Skip to main content

Recognition gaps and economies of worth in police encounters

Abstract

This paper examines what arrested individuals expect from the police, and the moral grammars they rely on to evaluate police behavior. Drawing on interviews with recently arrested suspects in the Cleveland city jail, we analyze the moral grammars, or common worlds, that residents invoke to reflect on interactions with law enforcement. We find that respondents care about two different moral dimensions in policing. At one level, they want police to treat them with civility and politeness, and to respect their rights—thereby treating them equally with other residents in the city. Yet at a second level, they want police to show care and empathy for their local situation, and to recognize that policing the neighborhoods in which they live is different than policing other parts of the city. As a result, we find that residents who are arrested by the police deploy two orders of worth: a civic order, grounded in fairness, legal rules, equality, and civic belonging in the polity; and a domestic order, based on a politics of community and difference, emphasizing empathy, local knowledge, and personal experience. We demonstrate how individuals assess and test the moral promise of institutions to offer moral recognition, redress, and repair.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. Each of these orders of worth articulates a legitimate, alternative, appeal to the common good, to morality, or to justice. While originally conceived of as exclusive of each other, recent work demonstrates that actors may deploy multiple justifications at once, particularly in situations of uncertainty (Stark 2009).

  2. This research was also reviewed and approved by our university ethics board.

  3. Approximately 20% of the detainees we approached declined to be interviewed. Some did so because we could not offer legal assistance, while others did so without declaring a reason.

References

  • Abend, Gabriel. 2014. The Moral Background: An Inquiry into the History of Business Ethics. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Alexander, Jeffrey. 2001. The Long and Winding Road: Civil Repair of Intimate Injustice. Sociological Theory 19 (3): 371–400.

    Google Scholar 

  • Alexander, Jeffrey. 2006. The Civil Sphere. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Alexander, Jeffrey. 2007. On the Interpretation of the Civil Sphere: Understanding and Contention in Contemporary Social Science. Sociological Quarterly 48 (4): 641–659.

    Google Scholar 

  • Alexander, Jeffrey. 2016. Progress and Disillusion: Civil Repair and Its Discontents. Thesis Eleven 137 (1): 72–82.

    Google Scholar 

  • Anderson, Elijah. 2000. Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City. New York: WW Norton.

    Google Scholar 

  • Barbot, Janine, and Nicolas Dodier. 2014. Rethinking the Role of Victims in Criminal Proceedings. Revue Française de Science Politique 64 (3): 407–433.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bell, Monica. 2016. Situational Trust: How Disadvantaged Mothers Reconceive Legal Cynicism. Law & Society Review 50 (2): 314–347.

    Google Scholar 

  • Boltanski, Luc. 1990. L’Amour et Ia justice comme compétences: Trois essais de sociologie de l'action. Paris: Editions Métailié.

    Google Scholar 

  • Boltanski, Luc. 2011. On Critique: A Sociology of Emancipation. Cambridge: Polity.

    Google Scholar 

  • Boltanski, Luc, and Eve Chiapello. 2007. The New Spirit of Capitalism. London: Verso.

    Google Scholar 

  • Boltanski, Luc, and Laurent Thévenot. 1999. The Sociology of Critical Capacity. European Journal of Social Theory 2 (3): 359–377.

    Google Scholar 

  • Boltanski, Luc, and Laurent Thévenot. 2006. On Justification: Economies of Worth. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bourgois, Philippe. 1995. In: Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio. New York: Cambridge University Press.

  • Camic, Charles, Neil Gross, and Michèle Lamont. 2011. Social Knowledge in the Making. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Campeau, Holly. 2015. ‘Police Culture’ at Work: Making Sense of Police Oversight. British Journal of Criminology 55 (4): 669–687.

    Google Scholar 

  • Clair, Matthew, and Alix Winter. 2016. How Judges Think about Racial Disparities: Situational Decision-Making in the Criminal Justice System. Criminology 54 (2): 332–359.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cohen, Andrew, and Shai Dromi. 2018. Advertising Morality: Maintaining Moral Worth in a Stigmatized Profession. Theory and Society 47 (2): 175–206.

    Google Scholar 

  • Desmond, Matthew, Andrew Papachristos, and David Kirk. 2016. Police Violence and Citizen Crime Reporting in the Black Community. American Sociological Review 81 (5): 857–876.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dromi, Shai, and Samuel Stabler. 2019. Good on Paper: Sociological Critique, Pragmatism, and Secularization Theory. Theory and Society 48 (2): 325–350.

    Google Scholar 

  • Duneier, Mitchell. 2016. Ghetto: The Invention of a Place, The History of an Idea. London: Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fourcade, Marion. 2011. Cents and Sensibility: Economic Valuation and the Nature of ‘Nature’. American Journal of Sociology 116 (6): 1721–1777.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fourcade, Marion, and Kieran Healy. 2007. Moral Views of Market Society. Annual Review of Sociology 33: 285–311.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fraser, Nancy. 2000. Rethinking Recognition. New Left Review 3:107–120.

    Google Scholar 

  • Giulianotti, Richard, and Tommy Langseth. 2016. Justifying the Civic Interest in Sport: Boltanski and Thévenot, the Six Worlds of Justification, and Hosting the Olympic Games. European Journal for Sport and Society 13 (2): 133–153.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gonzalez, Philippe, and Laurence Kaufmann. 2012. The Social Scientist, the Public, and the Pragmatic Gaze: Exploring the Critical Conditions of Sociological Inquiry. European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy 4 (IV-1): 279–304.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hagan, John, Bill McCarthy, Daniel Herda, and Andrea Cann Chandrasekher. 2018. Dual-Process Theory of Racial Isolation, Legal Cynicism, and Reported Crime. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115 (28): 7190–7199.

    Google Scholar 

  • Heinich, Nathalie. 2009. The Sociology of Vocational Prizes: Recognition as Esteem. Theory, Culture & Society 26 (5): 85–107.

    Google Scholar 

  • Herbert, Steven. 2006. Citizens, Cops, and Power: Recognizing the Limits of Community. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Honneth, Axel. 1995. The Struggle for Recognition: The Moral Grammar of Social Conflicts. London: Polity.

  • Honneth, Axel. 2015. Civil Society as a Democratic Battlefield: Comments on Alexander’s The Civil Sphere. In Solidarity, Justice, and Incorporation: Thinking through The Civil Sphere, ed. Peter Kivisto and Giuseppe Sciortino, 81–95. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jagd, Søren. 2011. Pragmatic Sociology and Competing Orders of Worth in Organizations. European Journal of Social Theory 14 (3): 343–359.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kivisto, Peter, and Giuseppe Sciortino. 2019. Reflections on Radicalism and the Civil Sphere. In Breaching the Civil Order: Radicalism and the Civil Sphere, ed. Jeffrey Alexander, Trevor Stack, and Farhad Khosrokhavar, 268–284. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lamont, Michèle. 2012. Toward a Comparative Sociology of Valuation and Evaluation. Annual Review of Sociology 38: 201–221.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lamont, Michèle. 2018. Addressing Recognition Gaps: Destigmatization and the Reduction of Inequality. American Sociological Review 83 (3): 419–444.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lamont, Michèle, and Nissim Mizrachi (eds.). 2013. Responses to Stigmatization in Comparative Perspective. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lamont, Michèle, Stefan Beljean, and Matthew Clair. 2014. What is Missing? Cultural Processes and Causal Pathways to Inequality. Socio-Economic Review 12 (3): 573–608.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lamont, Michèle, Graziella Moraes Silva, Hanna Herzog, Jessica Welburn, Joshua Guetzkow, Nissim Mizrachi, and Elisa Reis. 2016. Getting Respect: Responding to Stigma and Discrimination in the United States, Brazil and Israel. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lamont, Michèle, Bo-Yun Park, and Elena Ayala Hurtado. 2017. Trump’s Electoral Speeches and His Appeal to the American White Working Class. British Journal of Sociology 68: S153–180.

    Google Scholar 

  • Levi, Ron. 2009. Making Counter-Law: On Having no Apparent Purpose in Chicago. British Journal of Criminology 49 (2): 131–149.

    Google Scholar 

  • Levi, Ron, and Ioana Sendroiu. 2019. Moral Claims and Redress after Atrocity: Economies of Worth across Political Cultures in the Holocaust Swiss Banks Litigation. Poetics 73: 45–60.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mastrofski, Stephen, Tal Jonathan-Zamir, Shomron Moyal, and James Willis. 2016. Predicting Procedural Justice in Police-Citizen Encounters. Criminal Justice and Behavior 43 (1): 119–139.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mizrachi, Nissim. 2016. Sociology in the Garden: Beyond the Liberal Grammar of Contemporary Sociology. Israel Studies Review 31 (1): 36–65.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nyberg, Daniel, and Christopher Wright. 2012. Justifying Business Responses to Climate Change: Discursive Strategies of Similarity and Difference. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space 44 (8): 1819–1835.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sacks, Harvey. 1972. Notes on the Police Assessment of Moral Character. In Studies in Social Interaction, ed. David Sudnow, 280–293. New York: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Shachar, Itamar, Lesley Hustinx, Lonneke Roza, C.P.M. Lucas, and Meijs. 2018. A New Spirit Across Sectors: Constructing a Common Justification for Corporate Volunteering. European Journal of Cultural and Political Sociology 5 (1–2): 90–115.

    Google Scholar 

  • Shelby, Tommie. 2016. Dark Ghettos: Injustice, Dissent, and Reform. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Shimizu, Mayumi. 2018. Police Officers in Contradiction. In The Civil Sphere in Latin America, ed. Jeffrey Alexander and Carlo Tognato, 179–205. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Shimizu, Mayumi. 2019. Institutions and Civil Instantiation: The Case of Modern Japanese Police. In The Civil Sphere in East Asia, ed. Jeffrey Alexander, David Palmer, Sunwoong Park, and Agnes Shuk-mei Ku, 188–212. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Shklar, Judith. 1991. American Citizenship: The Quest for Inclusion. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Silbey, Susan. 2005. After Legal Consciousness. Annual Review of Law and Social Science 1: 323–368.

    Google Scholar 

  • Silbey, Susan. 2007. Talk of Law: Contested and Conventional Legality. DePaul Law Review 56 (2): 639–659.

    Google Scholar 

  • Skolnick, Jerome. 1966. Justice Without Trial. New York: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  • Stark, David. 2009. The Sense of Dissonance: Accounts of Worth in Economic Life. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Stuart, Forrest. 2016. Becoming ‘Copwise’: Policing, Culture, and the Collateral Consequences of Street-Level Criminalization. Law & Society Review 50 (2): 279–313.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sunshine, Jason, and Tom Tyler. 2003. The Role of Procedural Justice and Legitimacy in Shaping Public Support for Policing. Law & Society Review 37 (3): 513–548.

    Google Scholar 

  • Susen, Simon. 2017. Remarks on the Nature of Justification: A Socio-Pragmatic Perspective. In Justification, Evaluation and Critique in the Study of Organizations: Contributions from French Pragmatist Sociology, ed. Charlotte Cloutier, Jean-Pascal Gond, and Bernard Leca, 349–381. Emerald: Bingley.

    Google Scholar 

  • Susen, Simon, and Bryan Turner. 2014. The Spirit of Luc Boltanski: Essays on the ‘Pragmatic Sociology of Critique’. London: Anthem.

    Google Scholar 

  • Thévenot, Laurent. 2002. Which Road to Follow? The Moral Complexity of an ‘Equipped' Humanity. In Complexities: Social Studies of Knowledge Practices, ed. John Law and Annemarie Mol, 53–87. Durham: Duke University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Thévenot, Laurent. 2007. The Plurality of Cognitive Formats and Engagements: Moving between the Familiar and the Public. European Journal of Social Theory 10 (3): 413–427.

    Google Scholar 

  • Thévenot, Laurent, Michael Moody, and Claudette Lafaye. 2000. Forms of Valuing Nature: Arguments and Modes of Justification in French and American Environmental Disputes. In Rethinking Comparative Cultural Sociology, Cambridge Cultural Social Studies, ed. Michèle Lamont and Laurent Thévenot, 229–272. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Timmermans, Stefan, and Iddo Tavory. 2012. Theory Construction in Qualitative Research: From Grounded Theory to Abductive Analysis. Sociological Theory 30 (3): 167–186.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tyler, Tom. 2003. Procedural Justice, Legitimacy, and the Effective Rule of Law. Crime and Justice 30: 283–357.

    Google Scholar 

  • U.S. Department of Justice. 2014. DOJ Findings Letter For Investigation Of Cleveland Police Department. US Attorney’s Office Northern District of Ohio. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1375135-cleveland-division-of-police-findings-letter.html. Accessed 3 Jan 2018.

  • Van Maanen, John. 1978. The Asshole. In Policing: A View from the Street, ed. Peter Manning and John Van Maanen, 221–237. Santa Monica: Goodyear.

    Google Scholar 

  • Walzer, Michael. 1984. Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality. New York: Basic.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

The authors thank Michèle Lamont, Lois Presser and Talia Shiff for their comments on this research, along with participants in the workshop on Law, Inequality, and the Politics of Moral Worth, held in May 2019 at Harvard University’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs as part of the Weatherhead Research Cluster on Comparative Inequality and Inclusion.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ron Levi.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Levi, R., Campeau, H. & Foglesong, T. Recognition gaps and economies of worth in police encounters. Am J Cult Sociol 10, 87–109 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41290-020-00109-8

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/s41290-020-00109-8

Keywords

  • Recognition
  • Policing
  • Respect
  • Justifications
  • Moral grammars
  • Economies of worth