Critique of Police

Course content

The aim of this course is to provide an in-depth critical study of the idea of the police. Modern police purport to enforce law and maintain order in civil society. But dramatic increases in police killings, racist practices of criminal investigation, and the militarization of the police, call these practices – and the norms that underly them – into question. Indeed, there is much evidence, from police conflicts with Black Lives Matter protestors in the United States to the suppression of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, that contemporary police action may pose real dangers to democratic politics. If this is the case, democracies may have to begin to imagine serious reforms or even the abolition of the police itself. This course explores the puzzle the police pose to democracy, attempting to make sense of both the origins and the pathologies endemic to policing and police power.

This analysis will engage a host of questions: What are the origins of the police? How can we distinguish between the institution of the police and police power? How do the police relate to marginalized groups, including ethnic and racial minorities, as well as the working and non-working poor? Is the institution of the police even compatible with democracy? What politics would result from the abolition of the police?

To engage these questions, we will explore a constellation of concepts related to the police including police power, law and order, disorder, security, delinquency, riot, government, and politics, amongst others. A critique of the police necessitates an exploration of the relations between the institution of police security forces and the logics of police power. Rather than presume these are identical, this course will explore examples of when they are coincident and when they are in tension.


Bachelor: 7,5 ECTS

Kandidat: 7,5 ECTS

Students at MSc Security Risk Management have 1st priority.

Political Science students: Limited intake

The course is unfortunately not for exchange students.

Notice: It is only possible to enroll for one course having a 3-day compulsory written take-home assignment exam due to coincident exam periods.

Learning outcome


Describe police powers and the challenge they may pose to democratic politics, in particular with regard to state power and sovereignty.

Understand and explain origins and developments of the institution of the police.

Evaluate the validity of various arguments regarding the abolition of the police.


Present and analyze key contributions to the reconceptualization of police power in contemporary political thought.

Apply reconceptualization of police power to discussions about the institutions and culture of democratic politics.


Critical thinking and ability to combine complex theories with insights from the contemporary political world.

Writing and presentation of coherent arguments.

Ability to discuss and evaluate competing claims.

This course will consist of a combination of lectures, student presentations and discussions, and possibly talks by guest lectures.

The following is a preliminary reading list. Materials will be added or amended before the beginning of the semester:

Arendt, Hannah The Origins of Totalitarianism (Harcourt Inc., 1973), pp. 389-482.

Bargu, Banu “Police Power: The Biopolitical State Apparatus and Differential Interpellations,” Rethinking Marxism, 31:3, 291-317 (2019).

Benjamin, Walter “Critique of Violence,” in Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings, trans. E. Jephcott (Schocken Books/Harcourt Inc., 1978), pp. 277-300.

Chazkel, Amy, Monica Kim, and A. Naomi Paik, issue editors, “Policing, Justice, and the Radical Imagination,” Radical History Review 137, 2020.

Colquhoun, Patrick, A Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis: Containing a Detail of the Various Crimes and Misdemeanors by which Public and Private Property and Security are, at Present, Injured and Endangered: and Suggesting Remedies for their Prevention, (Cambridge University Press, 2012), selections.

Correia, David and Tyler Wall, Police: A Field Guide (Verso, 2018).

Fassin, Didier, Enforcing Order: An Ethnography of Urban Policing, (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2013).

Foucault, Michel, Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Trans. A. Sheridan (Vintage, 1977), selections.

---. Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1977–78, Ed. F. Ewald and A. Fontana. Trans. G. Burchell (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), selections.

Hadden, Sally, Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2001).

Harcourt, B. E. Against Prediction: Profiling, Policing, and Punishing in an Actuarial Age (University of Chicago Press, 2007).

Hegel, G. W. F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right, (Cambridge University Press, 1991), selections.

Khan, Shamus and Madiha Tahir, editors, “Violence and Policing” Public Culture 89, 2019.

Neocleous, Mark, The Fabrication of Social Order: A Critical Theory of Police Power (London: Pluto Press, 2000).

Neocleous, Marx “ Theoretical foundations of the ‘new police science.” In The New Police

Science. Markus Dubber and Mariana Valverde, Eds. (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000), pp. 22-39.

Rancière, Jacques, Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998), selections.

---. Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics, (Continuum, 2010), selections.

Seigel, Micol, Violence Work: State Power and the Limits of Police (Duke University Press,


Smith, Adam, Lectures on Jurisprudence (Liberty Fund, 1982), selections.

Vitale, Alex, The End of Policing (Verso, 2018).

Wagner, Bryan, Disturbing the Peace: Black Culture and the Police Power after Slavery (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009).

Wilson, James Q., Varieties of Police Behavior: The Management of Law and Order in Eight Communities (Harvard, 1978).

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Three-day compulsory written take-home assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment

Criteria for exam assesment

  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • English
  • 28