Writing Project 1

In the first unit of the course, you have gotten a crash course in the history and sociology of policing, moving from the from the creation of modern urban police forces in the mid-19th century to the police crisis taking place in final third of the 20th. This was paired with a series of articles on the history of homicide. Taken together, these essays examine various aspects of the American experience with policing and crime in dialogue with the histories of the industrial capitalist states of western Europe. They help us see what the U.S. police do and why, and how the factors underlying the distinctiveness of American crime and American policing relate to each other. Of particular interest in these articles is the differential trajectory of American state formation and the unique developmental path that resulted from the U.S.’s decentralized political structure. Federalism and local control have allowed for great variability in the governance of policing and the influences of local politics over police objectives and action, and they are central to major theories of U.S. homicide exceptionalism. Even questions about the police role — not self-evidently related to state structure — must be considered in light of the distinctive way in which Americans located the police within their political system. We have also learned that a “police myth” that officers essential role is to fight crime persists, despite the fact that much of their activity is better characterized as maintaining order, a role that often devolves to the police because of the weakness of other state institutions. In their efforts to do the latter, police discretion — and, in particular, the discretionary use of violence — is central to the role played by police.


For Writing Project 1, you will write a short essay (appx. 4 pages, or 1200-1400 words) that examines how these articles help us to think about the relationship between policing, crime, and the state. The purpose of the assignment is to get you to consider some dimension of at least two articles in greater depth and its use or presence in each in relationship to each other. Choose something that interested you in one of the articles (for example, the decentralized nature of American police institutions, the place of race in crime and policing the U.S., the role of peace-keeping vs. law enforcement). In thinking across the articles you could focus on articles that highlight crime or policing, but I welcome essays that are willing to think across these two domains to examine the relationships between them highlighted by the authors. (For example, the way in which local control shaped both the development of policing and the evolution of homicide patterns.)

Your goal in writing the essay should be to advance an argument that addresses the texts. This means you should focus on some aspect of how the author constructed her inquiry or argument, or the type of analysis she undertook. Such an argument can address any aspect of the conceptual or argumentative apparatus of the papers. For example, you might focus on the different ways in which Miller and Spierenburg approach the question of centralization, and how this shapes the arguments that they make. Or, you might focus on how Monkkonen’s conception of “social history,” which he offers in explaining how the field of “cop history” should evolve, explains or applies to his approach to homicide. These are merely two suggestions amongst the dozens of conceptualizations that might work well for this project.

A successful essay will:

  • clearly identify its object of inquiry
  • advance an argument about the texts that are the focus of the essay (as opposed to advancing an argument about the world)
  • be supported by evidence drawn from the articles on which it is focused
  • have a structure that is appropriate to its argument
  • engage the reader with lively and precise prose
  • engages with the “so what” question (demonstrates an awareness of its significance)

Writing Project 1 will be drafted in the following steps:

  1. Brainstorm an inquiry and assemble relevant pieces of evidence. Bring to class Wednesday, 2/1.
  2. Write a rough draft. Upload to Box by class-time on Monday, 2/6.
  3. Large Group Workshop. Monday, 2/6.
  4. Revise rough draft (based on large group workshop) and upload to Box by class-time. Submit a paper copy along with a revision memo which tells me what you did to revise your original draft. Due Wednesday 2/8.
  5. Final draft uploaded to Box by class-time. Submit a paper copy in class. Due Wednesday, 2/15.

We will generate a series of criteria for grading these essays together in class, after you have written your first drafts.