The Police Man’s Burden: Emotional Labor, Masculinity and the Ethics of Force
Use of force is central to police work, yet the contours of the use of force for American police have changed dramatically in recent years. First, police have become increasingly prepared to use force due to changes in training and equipment amid threats of mass shootings, domestic terrorism, and so forth. Second, police are increasingly policing contexts that are gun-rich and gun law-lax, with over 13 million people licensed to carry guns in the US. Third, police have increasingly faced public outcry related to the use of force, especially with regard to racial disparities in excessive force. In what contexts do police embrace, versus accept or even avoid, the use of force? Is police use of force equally ‘non-negotiable’ (see Bittner, 1973) across social settings? If not, why not—and to what ends? To explore these questions, this talk draws on interviews with nearly 80 police chiefs across Arizona, California, and Michigan. While policing scholarship has documented how “hard charger” masculinist approaches to policing mediates the central role of firearms in constituting “real” policework (see Herbert, 2001), I draw on the concept of ‘moral wages’ (see Kolb, 2014) to show how guns operate not just as means of violence but also as gendered tools of emotional management. Examining how police evaluate more versus less moralistic uses of force and at times even opt out of force, I show that police make ethical sense of the use of force by framing it as masculine carework. Further situating these findings within the divergent contexts of Arizona, California and Michigan (especially their respective gun cultures) reveals that the boundaries between police and broader society are more porous than often acknowledged: police sensibilities about legitimate force are patterned by more localized norms regarding the use of force as well as by the socio-legal regimes in which police are embedded.
University of Arizona
School of Sociology & School of Government and Public Policy
This event is free and open to all. For further information, please contact the Centre for Ethics at 416 946-6288