Jessica Katzenstein

Jessica Katzenstein

Department of Anthropology, Brown University

U.S. policing has faced a mounting legitimacy crisis over the past several years, from Ferguson’s 2014 protests to the rise of the Movement for Black Lives. While police officials insist that unjust killings are the fault of “bad apples” in the force, critics argue that addressing police violence requires massive structural reform. Yet previous attempts at reforming the police have left untouched the institution’s foundational mandates, leading to recurring crises of legitimacy.

Jessica’s dissertation, “Reforming U.S. Police: Crisis, Labor, and Moral Legitimacy in Maryland,” explores why reforms fail to fulfill their promises.

Drawing on 16 months of ethnographic fieldwork in 20 departments across Maryland, this project examines how police officers absorb and resist reform efforts by translating them into police terms. It traces how police subjects are produced, how they negotiate institutional strictures and working conditions, and how they conceptualize care for their communities. Marrying the insights of critical race studies and American studies with the anthropology of work, ethics, and the state, Jessica’s dissertation interrogates how the everyday labor of policing renders reform into a kind of “productive failure.”

Jessica’s project emerges from a commitment to studying up, or studying the powerful, as a necessary supplement to research with oppressed communities. Her work is grounded in sustained engagement with Baltimore, where she has worked for various human rights and social justice nonprofits. Her research has been supported by multiple National Science Foundation fellowships. Jessica received a BA from Washington University in St. Louis and an MA from Brown University.

Pin It on Pinterest

Skip to content