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Language differences and translation in German policing
Jan Beek
and
Marcel Müller

Our ethnographic research aimed at exploring the communicative practices of police officers in Germany when encountering speakers of different languages. However, we soon realised that they face similar communicative issues in many other encounters. Therefore, this chapter widens the focus, not only studying communicative practices when different ‘named languages’ are involved, but also exploring encounters involving differing language varieties, styles and registers; these differences are not grounded in nationality or culture but in the citizens’ class, community, state of mind and more. In these encounters, police officers routinely reach a sufficient level of understanding by mixing languages and language varieties, by using gestures, by relying on common-sense sequences of bureaucracy, and ultimately by employing the potential to use violence. Surprisingly, the main challenge – and the main source of misunderstanding – is not translation in a linguistic sense, but the need to translate complex everyday situations according to organisational guidelines and legal norms. Communicative practices are intertwined with ‘doing police’ – the challenge of translating between citizens’ expectations and organisational rationalities of the police.

in Policing race, ethnicity and culture
Abstract only
Policing differences - perspectives from Europe
Jan Beek
,
Thomas Bierschenk
, and
Annalena Kolloch

The recent increase in the numbers of refugees and asylum seekers has made it obvious that Europe is changing rapidly, accelerating its conflict-ridden transformation into linguistically and ethnically more heterogeneous societies. The police are arguably one of the most crucial – and most discussed – state organisations that interact with an increasingly diverse clientele often labelled simply ‘migrants’. How to deal with differences based on culture, ethnicity and race – all highly problematic terms – has become a central issue of policing in the last decade. In this book, we look at everyday, often mundane, interactions between police officers and migrantised actors in European countries and explore how both sides deal with perceived differences. Many, if not most, anthropologists currently position themselves, in the field and in writing, with the victims of the police. In contrast, our contributors study the practices, discourses and beliefs of actors whom anthropologists do not as easily sympathise with – police officers. We believe that such an epistemological positioning, while often ethically challenging, is unavoidable for a nuanced understanding of policing. By adopting an ethnographic and multi-perspective approach, the contributors to this book study the possible course of action, perspectives and rationalities of both sides in these encounters. Our book presents empirically grounded contributions from various European countries, jointly developing a field of study and generating robust concepts in a highly politicised field, bringing together anthropology, criminology, history, sociology and linguistics.

in Policing race, ethnicity and culture
Ethnographic perspectives across Europe

How to deal with differences based on culture, ethnicity and race has become a key issue of policing in public debates globally. The public discourse is dominated by shocking news events, many of them happening in the US, but also in Europe. This book looks at everyday, often mundane, interactions between police officers and migrantised actors in European countries and explores how both sides deal with perceived differences. Taking an ethnographic approach, the book contributes to the development of a comparative and distinctly European perspective on policing. The study of the practices, discourses and beliefs of actors themselves is an epistemological positioning, while often ethically challenging, which is unavoidable for a nuanced understanding of policing. By adopting an ethnographic and multi-perspective approach, the contributors to this book study the possible course of action, perspectives and rationalities of both sides in these encounters. The book presents empirically grounded contributions from various European countries, jointly developing a field of study and generating robust concepts in a highly politicised field, bringing together anthropology, criminology, history, sociology and linguistics.