Narratives of Punishment: Neoliberalism, Class Interests and the Politics of Social Exclusion
7(2) European Journal of Homelessness 363-369, 2013
7 Pages Posted: 9 Jul 2014 Last revised: 15 Jul 2014
Date Written: 2013
This is a response piece to Eoin O'Sullivan's article "Varieties of Punitiveness in Europe: Homeless and Urban Marginality" in which O'Sullivan challenges the grand narrative according to which the punitive turn in Europe can be explained by reference to neoliberal policies originating from the United States or to socio-economic and cultural changes associated with late modernity. Instead, O'Sullivan suggests that we should rather speak of varieties of punitiveness based on “distinctive cultural, historical, constitutional and political conditions” in Europe (p. 75) and that the adoption of punitive measures developed alongside more inclusionary measures adopted by a majority of EU member States relying on relatively generous social democratic welfare regimes. While I agree with most of O'Sullivan's analysis, I make two arguments in response. First, although neoliberalism and theories such as broken windows cannot directly explain the creation and enforcement of punitive measures, they certainly have been used as legitimating discourses to justify existing repressive practices worldwide. Moreover, structural constructivits explanations to the management of homelessness and urban marginality remain useful to build local relationships and see how they interact with global narratives. Second, we should acknowledge the existence of relief programmes and public welfare policies historically and in the modern era, but we should also remember that they are often neutralized by counterproductive punitive strategies.The tensions and ambivalence between inclusiveness and exclusiveness may be explained by reference to the distinction between the deserving and underserving poor.
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