Spatial relations and police legitimacy in a digitally mediated world

Melissa Bull*, Jasper De Paepe, Tyler Cawthray, Marleen Easton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Cawthray and Bull (2023) map the significance of spatial relationships—defined in terms of physical or geographical distance and social distance—in their analysis of police legitimacy in rural and remote contexts. They demonstrate the importance of connecting spatial relationships with police legitimacy by analysing empirical data from two Pacific Island case studies, concluding that the relationship should be tested using a broader range of cases that include Global North, urban and virtual settings. This article takes up this challenge by focusing on the spatial relations of police legitimacy in urban settings embedded in a digitally mediated world. Our secondary analysis of ethnographic observational and interview data collected in neighbourhood policing settings in Belgium demonstrates how the proximity or distance of police in interactions with other police and citizens, be they constituted in neighbourhood settings or digital domains, can be linked to conceptualisations of police legitimacy. We argue that contextually defined elements of spatiality (physical, social or virtual) should be considered in assessments of how perceptions of police legitimacy shape interactions between police officers and citizens.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Policing Studies
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2024


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