Amy Masson


In analysing carceral logics in the context of the ‘unholy alliance’ of neoliberal and neoconservative hegemony, this paper seeks to acknowledge the central place of a distinctly moralistic, authoritarian neoconservative philosophy implicated in the crime control agenda. Thus, it is contended that carceral politics are in fact produced by a fusion of neoliberal and neoconservative ideas. Anti-carceral feminists argue that ‘carceral feminism’ has been co-opted by neoliberalism but fails to recognise and name these neoconservative forces, collapsing them into a confused conceptualisation of neoliberalism, lacking in theoretical clarity. In doing so, they do not see the spaces where their own politics risk appropriation by neoliberal principles.

Dichotomies between neoliberalism and neoconservatism serve to produce a politics of backlash. Hence, by distancing themselves from the neoconservative forces of punitive state retribution embedded within carceral feminism, anti-carceral feminists unwittingly mobilise concepts central to neoliberal rationality. The anti-carceral position reflects a state-sceptical agenda, mirrored in the neoliberal turn to privatisation hastened in austerity, and reliant upon voluntarism in the community. This itself is dependent on a valorisation of the community, and a correspondent minimisation of its punitive drives. An erasure of nuance in the debate is indicative of the polarised backlash climate, whereby anti-carceral feminists are, understandably, keen not to give ground to the forces of the carceral state. Ironically, this approach may risk the very process anti-carceral feminists seek to avoid co-option by neoliberalism.

The dominance of austerity politics, particularly following the 2008 recession, provides fertile ground for the convergence of privatisation policies. Progressive movements are unlikely to win tangible gains unless they promote a broader set of political interests. As such anti-carceral feminism could be viewed as providing a timely opportunity for states looking to cut public spending whilst simultaneously answering bi-partisan calls for criminal justice reform. The discussion focuses primarily on literature from the USA - however due to similarities in their political contexts pertinent examples from the UK are used where relevant, specifically in relation to voluntarism and austerity.

Author Biography

Amy Masson completed a BA in Politics and Philosophy at the University of Sheffield in 2012, and then served as the elected sabbatical Women’s Officer at Sheffield Students’ Union. She has since undertaken a variety of frontline advocacy roles across the health and third sectors, supporting sex workers, young parents and criminally/sexually exploited young women. Most recently she completed an MA in Gender Studies at the University of Sussex and was awarded the Sociology Prize for her performance.