Against Governmentality: Althusser and the Governance of Crime and Its Control

Steven Bittle, Queen's University/Law Comm. of Canada

In recent years there has been a profliferation of criminological and socio-legal studies that employ notions of 'governmentality' to critically examine neo-liberal crime control strategies. Much of this neo-Foucauldian literature has shied away from more structural accounts of crime in favour of analyses that reveal 'microphysics' of power. This paper critically engages the governmentality literature, raising questions about whether it should revisit the relationships between state-law economy, as well as -gender and-race. The paper suggests that, despite the contributions of the governmentality literature to our understanding of how power is exercised through neo-liberal forms of governance, this literature unnecessarily avoids broader structural mechanisms that give rise to crime control in its current forms. The analytical lens for this analysis is the work of Louis Althusser and his attempts to develop a critical classicism. Several of Althusser's concepts help to reveal the limitations of governmentality within the crime control literatures, and to suggest ways of embracing a deeper appreciation of the structural mechanisms that help characterize crime and its control -- an antiessentialist appreciation that does not treat the economy as the determinant of these strategies.

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Updated 05/20/2006