Policing & Desire

Tallace Bissett2, Dr Peta Malins1
1Rmit University, Melbourne, Australia, 2University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia

In April 2009, Zacharia Matiang was at home with his friends and family, when police, following up on a report that an ‘African’ boy had stolen some chips, arrived and sprayed them with capsicum spray at close range. More spray was discharged into the house, affecting Matiang’s mother, his cousin, siblings (including a 3 and 4 year old) and his cousin’s three month old infant (Hewitt, 2011; Milman, 2013; OPI, 2011). On a hot January day in 2009, Gemma Thoms, 17, was queuing up to enter a music festival with her friends, when she became aware that police with sniffer dogs were searching attendees for drugs. Having already consumed one of her three ecstasy pills, she hurriedly took the other two, become quickly ill and was transported to hospital where she died the following day (Coronors Court WA 2013).

These two incidents, despite their differences, are part of a much wider story of harmful police engagements with young people. So far, these problems have primarily been conceptualised in legal or public health related terms. In this paper we sketch out how Deleuze and Guattari’s poststructural concept of desire might help us to account for the affective intensity of these events. In our Deleuzian account, desire circulates in policing assemblages, both enabling – and blocking – a range of bodily capacities and affects. Taking account of desire in policing – both in its molar (sedimented, historical, representational) and molecular (chaotic, disruptive, enabling) formations – offers a new lens on persistent policing relations of domination.


Tallace Bissett is a doctoral candidate at the University of Melbourne writing about policing of African-background young men in Melbourne. She was brought to this topic through her experience as a legal student volunteer with the Flemington and Kensington Community Legal Centre and as a criminal defence lawyer with the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service. Despite this legal background, her interest is primarily in telling the stories that criminal lawyers and civil law police accountability actions cannot tell.

Dr Peta Malins is a lecturer in Criminology and Justice Studies at RMIT University, Melbourne. Her research focuses on the unintended affects of drug interventions, with a focus on harm reduction, education and policing. Having previously worked at the City of Melbourne in drug policy and syringe disposal, as an outreach NSP worker, and a volunteer with the DanceWize peer-education program, she is fascinated by the intersections between theory and practice, and the complex connections between bodies, cultural representations and space in enactments of harm. She is currently working on projects regarding school-based drug education, overdose memorials, and drug-detection dogs.


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