Violence Work

State Power and the Limits of Police

Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: 13 illustrations Published: August 2018

Author: Micol Seigel

American Studies, Critical Ethnic Studies, Sociology

In Violence Work Micol Seigel offers a new theorization of the quintessential incarnation of state power: the police. Foregrounding the interdependence of policing, the state, and global capital, Seigel redefines policing as “violence work,” showing how it is shaped by its role of channeling state violence. She traces this dynamic by examining the formation, demise, and aftermath of the U.S. State Department's Office of Public Safety (OPS), which between 1962 and 1974 specialized in training police forces internationally. Officially a civilian agency, the OPS grew and operated in military and counterinsurgency realms in ways that transgressed the borders that are meant to contain the police within civilian, public, and local spheres. Tracing the career paths of OPS agents after their agency closed, Seigel shows how police practices writ large are rooted in violence—especially against people of color, the poor, and working people—and how understanding police as a civilian, public, and local institution legitimizes state violence while preserving the myth of state benevolence.


"An exceptionally sophisticated exploration of the nature of policing in relation to 'violence work.' . . . Recommended. Graduate students, researchers, and faculty."
  — D. O. Friedrichs, Choice

"[Violence Work] reveals a great deal about what we do and do not know about state-sponsored violence as well as how best to get there. . . . Seigel portrays state repression in a relatively new light, leading to refreshing insights about theory, data sources, and unexamined hypotheses. The book kills fascists because if you follow the logic contained within it, you are led directly to perpetrators of violence, as well as the varying types of institutions in which they are found." — Christian Davenport, Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Politics

Violence Work is an eye-opening, detailed and timely book that, for its historical approach, is an unusual appraisal of police legitimacy, which may not only to attract the attention of scholars and students of political science and criminal justice but also of policymakers, especially in this time of discussion of dismantling and defunding the police.”

— Nusret M. Sahin, Ethnic and Racial Studies

“To follow the richly detailed, archivally researched story of Micol Seigel's Violence Work is to access a nuanced and convincing conceptualization of policing as a strategic socialization of the imminent and permanent threat of police violence. Reading Violence Work is a sustained exercise in demystification: any notion that policing is remotely separable from military power is thoroughly disrupted. Seigel's tremendously impactful book will reshape academic and public conversations and will serve as a pillar in the ongoing work of critical carceral studies, critical ethnic studies, and American studies.” — Dylan Rodríguez, author of Suspended Apocalypse: White Supremacy, Genocide, and the Filipino Condition

“By looking at the short life and extended afterlife of the Office of Public Safety, Micol Seigel identifies how policing has always violated the ‘mythic borders’ that define it—between civilian and military forces, the state and market, and the local and global. Violence Work addresses urgent questions regarding contemporary policing and its supposedly increasing militarization, excessive brutality (with impunity), relation to corporate capital, and spread beyond local and national borders. It is required reading for anyone interested in state violence.” — A. Naomi Paik, author of Rightlessness: Testimony and Redress in U.S. Prison Camps since World War II


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Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Micol Seigel is Professor of American Studies and History at Indiana University, Bloomington and the author of Uneven Encounters: Making Race and Nation in Brazil and the United States, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  vii
Introduction. Policing and State Power  1
1. The Office of Public Safety, the LEAA, and US Police  25
2. Civilian or Military? Distinction by Design  52
3. "Industrial Security" in Alaska: The Great Public-Private Divide  73
4. Corporate States and Government Markets for Saudi Arabian Oil  99
5. Professors for Police: The Growth of Criminal Justice Education  121
6. Exiles at Home: A Refugee Structure of Feeling  146
Conclusion. Reckoning with Police Lethality  179
Appendix  189
Abbreviations  191
Notes  193
Bibliography  249
Index  293
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0017-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0002-0
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