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Legitimacy and the Social Field of Policing

Ben Bradford

University of Oxford - Centre for Criminology

Jonathan Jackson

London School of Economics & Political Science - Department of Methodology

August 22, 2011

Public actions that summon and assist police officers are vital for the effective and equitable functioning of the criminal justice system. Such acts of cooperation link informal and formal mechanisms of social control. They also reflect the legitimacy of the police. This paper reports the findings of a probability sample survey investigating public trust, institutional legitimacy and cooperation with the police in London, England. We find that the readiness of individuals to cooperate with the police is associated with their trust in police procedural fairness and the legitimacy they invest in the police. This replicates prior US-based research in the UK for the first time, but we also highlight some predictors of public cooperation that have hitherto gone unexamined. Linking police legitimacy and cooperation to perceived collective efficacy (confidence that local residents will intervene on behalf of the collective good), concerns about disorder, and authoritarian positions on the perceived loss of discipline in society, we use Bourdieu’s notions of field and habitus to highlight the role that the social position of the police plays in generating public cooperation. Police legitimacy is shaped by its location in the social ‘field’ of policing and the web of relationships that link organization and citizen.

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Date posted: August 22, 2011 ; Last revised: September 4, 2012

Suggested Citation

Bradford, Ben and Jackson, Jonathan, Legitimacy and the Social Field of Policing (August 22, 2011). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1914458 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1914458

Contact Information

Ben Bradford (Contact Author)
University of Oxford - Centre for Criminology ( email )
Manor Road Building
Manor Road
Oxford, OX1 3UQ
United Kingdom
Jonathan Jackson
London School of Economics & Political Science - Department of Methodology ( email )
Houghton Street
London, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom
+0044-207-955-7652 (Phone)
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