The use and abuse of the prison in the age of
In this essay, I draw selectively on my three books on the nexus of penality, poverty
and politics to present the skeleton of an argument explaining the expansion and
gloriﬁcation of the penal mission of the state in the early twenty-ﬁrst century as
part and parcel of the neoliberal revolution and an exercise in state-crafting.1 The prison
boom we are witnessing around the world today, qualifying as the ‘third age’ of carceral
This book examines the intersection between incarceration and human rights. It is about why independent inspection of places of custody is a necessary part of human rights protection, and how that independence is manifested and preserved in practice. Immigration and asylum policies ask crucial questions about national identity, about human rights, and about our values as compassionate citizens in an era of increasingly complex international challenges. The book deals with the future of prisons and shows how the vulnerable population has been unconscionably treated. To arrive at a proper diagnosis of the expansive use and abuse of the prison in the age of economic deregulation and social insecurity, it is imperative that we effect some analytic breaks with the gamut of established approaches to incarceration. The book explores the new realities of criminal confinement of persons with mental illness. It traces the efforts of New Right think-tanks, police chiefs and other policy entrepreneurs to export neoliberal penality to Europe, with England and Wales acting as an 'acclimatization chamber'. In a series of interventions, of which his Oxford Amnesty Lecture is but one, Loic Wacquant has in recent years developed an incisive and invaluable analysis of the rise and effects of what he calls the penal state.
, not in all of them – the turn towards
penal conﬁnement is also apparent and inmate numbers swell. The prison today
looms large in the political and social imagination.
In a series of interventions, of which his Oxford Amnesty Lecture is but one,
LoïcWacquant has in recent years developed an incisive and invaluable analysis of
the rise and effects of what he calls the penal state.2 If he and it did not exist, it
would be necessary to invent them. There is much in the contemporary economic,
social and penal condition that properly calls for the kind of analysis he
citizens than was previously considered acceptable.
Zygmunt Bauman 3 and LoïcWacquant 4 have recently argued that the spread of security related
policies is closely related to the neo-liberal programme first adopted by
New Right governments in Britain and the USA, and which is now presented
throughout the western world as the necessary (or inevitable) response to
globalisation. They regard the criminalisation of
that better resources
are urgently needed outside prisons, as well as inside.
Incarceration and human rights
In Part II, ‘Beyond the prison’, the contributors are less immediately concerned
with the speciﬁcs of what happens behind bars. Building, in particular, on Zetter
and Lazarus’s lead, they set out a reconﬁguration of how we might theorise, and
act, on issues of incarceration and human rights. LoïcWacquant, a sociologist, Thomas
Mathiesen, a professor of sociology of law and an activist, and Jack Mapanje, a
-solidarity are developed in Siniša Malešević, NationStates and Nationalisms (Cambridge: Polity, 2013).
4 Jim MacLaughlin, Reimaging the Nation State: The Contested Terrains of Nation Building
(London: Pluto Press, 2001).
5 Derek Scally, ‘Taoiseach Blames Crash on “Mad Borrowing” Frenzy’, Irish Times, 29 January
6 LoïcWacquant, ‘For an Analytic of Racial Domination’, in Political Power and Social Theory
(Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, 1997).
7 Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (London: Routledge
& Kegan Paul, 1979).
8 For a more
a larger cultural ensemble) is another main field for an interpretative
framework in North America and Europe. The approach has been
partly illustrated by the work of LoïcWacquant in his studies on
boxing,18 Christian Pociello on rugby19 and Charles Suaud on tennis
clubs.20 Even if the meaning that supporters give to their actions is to
be taken into account in any analysis of their behaviour, figurational
sociology, and the works of Roger Caillois have shown the importance
of being careful in any assessment of supporters’ behaviour.
sciences socials , 18 (1997), 55–68,
trans. Richard Nice and LoïcWacquant in Pierre Bourdieu
and Democratic Politics , eds LoïcWacquant
(Cambridge: Polity Press, 2005), p. 31. For the dating of the play,
see Barbara Freedman, ‘Shakespearean Chronology, Ideological
Complicity, and Floating Texts: Something Is Rotten in
Windsor’, Shakespeare Quarterly , 45 (1994
Recently, a number of French sociologists have provided a refreshing and
sharp critique of neoliberal politics in terms of political economy. Perhaps
the most famous is LoïcWacquant’s critical analysis of the neoliberal state
(Wacquant, 2009, 2010). Taking his point of departure in the tendency of
going tough on crime in many OECD countries since the 1990s, Wacquant
argues that neoliberalism is not only about market rule but also about
supervisory workfare, a proactive penal state and the generalised elevation of an ethos of individual responsibility (for
principle of integration not only as an individual obligation, but also as a citizenship obligation. Cameron's phrase resonates with LoicWacquant's description of the shift to neoliberal governance as a period of the ‘remasculinization of the state’, ‘the transition from the kindly “nanny state” of the Fordist-Keynesian era to the strict “daddy state” of neoliberalism’ with ‘[t]he new priority given to duties over rights, sanctions over support, the stern rhetoric of the “obligations of citizenship”’ (Wacquant, cited in Tyler 2013 : 52–53). While tools like