Summary and Keywords
The literature on contemporary Western punishment presents us with a number of possible approaches to political ideologies and penality. The first approach requires us to ask what different political ideologies have to say about crime and punishment. This entails a close analysis of the ideologies’ main claims on matters of power, authority, and collective co-existence, to see if and how such claims have played out in the penal sphere. Analyses of social democratic penality serve here as useful case studies for such an approach. Such analyses also illustrate the second approach to questions of political ideology and penality. This approach requires us to ask what impact crime has had upon the fate of different ideologies. Have the changing incidence and changing perceptions of crime come to threaten the legitimacy of dominant ideologies? The third approach is that of critique of ideology: penality is studied as ideology, to discern what it conceals about reality and existing power relations. Here the analysis of contemporary UK offences of dangerousness acts as a case study for such an approach. To the extent that offences of dangerousness are rooted in neoliberalism, the discussion also introduces us to debates concerning neoliberalism and penality, in particular the idea that contemporary punishment expresses both the ascendancy of neoliberal doxa, and the decline of existing macro-ideologies such as social democracy. This decline can be seen as a move toward a post-ideological era, in which crime and punishment have come to replace political visions and utopias. However, recent scholarship on political ideologies argues that the latter are ubiquitous and permanent features of political thinking. This implies that the contemporary era cannot be described as post-ideological. Rather, it is an era in which macro-ideologies such as social democracy—which provided a holistic view of social order and comprehensive ideational resources to construct it—have been replaced by thin ideologies—which offer us narrower visions and ambitions. Examples of such thin ideologies include populism and technocracy. It is then possible to study the link between thin-ideologies and penality, a study that is here exemplified by the analysis of populism and penal populism, and technocracy and epistemic crime control. An analysis of thin ideologies and penality can also be undertaken with a normative project in mind, namely that of identifying within these thin ideologies, possible ideational resources that might be used to imagine a better penal future: one that is more moderate, more democratic, and less punitive.
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