Is the Empire coming home? Liberalism, exclusion and the punitiveness of the British State

John Michael Moore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The rapid expansion in the use of incarceration and the criminal justice system’s penetration of new areas of private and public life have been linked to the emergence of neoliberalism. This expansion of punitiveness has been portrayed as a reactionary departure from a previously civilising and progressive social history (Pratt, 2002). Rejecting this view this paper reconceptualises the British state to include the colonial as well as the metropole. The first section highlights how the incorporation of colonial experiences into the history of punishment shows the British state has a long history of penal excess. In the second section the links between this colonial history and the ‘new punitiveness’ are investigated and similarities identified. The final section argues that nineteenth century liberalism used exclusionary exceptions to reconcile liberty at home with domination and racism in the colony. The section then explores the resemblances between this classical liberalism and contemporary neoliberalism to show how these play a legitimising role in punitive and exclusionary policies. The paper concludes that the punitiveness currently being deployed at the metropolitan centre should be seen not as a new development but as a continuation of punitive strategies that were tested and developed in the colonized periphery whose subjugated populations’ direct descendants are now among its main targets.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31
Number of pages48
JournalPapers from the British Criminology Conference
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • British State
  • Colonialism
  • Liberalism
  • New punitiveness
  • Neoliberalism.


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