Crime, capitalism and the 'risk society': Towards the same olde modernity?
Theoretical Criminology , Volume 5 - Issue 1 p. 61- 84
The discourses of risk society and 'governmentality' have played a progressively more important role in criminological theorizing. Studies of carceral settings, the public and private police, and examinations of actuarial practices within the criminal justice system have increasingly relied upon risk society theory as an orienting strategy. We offer reservations about the utility of risk theory due to its lack of consideration of the history of probability and the practices of early modern contingency planning. Rather than view risk society as a late modern development that (a) is tied to 19th-century probability science, (b) is forward looking as opposed to retributive and (c) is an apolitical actuaral rationality, we link risk to the techniques, aims and interests of 17th-century English capitalists. By analysing correspondence between the English projectors and thinkers contained in the papers of Samuel Hartlib and his circle, and by examining the works of Sir William Petty on both criminality and risk, we argue that rationalizations of retribution and actuarialism are overlapping and tied to the emergence of capitalism.