Loïc Wacquant On Penal Regulation of Poverty In Neoliberal Age
In Penal Regulation of Poverty, Wacquant argues that neoliberal politics has responded to rising socio-economic disparities in the society with ramping up the punitive measures. The glorification of the police, the courts, and the penitentiary, Wacquant argues, is not just a response to criminal insecurity but also to social insecurity.
While arguing that there’s a need to look at social and penal policies as two connected variants of the poverty policy of a neoliberal government, Wacquant submits that the upward shift in the punitive scale is a response to not just criminal insecurity, but also to social insecurity — caused by the casualisation of wage labour and the disruption of ethnic hierarchy.
Wacquant creates a concept of ‘prisonfare’ by drawing the analogy from the post-industrial idea of ‘workfare’ to claim that:
‘… the resurging prison has come to serve three missions that have little to do with the reduction of crime: to bend the reticent fractions of the post-industrial working class to precarious wage- work; to warehouse their most disruptive or superfluous elements; and to patrol the boundaries of the deserving citizenry while reasserting the authority of the state in the restricted domain it now assigns itself.’
Wacquant submits that the ramping up of policing and punitive measures of the state is a response to the diffusion of social insecurity and not just a reaction to the trends of crime. This is evident from the fact that the penal measures have increased manifold while crime rates have remained largely static. This social insecurity is caused by the rising number of causal labour in ana economy and movement in class and racial hierarchies through immigration.
Wacquant then argues that for building a cohesive politics of marginality, a link has to be created between the shifts in penal as well as social policy. While claiming that in the age of keeping economic disparities, a combination of workfare and prisonfare provides a double regulation of poverty:
‘My contention here is that public aid and criminal justice are two modalities of state policy toward the poor, so they must imperatively be analysed and reformed together. Supervisory workfare and the neutralising prison ‘serve’ the same population drawn from the same marginalised sectors of the unskilled working class. They are guided by the same philosophy of moral behaviourism and employ the same techniques of control, including stigma, surveillance, punitive restrictions and graduated sanctions, to ‘correct’ the conduct of their respective clientele.’
Wacquant then places this understanding of penal politics to criticise the hypocrisy of neoliberal governance in general, calling the actual state of governance a ‘bureaucratic monster’ with a liberal head. He says:
‘The neoliberal Leviathan practises laissez faire et laissez passer at the top of the class structure, towards corporations and the upper class, at the level of the causes of inequality. But it turns out to be fiercely interventionist and authoritarian at the bottom when it comes to dealing with the destructive consequences of economic deregulation and the retraction of the social safety net for those at the lower end of the class and honour ladder.’
Therefore, Wacquant argues that it is the lower rung of the society that bears the brunt of an energetic penal institution which is necessitated by the rule of the market. This is coupled with the involuntary programmes imposed by the state which stipulate personal responsibility as this neo-liberal state withdraws its own responsibility on the socio-economic front:
‘In short, the penalisation of poverty splinters citizenship along class lines, saps civic trust at the bottom and sows the degradation of republican tenets.’