Governmentality and the ‘Law and Order Society’

I posted a version of the below to the Foucault list this morning as I have reached another aporia in my ‘thesis thinking’. I thought I’d post a version up here, too. Maybe one of my regular readers (or some random) will be able to point me in the direction of some related work. 🙂

My specific problem is that I have been dealing with what in Australia we call ‘hoons’ (in the UK and NZ they are called ‘boy racers’ in the US it is sometimes the more traditional ‘hot rodder’). Basically the ‘hoon’ is an iconic cultural figure: a loud and aggressive young man, driving a loud and aggressive car in a loud and aggressive way (often playing loud and aggressive music on a booming car stereo;). Anyway, the problem is that I can see there is a shift across three phases in the power relations from the ‘normative’ governance of the system of automobility (ala Jeremy Packer’s essay on road safety) through general anxieties about the ‘at risk’ group labelled ‘young drivers’ to the moral panics that have recently emerged in Australia around this figure of the hoon.

What I am interested in finding out is if anyone on the list had come across any work that attempts to reconcile a Foucaultian governmentality methodology with traditional moral panic theory. My problem is in the way power relations operate differently in the two situations. I have been thinking Agamben’s work on the state of exception may be a useful way to think about how moral panics are the expression of a kind of localised state of exception within the institutionalised cultural formations of a given society. By ‘localised state of exception’ I mean organised around a particular social problem and discursively constructed around a necessarily problematic figure, such as the hoon. This would be thinking about folk devils as some way equivalent to Agamben’s conception of homo sacer, and, well, generally offering a specific (but I think productive) misreading of Agamben. These things can be worked around. However it becomes very problematic when Agamben and Foucault’s respective approaches are thought alongside the neo-Gramscian approaches of the British cultural studies tradition, specifically the work of Hall and others on the ‘Exceptional State’ and the ‘Law and Order Society’.

Hmmm, I may just leave it as an unresolved, but productive tension in my thesis. But if someone has come across some work or has some thoughts on how to think through this tension I would love to discuss it with them.

9 replies on “Governmentality and the ‘Law and Order Society’”

  1. Hi Glen … have you looked at the last chapter of Nikolas Rose’s _Powers of Freedom_ on ‘control’? Maybe (though not as directly applicable) Rosi Braidotti’s chapter “Meta(l)morphoses: the Becoming-Machine” in her _Metamorphoses: Towards a Materialist Theory of Becoming_, or at least it has a nice little section on Kenneth Anger’s ‘Kustom Kar Kommando’ doc and Ballard’s ‘Crash’ and also touches on Agamben’s zoe and bios and boys’ toys etc … of course, your main problem is likely that power in CS is not quite power as in Foucault (and, well, Deleuze will sub-divide power as ‘pouvoir’ and ‘puissance’ and didn’t like Foucault on power much at all) and Agamben’s ‘potentia’ is closer, in many ways, to Heidegger than, say, the Spinozist savage anomalies of Hardt/Negri

  2. hi greg, i read the rose via, and it looks like a very good start for the sorts of discussion i want to have in my thesis. his axis is the welfare-to-workfare state and enabling the socioeconomic Other to the neoliberal drive for productivity or something like that;). my society wide axis will be mobility and how the governmental, first, enables ‘dividual’ mobility by creating automobilised subjects; secondly, creates ‘at risk’ groups to in an effort to govern automobilised conduct; third, attempts to deal with those who take up the system of automobility as explicitly social… I am going to have to hunt down Rosi Braidotti’s work. I have been meaning to read some of her stuff for ages, but haven’t got round to it.

  3. to actually experience the hoon deathwish, simply be in the streets on Phillip Island during the Motorcycle Grand Prix in October.
    the streetscene is infinitely more compelling than the official race.
    smoke burning rubber noise crowds and intense proximity to hot metal. there were police there somewhere, but well out of it. the streets were blocked to car traffic. it was amazing. and frightening to think than the proponents actually Vote and might Breed.
    My research on Vehicles As Coffins, comprises keeping a copy of The Australian Weekend Magazine which has a photo feature on the Bathurst races and the cover photo is hoons joyously riding the hood of a speeding car.

  4. Saw your post months ago on Foucault-L, but never got around to replying to it. Came by your blog today via Jon’s. Generally, you won’t find anyone who “does Foucault” who subscribes to or finds “moral panics” convincing. That’s not to say that these people aren’t out there, but the association between Foucault and moral panics is mostly marginal.

    The term that is used — and it reflects a real difference — is “moral regulation” developed primarily (but not exclusively) but Alan Hunt and adapted from Philip Corrigan and Derek Sayer. Part of the point of this turn to “moral regulation” is that “moral panic” psychologizes the event (a panic is a matter of psychology) while “moral regulation” does not. By referring to “regulation” it is possible to relate morality — and its regulation — to the normal functioning of the social. A moral panic displaces the normal functioning of the social and, after a while, we all figure out we were acting irrationally and start acting normally again. And, maybe, we are little ashamed of what we did; maybe not. Not particularly Foucauldian, obviously.

    The other point of “moral regulation” is that it can also act a critique of more mainstream Anglo-Foucauldian work (i.e., Rose’s governmentality school). Governmentality, somehow, misses the point completely on Foucault and totally forgets that resistance is primary to power arguing instead that, “Well, power… err… government… err… whatever always fails. That’s kind of like resistance. Let’s continue with our ideal types.” They give more weight to Deleuze’s misreading of Foucault (i.e., “The Postscript on Control Societies”) without really understanding Deleuze. (That book on Deleuze and Marx was written under Rose’s supervision, IIRC.)

    Anyway, a partial bibliography to get you started on the question. More if you are interested.

    Corrigan, P. (1990) “On moral regulation: Some preliminary remarks” Social forms/Human capacities. New York: Routledge.

    Corrigan, P. and D. Sayer (1985) The Great Arch: English State Formation as Revolution. Oxford: Blackwell.

    Curtis, B. (1997) “Reworking moral regulation: metaphorical capital and the field of disinterest” Canadian Journal of Sociology 22:303-18.

    Dean, M. (1994) “‘A social structure of many souls’: Moral regulation, government, and self-formation” Canadian Journal of Sociology 19:145-68.

    Hunt, A. (1995) “Moralizing luxury: The discourses of the governance of consumption” Journal of Historical Sociology 8:352-74.

    Hunt, A. (1996) “The governance of consumption: Sumptuary laws and shifting forms of regulation” Economy and Society 25:410-27.

    Hunt, A. (1999) Governing morals: A social history of moral regulation. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

    Hunt, A. and G. Wickham (1994) Foucault and law: Towards a sociology of law as governance. London: Pluto Press.

    Valverde, M. (1994) “Moral capital”, Canadian Journal of Law and Society 9:213-32.

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