1992 volume 10(4) pages 469 – 481

Cite as:
Fyfe N R, 1992, "Space, time, and policing: towards a contextual understanding of police work" Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 10(4) 469 – 481

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Space, time, and policing: towards a contextual understanding of police work

N R Fyfe

Received 28 June 1991; in revised form 20 January 1992

Abstract. Studies of policing have been dominated by two types of approach: those that are focused on the minutiae of routine police work and those that are concerned with the sociolegal contexts of policing. In this paper an attempt is made to connect these two approaches by the development of a contextual understanding of police work. The author's own and other ethnographic police research in the United Kingdom are woven together to examine the time -- space sequences and settings of local, routine police action. In the first part of the paper, Hagerstrand's time geography is used to explore the time -- space sequences of policing, highlighting the impacts of capability, coupling, and steering 'constraints'. These constraints indicate the importance of the organisation of police work, the role of the community, and the impact of the law on the practice of policing. An important limitation of time geography, however, is its failure to scrutinise the settings of social interaction. In the second part of the paper this weakness is addressed by employing the concepts of locale and place in order to examine the time -- space settings of policing, with examples to show the subtle but important differences between these concepts.

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