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«BEYOND DISCIPLINE AND PUNISH: FOUCAULT’S CHALLENGE TO CRIMINOLOGY Published in English thirty years ago, Discipline and Punish has exercised a ...»

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In the 1970s, when Discipline and Punish appeared, it was not completely utopian to think that progressive criminology might actually change the criminal justice system. Despite the fact that crime rates were on the rise, the death penalty was abolished in most jurisdictions even as imprisonment was also coming under scrutiny; and social inequality, regarded by most as a key cause of crime, was being addressed through a host of complementary government programs. People on the left including Foucault had the luxury of being critical of both rehabilitation and punishment, of psychiatry as well as of hanging judges. Today we are in a different situation and we thus need to re-evalute how we use Foucault’s accounts. While it is of course still necessary and feasible to speak out for humanitarian and justice-oriented approaches—especially in the US, with its skyrocketing imprisonment rate— critical criminology is rarely able to bring anything to the policy arena that sensible practitioners do not already know. Liberal-minded humanists, especially those who have practical experience with criminal justice, are in a better position than theorists to denounce law-and-order campaigns and the over-use of imprisonment. We should support the continuing campaigns to make the criminal justice system less inhumane, of course; but intellectually it is not clear that we have anything revolutionary or even mildly useful to contribute. It may now be time to take up Weber’s advice and distinguish M a r i a n a Va l v e r d e our political action as citizens, in which a Foucaultian theorist and the most old-fashioned humanist can easily work together, from our scholarly work as intellectuals, which may have to proceed in the hope that in a different future there may be a wider audience for it.

Another way of putting the current dilemma is to say that we (critical criminologists) have been roundly defeated anyway, at least in regard to the battles started in the 1970s. We should of course continue to do advocacy and political work alongside other progressive forces in our community, since there is no reason why we should not wield whatever meager authority the ‘criminologist’ label may bring us: but when engaged in non-policy oriented intellectual work I would suggest that it is futile to continue fighting for the soul of criminology. Especially if we take a broader perspective— as scholars like Stan Cohen did years ago—it makes more sense to give up on ‘criminology’, by which I mean stop treating criminal justice as a separate domain, in favour of a more broadly defined and more creative research agenda.

What this post-critical criminology agenda may be is not for me or any one person to decide. Some have argued that we should redefine our focus as ‘the governance of security’ (Shearing and Johnston 2003), which is one possible option, one that goes beyond criminology by paying close attention to community mediation, non-state security and peacekeeping. This has the virtue of shifting the scholarly gaze away from ‘crime’ and focusing it more creatively on why crime remains a great source of concern and fear, namely, persistent insecurity, and examining security and safety more broadly to include questions of peace and war, state corruption, economic security, and gender inequality. While Johnston and Shearing are not using ‘security’ in Foucault’s sense, nevertheless, their focus on governing security and through security has decided resonances with Foucault’s work, particularly his lectures on governmentality and security.

Others may want to emphasize that many of the perpetual dilemmas of criminal justice are at bottom the dilemmas of all regulatory systems, and pursue studies that explore how mechanisms used successfully to regulate economic activity or civil disputes might be used to replace the old-fashioned sovereign coercion of the criminal law. John Braithwaite and many others, such as scholars affiliated with the “RegNet” research network, are pursuing this research agenda at the moment, and it is certainly one that has a great deal of promise, at least at the practical end.

Others yet may try to bring back ‘justice studies’ in the old-fashioned, social justice sense of the term, and explore social inequality and the inseBeyond Discipline curities it produces. Many feminists working in and around criminal justice, as well as legal scholars working on aboriginality and colonialism, find ‘justice’ to be a useful and inspiring concept, one that goes far beyond and is in fact in contradiction to ‘criminal justice’.

Whichever path is chosen, there is no doubt that these various postcriminological research agendas could benefit from a broader and deeper reading of Foucault’s work, though of course inspiration will and should be sought from a broad range of sources.

On my part, I am not now and have never been a criminologist, so for me the task is not to find a post-criminological agenda but rather to continually negotiate my conflicted relationship to criminological research institutions, such as the one that has employed me for 15 years. Currently my main empirical interest is studying ‘minor’ mechanisms of municipal governance — an arena in which one can learn a great deal about everyday experiences of security and insecurity, belonging and alienation, citizenship and exclusion. In this current work I do sometimes use substantive ideas drawn from Foucault’s work, but not very often, simply because that has not seemed appropriate, empirically. The methodological revolution that Foucault brought about, however, continues to be crucial in all my work, not so much because I apply Foucault’s ideas but because it is always inspiring to re-read the work of someone who constantly challenged all conventional ways of making distinctions and sorting out entities — someone who questioned both conventional practices of governance and conventional habits of theorizing. As I became an adult and learned how to think, in the mid-1970s, I was constantly inspired by the Marxian notion of ‘praxis’, which seemed the right slogan for a philosophy student of radical tendencies: but eventually I came to see that despite its lip service to practice, Marxist theory was as concept-driven as any academic philosophy. By rejecting the formats and the habits of all philosophy including Marxist philosophy, while validating the philia of sophia, the love of knowledge, Focault’s work helps to keep me on my toes as I constantly attempt to question the ground on which I stand.

As Nietzsche taught us, there is no post-ideological future toward which we can strive, no innocent knowledge or perspective-free neutral position. Being constantly on one’s toes, on the ground that we happen to have inherited but whose contours we ought never to take for granted, is, it seems to me, the only ‘authentic’ intellectual position available to those of us who have given up believing in ‘humanity’ and ‘truth’ but who still hope that our patient inquries into how the world was made as it was will

–  –  –

eventually feed into a (non-utopian, historically informed) exercise of the human collective capacity to imagine the world otherwise.

Beyond Discipline


COHEN, STAN (1985) Visions of social control: crime, punishment and classification.

Cambridge, Polity.

ERICSON, RICHARD (2007) Crime in an insecure world. Cambridge, Polity.

EWALD, FRANCOIS (1990) “Norms, discipline and the law” Representations, 30, 138-161.

FOUCAULT. MICHEL (1978) Discipline and punish: the birth of the prison. New York, Pantheon.

FOUCAULT, MICHEL (1980) The history of sexuality, Volume I. New York, Pantheon.

FOUCAULT, MICHEL (1985) The use of pleasure: The history of sexuality, volume II. New York, Pantheon FOUCAULT, MICHEL (1986) The care of self: The history of sexuality, volume III. New York, Pantheon FOUCAULT, MICHEL (2000) The essential works of Michel Foucault, Volume III. New York, New press (Ed. Paul Rabinow) FOUCAULT, MICHEL (2001) Fearless speech. Los Angeles, Semiotext(e).

FOUCAULT, MICHEL (2003) Society must be defended: lectures at the College de France 1975New York, Picador.

FOUCAULT, MICHEL (2004) Sécurité, territoire, population: cours au Collège de France 1977-78. Paris, Gallimard.

FOUCAULT, MICHEL (2005) Naissance de la biopolitique: cours au Collège de France 1978Paris, Gallimard.

GARLAND, DAVID (1985) Punishment and welfare: a history of penal strategies. London, Gower.

GARLAND, DAVID (1990) Punishment and modern society. Chicago, University of Chicago.

GARLAND, DAVID (2001) The culture of control: crime and social order in contemporary society. Chicago, University of Chicago.

HARCOURT, BERNARD (2007) Against prediction: profiling, policing and punishing in an actuarial age. Chicago, University of Chicago.

HUNT, ALAN (1993) “Foucault’s expulsion of law” in Explorations in law and society.

London, Routledge.

HUNT, ALAN and GARY WICKHAM (1994) Foucault and law. London, Pluto.

LOADER, IAN (2007) Civilizing security. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

MOORE, DAWN (2007) Criminal artefacts: governing drugs and users. Vancouver, University of British Columbia Pres..

ROSE, NIKOLAS, and MARIANA VALVERDE (1998) “Governed by law?” Social and Legal Studies Vol. 7 no. 4, 539-51.

ROSE, NIKOLAS, PAT O’MALLEY and MARIANA VALVERDE (2006) “Governmentality” in Annual Review of Law and Social Science, vol. I SHEARING, CLIFFORD, and LES JOHNSTON (2003) Governing security: explorations in policing and justice. London, Routledge.

VALVERDE, MARIANA (1996) “‘Despotism’ and the ethical liberal subject” Economy and Society Vol. 25, no. 3, 357-372.

VALVERDE, MARIANA (1998) Diseases of the will: alcohol and the dilemmas of freedom.

Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

M a r i a n a Va l v e r d e

Valverde, Mariana (2007) “Genealogies of European states [review essay]” Economy and Society Vol. 36. No. 1, 159-178.

Veyne, Paul (2008) Foucault: sa pensée, sa personne. Paris, Albin Michel.

1 Who won the battle is not a question that has the same answer across different countries (and even different systems within the same country). Critical criminology often denounces popular punitiveness as if this element were everywhere victorious. But it seems to me that Harcourt’s recent work demonstrates that administrative risk-management logics are the real winners of the criminological struggles of the past thirty years, because their approaches can survive electoral shifts from punitive neoconservatism to neoliberal social democracy (Harcourt 2007).

3 The American Society of Criminology does not encompass the whole English-speaking world, of course, but it is significant that while it has not actively excluded critical and theoretical perspectives, these have remained isolated in small numbers of ‘preaching to the choir’ sessions. The European Society of Criminology, on its part, is also largely dominated by administrative criminology, even if welfarist approaches are more integrated into that mainstream. The British Society of Criminology seems to have a larger critical component - keynote addresses are usually given by left-ofcentre scholars, for example, and its association journal is very inclusive. But British criminology’s numbers pale by comparison with the ASC, which draws a much larger number of international scholars.

4 Garland’s later books were researched and written in a more conventional manner and were thus received as proper ‘theory’. By contrast, Punishment and Welfare used a more Foucaultian methodology, involving large amounts of primary historical research. It is a telling sign of the superficial take-up of Foucault’s work that even scholars who have read Foucault continue to expect ‘theory’ books to be researched and written in a conventional manner.

5 It should be noted that when Garland was writing that book, none of the ‘governmentality’ texts and none of the College de France lectures were available, which partly explains Garland’s limited account - though The History of Sexuality was available, and could certainly have been creatively used.

6 Dawn Moore’s recent study of Canadian criminal justice approaches to ‘drug addiction’ does make extensive use Foucault’s work on ethics and the governance of self (Moore 2007).

7 Unfortunately Foucault never addressed the modernization of sovereignty under the banner of ‘the rights of Man’ and, later, democracy.

8 I have explored this crucial methodological issue elsewhere: “habituated to theoretical edifices built out of large-scale concepts, many of Foucault’s contemporaries read his work as if the protagonists of his genealogies were modes of power-knowledge, seen as succeeding each other in the same way that capitalism replaced feudalism.

Such a reading misses the methodological revolution brought about by focusing on practices of governance...” (Valverde 2007, 160).

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