Neoliberal Capitalism and Middle-Class Punitiveness: Bringing Erich Fromm’s "Materialistic Psychoanalysis" to Penology

Leonidas Cheliotis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Why is it that imprisonment has undergone an explosive growth in the USA and Britain over the last three decades against the background of falling crime rates in both countries? And why has this development met with a significant and escalating degree of support among the public? To the extent that governing elites on either side of the Atlantic have been eliciting public support for their authority by inducing concerns about issues of crime and punishment, what explains the selection of crime as a means to this effect, and in what precise ways do crime and punishment fulfil their hidden political function? Moreover, how do Americans and Britons legitimate their consent to objectively irrational policies and the elites responsible for their formulation? In seeking to advance the study of these questions, the present article rediscovers the method and key findings of Erich Fromm’s ‘materialistic psychoanalysis’, bringing them to bear upon insights produced by political economies of contemporary punishment and related scholarship. Particular attention is paid to the hitherto understudied themes of the political production of middle-class support for punitive penal policies under conditions of neoliberal capitalism, and the crucial role played in this process by the privileged position accorded to violent street crime in the public domain.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)247-73
JournalPunishment and Society: The International Journal of Penology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2013


  • Erich Fromm
  • neoliberal capitalism
  • policial economy of punishment
  • psychosocial criminology
  • state and middle-class punitiveness
  • violent street crime


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