Professionalising the Police in the Age of Vulnerability

  • Clifford Bacon

Student thesis: Phd


Based on ethnographic fieldwork by an ex-police officer, this thesis examines the impact of the recent implementation of a professionalisation programme in policing in England. It focuses on the unravelling of the old ‘occupational closure’ model in policing and its replacement with a ‘top down’ managerialised model that facilitates the prioritisation of a risk management, vulnerability agenda. The thesis engages with the concept of professionalism as a disciplinary logic, as a means of controlling autonomous working practice from a distance. Data, from interviews and observation of operational work ascertains police officer’s application and understanding of the new agenda. Presented in a ‘journal format’, three papers examine the key interlinked issues namely; the wider limitations of ‘professionalisation’ when enacted ‘from above’ on public sector organisations; the restrictions inherent in the key mechanism of professional change (managerialism) on working practice; and the complexities and benefits of insider-outsider ethnographic research in the study of organisations and working practice. An overarching conclusion is that the ‘new professionalisation’ approach to policing is not working, leading to an attenuated form of professionalisation with the unintended consequences of weak outcomes that are hurting the public and, paradoxically, increasing their ‘vulnerability.’ Research in this area is limited as the professionalisation agenda in policing is in its formative years, in particular the move to transfer police training from ‘in-house’ delivery to universities. Insider-outsider ethnographies can shed a light on the realities of working practice in an invisible environment. This thesis indicates that dismantling traditional skillsets in favour of prescriptive, auditable processes is counterproductive to autonomous decision making and the capability required by occupational professionals to provide a meaningful local service to the communities they serve.
Date of Award31 Dec 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorWilliam Hebenton (Supervisor), Leo Mccann (Supervisor) & Stefania Marino (Supervisor)


  • policing
  • ethnography
  • insider-outsider
  • police
  • professions
  • professionalism
  • vulnerability

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