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Risk, responsibility and reconfiguration : penal adaptation and misadaptation

McNeil, Fergus and Burns, Nicola and Halliday, Simon and Hutton, Neil and Tata, Cyrus (2009) Risk, responsibility and reconfiguration : penal adaptation and misadaptation. Punishment and Society, 11 (4). pp. 419-442. ISSN 1462-4745

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Abstract

This article draws on the findings of an ethnographic study of social enquiry and sentencing in the Scottish courts. It explores the nature of the practice of social enquiry (that is, of social workers preparing reports to assist sentencers) and explores the extent to which this practice is being reconfigured in line with the recent accounts of penal transformation. In so doing, we problematize and explore what we term the ‘governmentality gap’; meaning, a lacuna in the existing penological scholarship which concerns the contingent relationships between changing governmental rationalities and technologies on the one hand and the construction of penality-in-practice on the other. The findings suggest that although policy discourses have, in many respects, changed in the way that these accounts elucidate and anticipate, evidence of changes in penal discourses and practices is much more partial. Drawing on Bourdieu, we suggest that this may be best understood not as a counter-example to accounts of penal transformation but as evidence of an incompleteness in their analyses which reflects the ‘governmentality gap’ and requires the development of more fully cultural penology drawing on ethnographies of penality.