What's Neoliberalism Got to Do with It? Towards a Political Economy of Punishment in Greece

Leonidas Cheliotis, Sappho Xenakis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Translated into Spanish and published as: Cheliotis, L. K. and S. Xenakis (2012) ‘¿Qué tiene que ver el neoliberalismo con esto? Hacia una economía política del castigo en Grecia’, in I. González Sánchez (ed.) Cárcel y gueto: Aproximaciones al trabajo de Loïc Wacquant [Prison and Ghetto: Approaches to the Work of Loïc Wacquant], pp. 365-400. Madrid: Dykinson.

The aim of this article is to put Loïc Wacquant’s neoliberal penality thesis to the test within the Greek context. Although we discover ample compelling evidence of intense and growing punitiveness in contemporary Greece, it turns out that punitive trends anticipated the recent advent of neoliberal policy-making in the country, and indeed have starker precedents throughout the twentieth century. Whilst the former leaves neoliberalism with a limited penal role at most -that of enhancing, as opposed to engendering, the revitalised expansion of imprisonment-, the latter draws attention to the forms and functions of state power characteristic of the capitalist semi-periphery. That neoliberalism bears little pertinence to the Greek case becomes all the more evident when we shift the focus of attention from the penal realm to the history of welfare and economic regulation in the country. True to its semi-peripheral status, Greece has long known both insufficient provision of social welfare -even if related expenditure has undergone an overall upward trend over the last fifty years- and widespread informal flexibility in labour relations. Although neoliberal reforms have been introduced at the policy-making level more recently, they have remained partial in scope, and have been implemented slowly and patchily. In all, then, whilst we support Wacquant’s call for ‘bringing developments in welfare and criminal justice into a single theoretical framework equally attentive to the instrumental and expressive moments of public policy’ (Wacquant, 2009a: 175), we find neoliberalism wanting as an explanation of punitiveness in Greece today. Instead, and to the extent that space allows, we point to the configuration of social, political, and economic tensions and conflicts representative of semi-peripheral societies. Sharing Wacquant’s concern for ‘epistemic reflexivity’, we conclude with some thoughts on the political dangers of the neoliberal penality thesis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)353-73
Number of pages21
JournalCriminology and Criminal Justice
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2010

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