Masters of the account. Effects of notetaking and of professional socialisation in interviews with police-officers
Langage et société n°123, March 2008
Most police officers interviewed in a study requiring biographical accounts showed themselves to be masters of this type of production. Such narrative postures can firstly be accounted for by the material set-up of the interview. The discipline of the participating officers (whether this was explicitly or implicitly required of them by their superiors), and the use of notetaking instead of recording (which guaranteed against subsequent journalistic use of the data) were crucial ways of getting round the usual reservation shown by officers. However, there were impacts on the form of the interviews : producing a structured, logical account is essential, both for the interviewee and for the sociologist, who is constrained by the notetaking process. This level of analysis is complemented by a consideration of preexisting familiarity with self-narration within the population under study. Smoothing over embarrassing biographical details and casting oneself as hero are narrative skills with are here encouraged throughout professional socialisation and provided for within working conditions. For police-officers, discourse is itself a material with which they must work. The sociologist is neither the first nor the last recipient of self-narration – which does not imply that nothing is invented during the interview, nor that confidential information is out of place in the dialogue. Measuring the scope of the collected accounts does however require them to be situated in a wider process of socialisation towards narration. Far from impeding sociological analysis, the question of the ‘biographical illusion’ is in fact indispensible to it.
Key words: police, biographical account, biographical illusion, professional socialisation, career.
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