Becoming Special
: Occupational socialisation in volunteer police officers

  • Tom R Tooth

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This thesis takes as its site of interest the office of the Special Constabulary. Through this institution it is possible to volunteer to join the police and serve as a warranted officer, with the full range of legal authorities that are invested in those who work within the ‘regular’ ranks. The study applies its focus to the training and early career development of Special Constables, aiming to fill a significant gap in the contemporary literature.

Utilising conceptual models from studies of regular officer training and development, the thesis will explore this field of interest as a process of socialisation, in which learning how to become a Special Constable requires engaging with formal and informal aspects of the organisation. Although Special Constables do not ‘belong’ to the occupational culture of policing in the same way that regular officers do, this study explores the extent to which the occupational culture is extended to them by those regular officers in charge of their induction. It also explores the extent to which that culture is accessible to volunteer officers, and the types of professional identity it allows them to sustain.

It will be suggested that the socialisation experiences of Special Constables are helpfully explored and interrogated using a framework of needs fulfilment, which supplies the dynamic of their quest to achieve membership status. However, membership can be achieved in different degrees, relating to the trainee’s motivations and expectations for undertaking the role, and their levels of success at finding a fit with the occupational culture.

This thesis was undertaken utilising a range of qualitative research methods, including the autoethnographic participation in the field by the author. The following exploration brings the voices of trainees to the fore and seeks to deliver grounded insight and analysis on this sheltered area of practice.
Date of Award1 Oct 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorOliver L Quick (Supervisor) & Morag A McDermont (Supervisor)

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