Academic journal article Genders

The Gender Entrapment of Neoliberal Development

Academic journal article Genders

The Gender Entrapment of Neoliberal Development

Article excerpt

Introduction: The new folk devils

[1] In Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State, and Law and Order, their classic application of cultural studies, political economy, and critical race studies to the interrogation of "crime," Stuart Hall and his co-authors from the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham analyzed the rise of law-and-order politics in Britain in the 1970s (Hall et al. 1978). They showed how the confluence of events, media coverage, and official responses conjoined with the historical formation of Britain's racialized society and its nascent economic restructuring to create a moral panic around mugging. Hall et al. demonstrated how the "mugger" was constructed in expressly anti-black terms as a new external menace to British society; he described the mugger as a "new folk devil" animating the society's racialized frenzy for police protection and a punitive state apparatus. Policing the Crisis remains a benchmark for critical studies of "crime," criminalization, and punishment for a number of reasons: among these is Hall's rigorous case for shifting the focus from the "deviant act" of mugging to the official and public responses it inspired, created it, and came to "own" it--suggesting that "it is this whole complex--action and reaction--as well as what produced it and what its consequences were, which requires to be explained" (Hall et al. 1978: 18-19). In different terms, then, the standard put forth by Hall and his colleagues redefines the very field of study called criminology as a relationship, or set of relations, in which the object of study is bound up in the terms of study and in the relations of production (culturally as well as economically) in which the object appears in a given historical moment. This analytic framework allowed Policing the Crisis to presciently anticipate the law and order themes of Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government in the 1980s, as well as Ronald Reagan's tenure in the U.S.

[2] Although Policing the Crisis itself remains obscured in contemporary critical studies of criminalization and the social construction of harm, the analytical framework proposed by Hall et al. has largely come to define the emergent interdisciplinary field in the past few decades. When Mike Davis, who is frequently credited with coining the phrase "a prison-industrial complex" in a 1995 article in The Nation magazine, sought to explain the radical transformation of the California rural landscape from agriculture to incarceration ("Hell Factories in the Field"), he exercised Hall's basic framework. As one of the leading scholar-activists on this issue, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, explains, "What I find useful in terms of thinking of the Prison Industrial Complex, is that like the Military Industrial Complex, there are all sorts of people and places that are tied in, or want to be tied in, to that complex" (Paglen n.d.). By centering analysis on the set of relations that converge on the political economic, spatial, and cultural site of the prison, "prison industrial complex" is now recognized by many scholars and activists as a more accurate term than "criminal justice system," precisely because it does what Hall and his co-authors proposed in 1978, to move away from a focus on deviant or dangerous acts, and criminal justice policy as an instrumental response to such behaviors, and instead to focus on the complex set of relations "tied in," in Gilmore's words, to "crime."

[3] The trend in critical scholarship on criminality/criminalization/criminal justice has thus been largely concerned with these relations, including the identification of the particular experiences and positionalities of women within this complex. Women themselves (including gay, bisexual, and transgendered) have been leading intellectuals and advocates for prison abolition, demonstrating (once again) the imperative of an intersectional analysis of white supremacy, patriarchy, heterosexism and homophobia, capitalism, and empire (cf. …

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