Policing and Incarceration

Police guns and private security cars: Ordering the state through socio-material policing assemblages in Nairobi

In this article, I show how the work of heterogeneous security and policing assemblages in Nairobi hinges upon and reproduces physical urban borders, and consequentially enacts social orders. While these assemblages enrol a diverse collection of people and objects, I liken their work to that of the state: some urban residents are considered as belonging to safe spaces and in need of extra protection, while others are considered dangerous and targets of policing activities. I draw on one year of ethnographic fieldwork with private security companies and police patrols in middle- and upper-class Nairobi. In Nairobi, armed police personnel are commonly seen in vehicles that are marked with the logos and colours of security companies or private vehicles. These arrangements are not only based on agreements between companies’ managers, urban residents and police, but rely on what specific infrastructures (such as road or radio networks) and various objects (such as guns and cars) afford. These material elements are not insignificant details. Rather they become central to the unfolding of the patrols. They contribute to the work of security and policing assemblages of categorizing Nairobi’s residents as either dangerous and potentially criminal subjects or as residents in need of extra protection.

more articles from

Volume 38 Issue 3

Explore our Topics

Though not an exhaustive list, these are many of the main areas we cover.