Jonathan Wender: Governor General's Gold Medal

May 26, 2005, vol. 33, no. 3
By Marianne Meadahl

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The philosophical side of Washington police sergeant Jonathan Wender doesn't take a back seat when he's on duty. His approach to patrol work integrates philosophy and policing. That's because he is driven by a personal mission to show that philosophy is part of everyday life.

That drive led to a PhD thesis entitled Policing as Poetry, in which he analyses encounters between police and citizens. It has also earned him SFU's highest honour - the Governor General's gold medal. The award is given for outstanding achievement at the graduate level.

Wender's thesis is described by distinguished U.S. criminologist Richard Quinsy, his external examiner, as a “monumental work.”

Quinsy says, “to see police officers as bearing witness to some of life's transformative moments, as well as the everyday woes and plights, is to give transcendent meaning to police work.”

SFU criminology professor Neil Boyd says Wender has “profound insight into the theoretical meaning and social relevance of his work.”

Wender, who was a naturally curious kid, puts it more simply: “I've always been fascinated by the sublimity of the ordinary, and the intrinsic richness of everyday life. That's the interpretive lens I bring with me when I'm on the street.

“I am constantly looking for the deeper layers of meaning when the public and police meet,” he adds. “By policing as poetry I'm not referring to a literary form that's written or recited, but to the poetry that results when people, simply by being present, create meaning.”

Wender grew up in the U.S. and decided to study north of the border at his father's suggestion, first at UBC, then four years ago, switching to SFU, at the invitation of school of criminology director Robert Gordon, who became his senior supervisor. He is currently a patrol sergeant.

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