The Organised Nature of Power: On Productive and Repressive Interventions Based on Considerations of Risk

Kriminologiska institutionens avhandlingsserie nr. 21, 2007.

Abstract: Four interventions are analysed: the activity guarantee for long term unemployed, the customs control of border crossers, the cognitive skills training program and the conditions of incarceration among prison inmates. The interventions are performed by state organisations, based on considerations of risk and involve the exercise of power in a productive or repressive form. The study therefore raises conceptual issues concerning the nature of the power being exercised, its organisational embeddedness, and the role of the state.

I argue that the way power is usually conceptualised within the Foucauldian tradition must be modified. The emphasis on “technologies of the self” must replaced by a more complex notion of productive power, which covers interventions that appeal to desires while imposing objectives and governing both at a distance and at close range. The legal paradigm of repressive power, according to which the use of force proceeds from the law and presupposes decision-making, is also questioned in an account that considers the organising role of norms and techniques that circumvent agency.

The organisational embeddedness of both productive and repressive power is elaborated using two concepts: strategies and risk. The deployment of interventions is understood as a strategy, with a specific language of risk connecting the stages of setting the target, targeting and staying on target.

The analysis of power is essentially Foucauldian. But it is supplemented and made compatible with Marxist state theory. On this reading, the nature of the capitalist state is such that all its repressive use of power is separate from the process of capital accumulation whereas some of its productive use of power is integral to this process. Particular attention is paid to the ways in which discipline produces wage labour, thereby challenging basic assumptions both of Marxist theories on penality and Foucauldian theories on governmentality.