In the past twenty to thirty years, social scientists and philosophers have begun to move away from traditional conceptions of power and the state, focusing increasingly on the ways knowledge creation and discourse combine to enmesh everyone in webs of power that produce consent and legitimacy. Yet at the same time, all functioning states continue to employ armed forces to both maintain social order and fulfill and increasingly coercive function should that order be threatened. While many scholars have turned their attention toward mass incarceration and punishment, few have focused their studies on the front-end of the criminal justice system where countless important decisions are made. As such, this dissertation begins to fill this gap in the literature by examining the decisions and priorities of the police who are ultimately responsible for whether one ends up within the labyrinth of criminal justice in the first place.
The aim of this dissertation is two-fold: I argue both that despite recent trends of globalization and deterritorialization, the state remains an important locus of power in the twenty-first century. Furthermore, the police, as both symbolic and cultural agents of the state, are integral to the formation and maintenance of state power, as well as the imperial expansion of dominant states. Utilizing a case study of the reconstruction of the Iraqi police force, this dissertation begins to address this policing gap in the literature by examining a handful of basic questions regarding the functions of police training in a post-conflict society; namely, how does an emerging police force define itself and those it polices? Who chooses to join an emerging police force, and why? How does the presence of an international hegemon affect the training and implementation process? And ultimately, why does the training of Iraqi police take on a heavily militaristic and highly symbolic nature?
To answer these questions, I employ a wide variety of data collected in the spring of 2011 during an extensive field study of an Iraqi police training facility. Utilizing a combination of ethnography, intensive interviews, survey questionnaires, and textual discourse analysis, I examine training processes, attitudes of students and trainers, the public performance of police, and attempts by the police to establish legitimacy for themselves and the nascent democratic state of Iraq. This study is unique in that it is one of, if not the, first studies of police reconstruction to be based on data collected during the reconstruction process itself. Furthermore, it is one of few sources regarding the Iraqi police and state to privilege the voices of Iraqi themselves. Results indicate that within a context of budgetary shortfalls, an unstable central government, and rising crime rates, the Iraqi police have opted for a highly militarized symbolic form of policing as an attempt to project a legitimacy neither they nor the larger state have yet earned. This study reveals policing to be a central factor in the establishment of state legitimacy and capacity, as well as playing an important role in imperial expansion.
I address the significance of these findings for research and practice and how policing is both reflective and constitutive of the many problems and possibilities inherent in the state (and empire) building project. This study demonstrates that while conceptions of decentralized power are indeed fruitful, there continues to be a force of people empowered with the ability to use lethal force should one stray too far outside the dictates of the state, and that social scientists and philosophers ignore this fact at their peril.