes Michael Ignatieff, the Canadian academic and statesman who has been a leader in the “Responsibility to Protect” movement as arguing the United Nations needs revamped authority to conduct state building exercises, and that the new agency with that mandate should be given Canadian like authority to pursue peace, order, and good government (2004). Whether or not that language should be the foundational authority for the establishment of greater police powers at the supranational level is a critical question indeed, and later chapters address this issue.

Dubber lays out a police power model of the criminal process in Chapter Four, and in so doing he provides the theoretical groundwork for a new direction in social criticism of the [*631] exercise of police powers in contemporary society. The chapter begins with a historical exegesis of the police power, understood as being grounded in the traditional right of a householder to govern his property, household, family, and servants. Accordingly, crimes committed by anyone below householder status are crimes against the household, and when a head of household commits a crime against another household, it is the sovereign state whose ‘household,’ by analogy has been violated. Dubber then shows convincingly how contemporary practices of crime control increasingly follow this logic of focusing on the security of the community’s ‘household.’ Thus most crimes are not crimes against other citizens as in the Lockean ideal of limited government (Locke 1690); instead they are crimes against the state itself. All of which has the effect of gradually expanding the reach of the police powers of the state, because an aggrieved citizen is no longer required for a crime, indeed, status crimes like loitering, possession, and endangerment can be punished even before an underlying act causes any harm to society (pp.134-136).

In Chapter Five, Lindsay Farmer concerns herself with the resuscitation of a jurisprudence of security that would reexamine the connections between the police power and the criminal law. Farmer accepts, for arguments sake, the contention of many of her co-contributors that in many contexts, the police power is discretionary and therefore its scope is difficult if not impossible to regulate through law (p.154). But Farmer concludes that, because the police power is normally exercised through legal norms, its exercise can be made subject to limits. Further, because the exercise of police power draws on social concepts like citizenship and property, it will of necessity be embedded in social norms. Thus she argues “The proper aim of a jurisprudence of security must be that of mapping the networks of institutions and practices, and underlying justifications for the exercise of that [police] power” (p.163).

Alan Hunt offers a fascinating analysis of the continuities and changes in policing that were a consequence of the invention and diffusion of automobiles in his contribution. Hunt uses analysis of this historical change to highlight that policing has historically often been as much about the regulation of movement and exchange as it is about “fighting crime.” Moreover, the example of the historical development of traffic regulation highlights another crucial dimension of policing – namely a “civilizing project” of policing, where drivers, (or other subjects of police power), are taught good conduct, and accordingly, are taught to police themselves. It also led to important developments in the technologies of policing, such as the increased use of monetary fines with little judicial review through the mechanism of “the ticket” (p.180).

In Chapter Seven, “Military Intervention as ‘Police’ Action,” Mitchel Dean takes seriously the claim by critical theorists that the shift to policing vocabulary by the United Nations, the United States, and other powers is an ominous [*632] indication of the emerging dark side to global governance, where the powers and their UN constables will impinge on the ‘sovereignty’ of weaker states just as the police of earlier centuries intruded into the sovereignty of the home. In lucid prose, Dean gives this line of analysis exactly the amount of credit that it deserves, while still daring to suggest that the order providing function of international military operations may indeed have merit. Dean would have us be conscious of the implications of using the language of policing in world order, so that we can observe, analyze and criticize its implementation, particularly when that police power separates from the rule of law, as at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. But he is not willing to condemn policing as being inherently bad in the international context.

In Chapter Eight, Ron Levi and John Hagan consider the power and limitations of the alternative discourses of policing and law in ordering international affairs. They begin with the contention that talk of policing is often divorced from consideration of international law, as in Theodore Roosevelt’s “policing” of the Western hemisphere. Conversely, instruments of international law that lay down complex codes of conduct frequently lack provisions for international ‘policing’ of the agreements. Levi and Hagan highlight this lack of adequate police power as the weakness of international criminal law in general, and the 2002 International Criminal Court in particular (p.222). Drawing on work by James Holmes (2003), Levi and Hagan explain that the justification for Roosevelt’s use of force in Santo Domingo and elsewhere in Latin America was expressed in explicitly police-like terms, where the mission was not European style colonial exploitation, but rather “exceptional” American service to promoting good order in world affairs. Indeed, there is some evidence that this benevolent ideology influenced US Marine Corp operations in Santo Domingo, even if the more selfish motives of the United States remained clear. But Levi and Hagan are equally convincing in their argument that for Roosevelt, policing the Western hemisphere was a substitute for international law, not a practice that could be brought under the control of law. For Roosevelt, police of some nature, either honest individuals, civilized nations, or a central authority, are a prerequisite for the establishment of law in any community, local or international (p.221). While discussion of international policing at the beginning of the Twentieth century focused on restoring good order in places we would today label as failed states, in the interwar period there was a shift toward discussing an international peace force for the purpose of maintaining international peace and security against the threat of state-on-state violence. Interestingly, Levi and Hagan point out that we are currently in a period where United Nations peacekeeping operations are increasingly returning to the old focus on ‘international policing’ of ‘good governance’ in places where domestic authority has collapsed. The chapter concludes with some remarks on the implications of all this for the rapid ongoing developments in the field of international criminal law. The authors note, correctly, that the lack of [*633] international police will likely limit the ability of international courts to regulate powerful states. In my view however, Levi and Hagan overstate the problems that the lack of police powers will create for the International Criminal Court. It seems possible to build an international legal community that rests primarily on the “police powers” of the member states of the international community. Undoubtedly, this means that from time to time, states will fail to act as international law and international courts require. As these authors note, the consequence for such dereliction is “diplomatic rather than coercive” (p.234). But non-violent diplomatic pressure can be very coercive, even against fairly powerful states, if the majority of states are committed to a policing of the international order that is grounded in accepted law.

A concluding chapter by Christopher Tomlins problematizes most of the book’s claims from a critical perspective. In general Tomlins is skeptical of the project of building “a new police science.” It is difficult to summarize all of the points raised, but generally Tomlins seems to fear that the critical perspective in the first eight chapters is often not critical enough. For instance, he comments that Ignatieff refers to his ambitions for improved global policing as “’a Canadian kind of imperialism’ without obvious irony” (p.251). But in reading the Valverde and Levi/Hagan chapter, I myself thought the irony was fairly well exposed, even if Ignatieff did not recognize it. While Tomlins gives the reader more to think about, his criticisms mostly only cast in starker relief the stunning breadth of intellectual achievement in the body of this volume.

Foucault, Michel. 1971. THE ORDER OF THINGS. New York: Pantheon Books

Holmes, James. 2003. “Police Power: Theodore Roosevelt, American Diplomacy, And World Order.” 27 FLETCHER FORUM OF WORLD AFFAIRS 125-42.

Ignatieff, Michael. 2004. “Peace Order And Good Government: A Foreign Policy Agenda For Canada.” Ottawa: O.D. Skelton Memorial Lecture, March 12.


© Copyright 2007 by the author, Michael J. Struett.