Noah De Lissovoy


Making Sense of the Punishing State: Neoliberalism, Racism, and Domination 


This paper considers the meaning and logic of the turn to a “punishing state” within the context of neoliberalism, and the hardening it marks in the cultures of law enforcement, education, and public discourse.  The paper first examines two lines of investigation that have been especially productive in their analysis of this conjuncture: The first approach understands the contemporary turn toward punishment primarily in terms of the dynamics and imperatives of capital accumulation, while the second understands the carceral turn in society in terms of the history of biopolitics and its regimes for organizing the order and coherence of society. I argue that these approaches are useful but incomplete, both in objective and subjective terms. In particular, they are false to the persistent excess and overdetermination of repression in the present; in addition, they overlook the importance of accounts elaborated from the standpoint of lived experiences of injury and punishment.  These inadequacies suggest that prevailing political-economic and biopolitical accounts should be enlarged to include a phenomenology of domination itself and its complex dialectics of subjection and resistance.  I argue that this means in the first instance a fuller confrontation with the fact and meaning of racism as the secret determinant of the carceral turn in neoliberal culture, and second, an extrapolation of the lessons learned from this investigation toward both a broader theory of domination as well as a better understanding of the apparent exceptionality of contemporary repressions.