Second-chance Punitivism and the Contractual Governance of Crime and Incivility: New Labour, Old Hobbes

Published: 2008

Mackenzie, S. (2008) Second-chance punitivism and the contractual governance of crime and incivility: New Labour, old Hobbes.Journal of Law and Society, 35 (2). pp. 214-239. ISSN 0263-323X (doi:10.1111/j.1467-6478.2008.00436.x).


The growing application of mechanisms of contractual governance to behaviour that breaches social norms, rather than the criminal law, appears to represent an ethopolitical concern with delinquent self-reform through the activation of technologies of the self. In fact, there is little empirical evidence that the contractual governance of incivility leads to such self-reform. Beneath the ideology of contractual agreement to observe social norms lies what this paper calls a second-chance punitivism which operates to crystallize behavioural elements of the Hobbesian social contract, after breach, into a more specific form. The responsibilizing and individualizing properties of this form of contractual governance set the moral-ideological platform for a retributive punitivism, when the rational agents it creates fail to live up to their image, and are taken to have wasted their second chance.