Invitation to PhD defence by Brigitte Dragsted

Invitation to PhD defence by Brigitte Dragsted

Title of thesis: "Intimacies of policing: Violent relationships among hawkers and Inspectorate officers in central Nairobi"


26.08.2021 kl. 14.00 - 17.00



This dissertation argues that police violence, in some settings and in some situations, is best understood as a form of intimate violence. Empirically, the dissertation is concerned with violent relationships among street hawkers and County Inspectorate officers in central Nairobi, Kenya. Based on ethnographic fieldwork and interviews among both hawkers and officers, the dissertation explores how violence in their relationships plays out amidst forms of mutual implication in spatial, discursive and bodily registers.

The time of my fieldwork in Nairobi in 2016 and 2017 coincided with electoral campaigns for the August 2017 general elections in Kenya. In order to win the votes of street hawkers, it is common for local political candidates to pressure the County Inspectorate into relaxing their policing of hawking. Hawkers and officers told me that I was witnessing a predictable, seasonally recurring period of calm in their policing relationship. However, what came into view for me during this period was not the absence of violence. Rather, it was the location of police violence in different registers of relationality from where we usually expect to find it. Hawkers and officers meet each other every day, joke with each other and call each other by nicknames. They refer to each other as friends. The dissertation characterizes such friendships as violent intimate relationships.

Central to my analytical notion of violent intimacies in policing relations is an attention to the ways in which policed persons and policing agents are mutually implicated. I combine three theoretical approaches to explore such mutualities among hawkers and Inspectorate officers. First, I show how they share a social space in which past violence continues to shape their engagements with one another. I conceive of violence between them as neighborly. Second, I show how violence erupts when hawkers and officers fail to live up to ideals of how proper persons should conduct themselves and how proper lives should unfold. I conceive of violence between them as normative. Third, I show how hawkers and Inspectorate officers experience the violent presence of the other in bodily registers. I conceive of violence between them as materially embedded.

The dissertation characterizes violent intimacies among hawkers and officers as political and historical. I show how decades of political ambivalence towards hawking in central Nairobi has pushed hawkers and Inspectorate officers into intimately violent policing relations. Furthermore, I show how violence in hawker-officer relations arises from dislocated imperial projects of development and progress in the aftermath of British colonial rule in Kenya. While the violent intimacies I describe are politically and historically specific, I propose that they have the potential to help us think in new ways about police violence, also beyond the Kenyan context.

A view of police violence as intimate does not equate to a view of it as less brutal or less injuring. Rather, it opens up new ways of understanding how police violence arises and how it is experienced by policed persons.


The lecture will present the dissertation and answer the following question: “ The intimacy of policing violence is one of the core analytical drivers of the thesis. Reflect on how this concept relates to the wider literature on police violence? In particular, address what is particular to the hawker-inspectorate relationships in Nairobi, and what might be more general (in which ways and why), in relation to different forms of policing in Kenya, sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere across the globe?”


We expect the PhD defence will be online for the public. If you are a staff member at Department of Politics and Society, you will receive an invitation in outlook. If you are not a staff member at the department, please sign up at this link no later than 25 August 2021 at 12:00. You will receive a link to the online defence shortly before the defence. For any questions regarding registration, please contact the PhD administration at or +45 9940 9810.


14:00   Welcome by Moderator

14:05   PhD presentation (45 min)

14:50   Break

15:05   Opponents examination

16:35   Questions from the audience

17:00   End of defence

Members of the assessment committee

  • Associate Professor, Stine Thidemann Faber, Department of Politics and Society, Aalborg University
  • Professor Rosalind C. Morris, Department of Anthropology, Columbia University
  • Professor Tobias Kelly, School of Social and Political Science, Edinburgh University


  • Professor Steffen Bo Jensen, Department of Politics and Society, Aalborg University


  • Associate Professor Anja Kublitz,  Department of Politics and Society, Aalborg University



Department of Politics and Society, Aalborg University



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25.08.2021 kl. 12.00

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