Joining insights from the work of Richard Sennett and Erving Goffman, I probe the power relations which underlie the performances and negotiations of respect and authority in interactions between young men and police officers. Two cultures or codes of conduct most often clash in these confrontations, which interestingly enough bear some key similarities. The officers from the local police office that I observed attempted to avoid unnecessarily engaging youths in confrontations and thereby evaded contests of face. Their assignment in the field was to make their presence felt in the area they were patrolling and to bring the youth to an understanding that they were sharing this territory with them. The officers from the ‘street peace group’ had a different agenda and sought out confrontations with youths and thereby engaged them in public show‐downs over face. Their assignment in the field was to bring respect among the youth for the authority of the police, that is, to force a submission to their authority, and this is most readily accomplished through contests of face—contests in which they had the upper hand and through which they demonstrated time and again that they (the police authorities) controlled the streets (at least momentarily).
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