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Understanding the Police Investigation of the Murder of Stephen Lawrence: A 'Mundane Sociological Analysis'

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Abstract

'Race' is a litmus test for understanding relationships within institutions. Conflicts between ethnic majorities and minorities (and other minorities too) have a capacity to not only bring particular features of racialised relations to view but to also lay bare generic, institutional relationships. In this paper, I argue that the Lawrence Inquiry report directs us to mundane features of policing. Crucially we need to understand the complex ways in which the occupational culture of policing constructs and sustains particular forms of racialised relations. There are two key features of this culture. One is a tendency to use stereotypical thinking generally and in relation to ethnic minorities in particular. The other is to neglect the pertinence of race to rouitne police work. The presence and absence of 'race' is woven into the routines of the occupational culture. Police action can, as the Lawrence Inquiry report suggests be 'unwitting'. To argue the existence of 'unwitting' action, however, it is necessary to demonstrate that police officers could have acted differently. The murder of Stephen Lawrence and the police investigation into it have to be placed within this context if an adequate sociological analysis is to be undertaken.

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