Évident as the Air: Making Truth with Police Body Cameras in France

Author: ORCID icon orcid.org/0000-0001-5635-5132
Donovan, Bremen, Anthropology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Weston, Kath, AS-Anthropology, University of Virginia

Together, the chapters of this dissertation examine a moment in contemporary European policing where everyday police in France become equipped with sound-enabled, body-worn cameras and begin imagining and experimenting with their potential. While headline-driven accounts have largely come to define debates about such audiovisual technologies in policing, this project is attuned to less spectacular forms of violence, which, despite their importance, tend to challenge supposedly objective tools of detection, including body cams. In a first set of chapters, I ethnographically explore how police fashion themselves as a sort of officer-evidence machine, networked into particular fantasies about, and conditions for, truth-making. I draw out the stakes of police imaginaries in relation to their notion of the ‘SDF-type’ person, which emerges a screen for racialization and notions of undesirability in this context, and I demonstrate how body-worn cameras, more than simply visual technologies, become productive rather than passive devices, with offensive potential. Then, through a series of audiovisual interludes, I introduce discordant renderings of specific policing encounters that have been depicted in formal legal complaints, offering a departure from traditional social science analysis to reflect upon the complex process of witnessing, and the potential impact of recording medium in the creation of evidentiary ‘truth.’ In a final set of chapters, the ethnography moves away from the police station and toward the courts, deepening a through line about the formal qualities of evidentiary claims and emergent legal notions of racism—and offering potential cues for social justice adjudication.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Policing, Truth Claims, Witnessing, Extraction, Ethnography
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