Symbolic Communication: Signifying Calls and the Police Response

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This first major empirical work on the semiotics of social action goes a long way toward answering substantive, theoretical and pragmatic questions on how codes actually operate in a specific social setting. It underscores the important yet often ignored role of the police as "sign" or "information workers."

Calls to the police represent a rich variety of human troubles, concerns, and needs by focusing on how police handle calls from the public, how they ascertain what a call means and what should be done with it, and how this is transformed through subsystems within the organization, Peter Manning provides a novel way of looking at organizational communication.

Symbolic Communication provides examples of how members of an organization interpret their environment - in this instance, how the meaning of a call to the police is transformed as it moves across the boundaries of the organization (a transformation that involves a series of codings and recodings ensuring a continuous loose linkage of organization and environment). Manning shows why the police act in ways that differ from the way citizens and politicians would have them act, revealing the uncertainties that surround a policy agency's responsiveness. And he points out how today's computer technologies constrain the coding process, limiting in particular the effectiveness of the 911 systems used in most of our major cities.

Peter K. Manning is a Professor of Psychiatry and of Sociology at Michigan State University and a member of the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies at Oxford. Symbolic Communication brings to fruition themes and ideas introduced in his previous books, Police Work and The Narc's Game. Symbolic Communication is included in the Organization Studies series, edited by John van Maanen.

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About the author (1988)

Peter K. Manning holds the Elmer V. H. and Eileen M. Brooks Chair in the College of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University, Boston, MA. He has taught at Michigan State, MIT, Oxford, and the University of Michigan, and was a Fellow of the National Institute of Justice, Balliol and Wolfson Colleges, Oxford, the American Bar Foundation, the Rockefeller Villa (Bellagio), and the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, Wolfson College, Oxford. Listed in Who's Who in America, and Who's Who in the World, he has been awarded many contracts and grants, the Bruce W. Smith and the O.W. Wilson Awards from the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, and the Charles Horton Cooley Award from the Michigan Sociological Association. The author and editor of some 20 books, including Privatization of Policing: Two Views (with Brian Forst) (Georgetown University Press, 2000), his research interests includes the rationalizing and interplay of private and public policing, democratic policing, crime mapping and crime analysis, uses of information technology, and qualitative methods.

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