CHoSTM SEMINAR (followed by drinks)

Thursday 28th June 2012 at 4.15pm




Dr Chris Williams, The Open University

Patterns in the Uptake of Police Technology in Britain, 1848-1975

The integration of electronic and mechanical technology into the business of policing, which dates back to the middle of the nineteenth century, has been variously noted as a self-evident fact which required little or no explanation beyond technological determinism, or else seen largely in the same triumphalist terms in which police forces presented it to the public. Yet analysing the role of technology in the organisational development of police institutions opens up new perspectives on policing, information and the state in the twentieth century.

Communications technologies had different practical roles: some such as the telephone were optimised for inter-institutional use; others, such as radio, increased the dirigibility of institutions by accelerating their feedback loops. The inter-relationships between police, the broader state, and private industry were not fixed: the technological legacy of the first world war had a heavy impact on policing; and the development of technology was impelled sometimes by the needs of the ‘deep state’, at others by the more mundane demands of limiting the impact of everyday crime. The apotheosis of modernist policing was the Police National Computer, a product of a long gestation period which can be examined to identify the data that police leaders wanted to command, and that which they were in fact able to enumerate. The PNC was necessarily intertwined with previous state projects which had – in James C. Scott’s terms – increased the ‘standardisation and legibility’ of the governed population.

There will be drinks afterwards in the CHoSTM PhD room (219 Central Library).  All are welcome!