Personalizing the State: An Anthropology of Law, Politics, and Welfare in Austerity Britain (OUP, 2018) (Clarendon Studies in Criminology)
Liberal democracy appears in crisis. From the rise of law and order and ever tougher forms of means-testing under austerity politics to the outcome of Britains referendum on leaving the EU, commentators have rushed to explain the current conjuncture. Starting with dominant theories that have seen these developments as indicative of a rise in penal populism or popular authoritarianism, Personalizing the State revisits one of the central paradoxes of our times: the illiberal turn that liberal democracy has taken.
This book goes to where much of the commentary has stopped short: to the lived experiences of citizens who inhabit some of Britains most stigmatized urban neighborhoods, namely its council estates that were once built to house the working classes. Drawing on long-term ethnographic fieldwork, it moves the question from why liberal democracy has taken a punitive turn to the how and the what: to how citizens experience democracy in the first place and what grassroots understandings of politics and care they bring to their encounters with the state.
Personalizing the State challenges dominant narratives of exceptionalism that have portrayed the people as a threat to the democratic order. It reveals the murky, sometimes contradictory desires for a personalized state that cannot easily be collapsed with popular support for authoritarian interventions. These popular forms of engagement reflect, in turn, a longer history of state control exercised against working-class people. Above all, the book exposes the states disavowal of its political and moral responsibilities at a time when mechanisms for collectivizing redistributive demands have been silenced.
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