The Governance of Social Marginality in the Uk: Towards the Centaur State?

By Fletcher, Del Roy | British Journal of Community Justice, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

The Governance of Social Marginality in the Uk: Towards the Centaur State?


Fletcher, Del Roy, British Journal of Community Justice


Abstract

Burgeoning prison populations and the growing use of compulsion in welfare policies across much of the western world has stimulated a great deal of academic discussion. Drawing on U.S experience Wacquant (2009) argues that a 'centaur state' has emerged which involves the 'double regulation of the poor' by the development of workfare and the expansion of the prison system. This article critically discusses the salience of these ideas to the U.K. It draws upon historical analysis to reveal the important continuities with the inter-war period which was also characterised by rising prison populations and the introduction of workfare in the brutalising form of labour camps. It then considers recent attempts to join up welfare and penal policies and finds that these have been frustrated by the behaviour of front-line staff operating in a context of acute resource constraints and growing workloads.

Key words: social marginality; employment; offenders; welfare reform.

Introduction

Burgeoning prison populations and the growing use of compulsion in welfare policies across much of the western world have stimulated a great deal of academic debate. In the UK the prison population stands at record levels and the benefits system has been characterised by growing compulsion. Wilson and Pickett (2010) show that Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries and US states that spend the least on social welfare have the highest rates of imprisonment. Cavadino and Dignan (2006) have linked penal policy with political economy. Neo-liberal states are both more unequal and punitive. They speculate that punishment may be a 'negative reward': societies that are prepared to reward success with higher incomes and greater social status are also more willing to punish failure with both poverty and formal sanctions. Downes and Hansen (2006) have also found that 'penal expansion and welfare contraction' have become more pronounced over the last twenty years. The 'transcarceration' thesis has been advanced in which 'penal and welfare institutions have come to form a single policy regime aimed at the governance of social marginality' (Beckett & Western, 2001, page 55). Furthermore, 'reduced welfare expenditures are not indicative of a shift towards reduced government intervention in social life but rather a shift toward a more exclusionary and punitive approach to the regulation of social marginality' (Beckett & Western, 2001, page 55).

Wacquant (2009) views these developments as paradigmatic of the way neo-liberal Governments deal with growing social insecurity. He argues that a new type of neo-liberal political regime has emerged, the 'centaur state'. According to Wacquant (2009, page 4), the 'centaur state' involves a triple transformation of the state including the 'amputation of its economic arm, the retraction of its social bosom, and the massive expansion of its penal fist'. It is 'guided by a liberal head mounted on an authoritarian body' (Wacquant, 2009, page 43). The result has been the 'double regulation of the poor' that involves, on the one hand, the decline of the Keynesian welfare state and its replacement with a workfare state, and on the other hand, the criminalisation of the poor and the expansion of the prison system. The centaur analogy was first used by Machiavelli (and subsequently by Gramsci) to refer to the diversity of strategies of rule deployed by the state towards various social classes combining a mixture of coercion and consent (Squires and Lea, 2012). For Wacquant it refers to a neo-liberal state that retains strategies of consent towards corporations and the upper classes but is authoritarian and coercive towards the poorest.

The 'centaur state' is predicated on the notion that there has been an historical rupture in the approach taken to social marginality. Wacquant (2009) argues that this shift began in the mid-1970s and has prevailed through a neo-liberal hegemony. …

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