Neo-colonial penality? Travelling penal power and contingent sovereignty

Dr. Eva Magdalena Stambøl, University of Oslo


The article explores the relevance of neo-colonial theory for criminology, and its contribution to understanding why and how penal policy and models travel from the global North to the global South.

An empirical example is employed to review arguments for and against ‘penal neo-colonialism’ and to tease out the theory’s strengths and limitations; namely the European Union’s ‘penal aid’ to shape West African countries’ penal policies and practices to stop illicit flows and irregular mobility to Europe.

The article further discusses neo-colonial theory’s concepts of agency, power and sovereignty by comparing them to similar poststructuralist perspectives on the ‘contingent sovereignty’ of ‘governance states’. Moreover, by drawing on a theoretical discussion on statehood in African studies, it looks at how the sovereignty of African states has been conceptualized as hollowed out ‘from above’ as well as ‘from below’. In doing so, the article contributes to a recent criminological debate that has problematized the relationship between (travelling) penal power and state sovereignty.

You can read the article published in Punishment & Society, (2021) 23(4), 536–556 here:

The Social Analysis of Penality across Boundaries as a joint initiative of the Scottish Centre of Crime and Justice Research (Scotland) and the Crime and Society Programs of the National University of Litoral (Argentina).