Biographical and Work Narratives of German Police Officers. Implications for an Empirical Study of the Institution with Statexs Monopoly on the Use of Force.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 10:45
Location: Seminarraum Geschichte 1 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Miriam SCHAEFER, Georg-August-University Goettingen, Germany
Areas of police work which are characterized by face-to-face interaction with citizens seem to have one thing in common: it is their central goal to retain control. Retaining and establishing control are both aim of and condition for police action. Additionally, it is a condition for interactions of police with non-police citizens.

In the work-biographical interviews which I have conducted, it was obvious that the police officers did not – or were unable to – abandon these well-rehearsed and implicit patterns of actions during the interview situation. Speaking from their present perspective, they spoke in an argumentative manner. It was hardly possible for them to tell me about experiences in the past. In this connection it has also taken into account that the interview situation in work-biographical interviews is framed as ‘work’ due to the question which relates to the work-biography. Thus, it was a situation in which the police officers interact with citizen and in which control had to be retained. Despite a consistent narrative question technique it was hardly possible to elicit narrations. During my second fieldwork period I have therefore started to conduct biographical-narrative interviews which ask for the whole biography of the interviewee.

Referring to my current empirical research about occupational choices of police officers and their everyday police life, I want to discuss to what extent consistent narrative interviews, which tackle the whole biography, offer a possibility to overcome these difficulties. Furthermore, I approach the question if biographical interviews might be experienced as ‘loss of control’ in the specific context of police work. An alternative reading is that the research about an institution could be experienced as a form of empowerment by the individuals which are part of it – if they recognize that the research is aiming to understand the institution from their perspective.