Society allows WPC to make DI

Gender and Policing - Feminism, the State and Social Policy - Gender, Power and Organisations
September 7, 2001

There are two claims frequently made in contemporary feminist-inspired academic work. One is that analysis through the lens of gender enriches empirical investigation and facilitates the development of more complex and comprehensive theoretical frameworks. The second is that the successful pursuit of more finely textured and nuanced understandings of the dynamics of specific gender orders requires the deployment of gender as an analytical category in articulation with other categories, concepts and theoretical perspectives. These three volumes are examples of attempts at such an analysis.

Susan Halford and Pauline Leonard review and analyse existing literature on gender and organisation to show how work organisations are gendered and act to constitute gendered identities and experiences. Power is central to their analysis, first because power is the hinge linking organisational structures and cultures and the gendering of organisational life, and second, the concept of power facilitates an explanation of the complex and contradictory patterns in gender relations and experiences that characterise contemporary organisations.

Power itself requires definition. For Halford and Leonard, the elements for such a definition are provided by the different conceptions of power found in liberal, structuralist and post-structuralist theories of society. Thus they argue that liberalism's conception of power as sovereign, structuralism's conception of it as domination and post-structuralism's idea that power is diffuse and disciplinary all have something to contribute to the analysis of gender and organisation. Having explained how these different notions of power help in an exploration of the relationship between the mutual constitution of gender relations and organisations, the authors' arguments unfold through a discussion of the literature on organisations as structures, cultures, management regimes, domains of sexuality and sites of challenge to gendered organisation. They conclude by drawing together the empirical and theoretical connections between power, gender and organisation.

Nickie Charles is concerned with the relationship between new social movements (in particular feminism), the state and processes of formation and implementation of social policy. She develops her argument through a critical engagement with theorisations of the state and social movements, pointing to the strengths of each but also to their failure adequately to integrate an analysis of gendered social divisions. This failure has resulted in an inability to develop a gendered theory of either the state or of new social movements. These lacunae arise from the traditional privilege accorded class, power or bureaucracy, in relation to state theory, and class, organisation and resources in relation to new social movement theory. Gender as both a set of empirical relations and as an analytical category is ignored or minimised in many perspectives on the state and/or social movements with the result that they are practically and conceptually impoverished.

Charles's project, however, extends beyond a concern to enrich current theories of the state and social movements. She wants to explore the conditions of possibility for the emergence and activism of feminist social movements and how these movements impact on the state. Her thesis develops in three stages. She argues that one of the conditions of possibility for the emergence of feminist social movements is an environment of socioeconomic and cultural change, but that equally feminist activism creates and sustains such change. This is because such movements are involved in struggles over meaning and the distribution of resources, and the extent to which they are successful in establishing a new discourse will affect how much of the existing societal structure they can change.

One of the strengths of this book is that its argument is developed in the context of a review of second-wave feminism in Britain, Europe and the United States. It therefore offers an example of an empirically grounded theoretical elaboration of contemporary social relations.

One theme connecting these volumes is their emphasis on the mutually constitutive relationship between organisational structure, policy and practice and gender as idea and practice. The volume by Jennifer Brown and Frances Heidensohn is an example of this relationship in a specific organisational context, that of policing. As with the previous volumes, Brown and Heidensohn are concerned to amend and extend analyses of gender divisions and experiences through the development of new conceptual schema. They look at the pace, patterns and experiences of the entry of women into police departments, and at changes in the roles and remits of women police officers that accompany processes of societal and organisational change and professionalisation.

The book provides a cross-cultural comparison of the experiences of women in police departments across the world: one of its strengths is that the authors cover countries in every continent. They are also methodologically adventurous, using a multi-method approach comprising questionnaires, discourse analysis and individual and group interviews. They make a claim for new conceptual categories in the notions of time and number, but are less convincing since these are deployed as descriptive rather than analytical or conceptual categories. Time is simply periodisation in their hands rather than conceived as diverse or interconnected temporalities each with distinctive rhythms and patterns but produced through articulation with space, place, culture, economy and civil society. This failure undermines the power of their cross-cultural comparison.

Despite their shortcomings, each of these books makes a valuable contribution to the literatures with which they engage. Undergraduate and postgraduate students will find them useful additions, as will more seasoned academics and policy-makers who require sophisticated analyses of contemporary social life.

Gail Lewis is senior lecturer in social policy, Open University.

Gender and Policing: Comparative Perspectives

Author - Jennifer Brown and Frances Heidensohn
ISBN - 0 333 73060 7 and 73061 5
Publisher - Palgrave
Price - £49.50 and £17.50
Pages - 203

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