Technology and the Ethics of Penality

By Ross Abbinnett.

Published by The Technology Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

My paper is concerned with the ethics of a new kind of technological penality which is beginning to emerge; a penality which is based not upon incarceration, but upon the neutralization of the criminal’s capacity to transgress the law. This new penality has two main aspects: the improvement of the systems of surveillance through which social space is policed, and the use of 'prosthetic' technologies whose purpose is to alter the somatic and neurological constitution of the offender. What is offered by the latter, I will argue, is the fulfilment of Foucault’s account of the control society: the transformation of each individual from an unpredictable point of resistance into a docile and efficient resource. So, given that the deployment of such technologies has a clear utilitarian value (the possibility of killing the deviant desire of the paedophile or the rapist), how might it be possible to determine an ethical approach to their use? I will argue that technological interventions of this kind are not strictly 'ethical': for no matter how forcefully the case for the practical value of neutralizing sex offenders is argued (and perhaps has to be argued), it still remains the case that the question of paedophilia, as a social, historical, cultural and psychoanalytical problem remains to be critically addressed. Ethical responsibility, in other words, cannot be discharged through purely technological interventions; for every time an individual has to be deprived of their right not to be technologically controlled or constrained, this should be conceived as a failure of 'Enlightenment'. It is at this liminal point that I will pose the question of the relationship between the human and the technological, and of an ethics of care which emerges from the presence of the monstrous.

Keywords: Penal Technologies, Human-technology Interface, Control Society, Ethical Responses to Technological Intervention Policing the Subject

The International Journal of Technology, Knowledge and Society, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp.1-6. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 492.526KB).

Dr. Ross Abbinnett

Senior Lecturer, Sociology, University of Birmingham, UK

Ross Abbinnett has taught at Portsmouth and Leeds Metropolitan Universities. He is currently Senior Lecturer in Social and Political Theory at the University of Birmingham. He is the author of Truth and Social Science: From Hegel to Deconstruction (Sage, 1998), Culture and Identity: Critical Theories (Sage, 2003), and Marxism After Modernity: Politics, Technology and Social Transformation (Palgrave, 2006). He has recently completed an extended period of study on the relationship between Marxism and recent French social theory, and his current research is on the politics and philosophy of happiness.

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