38: Socialization and Occupational Communities – Van Maanen

John Van Maanen

In this episode, we examine John Van Maanen’s classic ethnographic study of police recruits from an urban police department in the U.S. “Police socialization: A longitudinal examination of job attitudes in an urban police department,” published in Administrative Science Quarterly in 1975, presents Van Maanen’s study on the socialization process of new police officers from their training and indoctrination at the police academy to their early months on the beat. What he found was intriguing. Some recruits joined the force “highly motivated and committed,” but over time their attitudes changed and commitment dropped sharply and swiftly. On the job, supervisors preferred the lesser motivated patrol officers over their more committed counterparts. Officers showing initiative were seen as creating more work and inducing higher risk to others. Over a short period of time, police officers learned to “lay low, don’t make waves” through the department’s systems of rewards and punishments and a climate that encourages teamwork over individuality. The result was a major step forward in understanding socialization processes in organizations.

The study is notable for Van Maanen’s role as participant-observer. He underwent police training at the academy while interviewing other recruits and spent time on patrol with new officers. This helped him understand the recruit’s perspective, however it required him to function in a covert role. While his activities were well-understood and permitted by leaders and supervisors in the police department, they weren’t necessary understood by all officers whom he observed. Nor were they necessarily understood by the civilians whom he encountered. While Van Maanen did not find himself facing difficult or ethically challenging situations during the study, questions have since arisen about the value of using covert techniques in research. Hence, part of this episode is devoted to discussing the ethical questions and controversy on using covert methods to access populations for study that might ordinarily not provide informed consent.

Join us as we explore this terrific ethnography and understand the process of socialization from an insider’s perspective!

You may also download the audio files here:  Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 

Read with us:

Van Maanen, J. (1975). Police Socialization: A Longitudinal Examination of Job Attitudes in an Urban Police DepartmentAdministrative Science Quarterly Vol. 20, No. 3 (1975): 207-228.

Referenced in the Episode:

Roulet, T., Gill, M., Stenger, S., & Gill, D. Reconsidering the value of covert research: The role of ambiguous consent in participant observation. Organizational Research Methods Vol. 20, no. 3 (2017): 487-517.