Thursday Feb 25 Professor Insa Koch

Thursday Feb 25 (5pm Seminar Room)

Taking popular punitivism seriously: towards a political anthropology of neoliberal rule

Professor Insa Koch


This paper explores the empirical paradox of how criminal justice policy in the UK has been driven in an exclusionary direction with, or even because, of popular support. It draws on ethnographic fieldwork from a postindustrial council estate in England where law enforcement officials are frequently relied on interpersonal dispute situations despite widespread levels of mistrust in state authorities. I suggest that popular reliance on “law and order” on the estate is best understood as an attempt on the part of residents to appropriate state officials and institutions into vernacular relations of antagonism. In this process, residents enact an understanding of state-citizen relations that sees the state not as an authority that governs them from ‘above’ but rather as a personal ally in the pursuit of enemies. The analysis extends recent theorizations of the punitive turn by bringing anthropological perspectives on the state in dialogue with criminological scholarship on the neoliberal Leviathan.


Professor Insa Koch has trained as both a lawyer and an anthropologist at the LSE and completed a DPhil at the University of Oxford. She also worked as an LSE Fellow in the department of Anthropology for two years. Her research seeks to bring anthropology into dialogue with criminology, legal theory and socio-legal studies. Insa’s doctoral dissertation offered an ethnographic assessment of state-citizen relations on a council estate in England. This allowed her to explore how vernacular ideas of citizenship, politics, and the law come into conflict with social and legal policy. Insa’s next project is concerned with cuts to legal aid, and its implications for access to justice in the UK.