Her All Souls Seminar focused on the intersection of labour, order, and the overarching role of the police. During her presentation, she examined the foundations of police work, its conceptualisation and if it ought to be defined through the lens of labour rights in contemporary India. Prof. Jauregui particularly problematises the so-called conceptualisation of lawfare which originates from the notion of warfare. This is also highlighted in her book in order to illustrate how this idea of lawfare can work on multiple scales both for and against state officials. It also assumes a structural dialectic of domination and resistance: A zero-sum game. Yet, there can be different conceptualisations of lawfare, which view law as contestatory possibilities, primarily as instruments either of top-down dominance or bottom-up resistance. Prof. Jauregui informs that law can thus be understood as an element transforming the social field. She picks up on this idea to move beyond lawfare as a tool of a dominance and resistance dialectic. Therefore, it is crucial to think about how law, as a professional social field works, configures its actors and how it is critical to both maintain and transform structural power inequalities. Prof. Jauregui argues that ongoing lawfare in post-India has now worked over a century subjectifying police legally and politically as an exploited and dispensable labour force, so-called security labour.
Policing as work and security labour
There is an indeterminate multiplicity of tasks that the public police are required to do. Hence, thinking about the definition issue of what police work actually constitutes is essential. There is well-established research and literature on policing as a profession in general and its historical development. Yet police unions are an understudied sector of labour in particular. Generally, there has been this notion that the professionalisation as well as bureaucratisation isolate the police from politics and put an emphasis on policing as a science. Simultaneously, an understanding emerged that deemed the police as impersonal, depoliticised and solely devoted to procedural justice. Yet, police never have been completely divorced from politics and arguably never will be according to Prof. Jauregui. Instead of thinking about it in a top-down way, such as governmental interference or oversight and shaping of police practice, Prof. Jauregui suggests investigating police from a bottom-up perspective. Not surprisingly, there is an array of mixed responses to whether police ought to be included under the larger umbrella of organised labour globally and viewed through this bottom-up lens. Particularly, the issue of defining what constitutes police work as labour, or if it should be even thought of as labour persists. According to Prof. Jauregui police work often gets reduced to coercion by violence. She suggests that understanding police work as security labour is generally in demand, especially in contexts where a host of social inequalities and power imbalances exist.
Unsplash by Frank Holleman
Police, Order and Security in India
Prof. Jauregui consequently talks about this intersection in the context of post-colonial India, where rank and file police officers find themselves as depoliticised security labours, living and working outside the demos, being exploited by various elites, especially in their immediate hierarchies. They do not have any kind of recourse to secure their rights as they are barred from collectivised activity. Prof. Jauregui derives this role in India historically by linking it to rational choice philosophy which is instilled in the structural composition of the police. Established in 1860, the police was founded to reduce the numbers of native groups and ‘civilise’ security administration by maximising this labour output and minimising the expenditure on their welfare. This was rationalised in the sense that they ‘needed fewer relieves’ in comparison to the soldiers as it is less disciplinary and the ‘job is not as hard’. This inequality was also racialised. Subsequently, colonial forces were ‘anxious’ regarding the discontent of indigenous labourers. These anxieties increased following WWI as a general rise in trade unionism and a strong anticolonial nationalist movement occurred. Ultimately, this led directly into law in 1922 and 1966 as the ‘Police Incitement to Disaffection Act’ and the ‘Police Restriction Rights Act’, which bans police personnel publicly criticising the government or joining any organisation that is not part of the police force. Consequently, a stark shift from a rationale of threatening public disorder, towards a national security threat in the discourse occurred after a major uprising in 1973. According to Prof. Jauregui there is – to this day – an ongoing low-intensity lawfare between various branches of the Indian state and fragmented police groups, which are striving to establish themselves as legal and legitimate unions.
Lawfare as a relational practice certainly limits the way we can think about police reform. Prof. Jauregui suggests that there is a need to create different approaches were both people working for social justice and police themselves can generate synergies and investigate the cultural identity of police as labourers. Prof. Jauregui has spent several years studying the day-to-day lives of police officers in India’s most populous state. Her presentation provides an innovative and empirically sound contribution to the controversial debate surrounding police authority in contemporary India and its relationship to social order, politics, and security.
Blog post by Anna Kahlisch
Current MSc Student in Criminology and Criminal Justice at the Centre for Criminology, The University of Oxford