ASECS 2017: "Police" Before the Police
CFP for panel at 2017 ASECS National Conference, March 30-April 2, Minneapolis
With the growth of movements for prison abolition and the emergence of Black Lives Matter, we are in the midst of a crucial political conversation about the police and their place in our cultural and legal landscape. The modern-day municipal police force is a largely nineteenth-century invention, but the broader theorization of “police” as a mode of social, moral, and legal order-maintenance proliferates crucially in the eighteenth century, from Adam Smith’s early elaboration of his economic thought in his Lectures in Justice, Police, Revenue, and Arms to the influential Enlightenment legal commentary of Beccaria, Blackstone, Bentham, and others. At the same time, historians have located precursors of the police in various eighteenth-century legal and extralegal practices, from the emergence of slave patrols to the bridewells and workhouses that embedded criminalization into the fabric of poor relief and labor regulation.
This roundtable seeks to convene a conversation about the eighteenth-century prehistories of the police. How might the cultural, material, social, legal, or political histories of the eighteenth century help us better understand the origins of the modern-day police force? How might this history help us contribute, as writers and teachers, to a better understanding of our current political moment?