This article sets out to analyse how theory and discourse have impacted on a large
and established criminal justice institution. The probation service in England and
Wales has historically been the most liberal arm of the criminal justice apparatus.
Empirically, it is no less effective – although not significantly more so – than any
other criminal justice organization.1 However, the probation service has, to date,
borne the brunt of New Labour’s mission to modernize.
In an attempt to make sense of often competing epistemological or ontological
assumptions associated with crime, gender, power and knowledge – all of which
are relevant to this article – it is acknowledged that there are no theory neutral
facts (Bottoms, 2000); that organizations are gendered; and of the ongoing power
of the male discourse. The approach adopted in this analysis uses a range of
theoretical standpoints in an attempt to reach a better understanding of recent
changes within the probation service (although it should not be forgotten that even
in taking a wide-ranging approach gaps and omissions still remain). The approach
then is to try and synthesize theory:
It would . . . seem appropriate to seek to synthesise the valuable findings and
insights of various scholars, even those of very different disciplinary backgrounds,
or of different political persuasions from our own. As Anthony Giddens (1984: xxii)
puts it, if ideas or data seem ‘important and illuminating, what matters much more
than their origin is to be able to sharpen them so as to demonstrate their
usefulness, even if within a framework which might be quite different from that
which helped to engender them’. (Bottoms, 1993: 59)
Layder (1998) defines this as ‘adaptive theory’ and uses the metaphor of scaffolding
to describe it. There is a pre-existing theoretical scaffold, which has a relatively
durable form and adapts ‘reflexively’ rather than automatically to new
thinking and research. This scaffold should not be regarded as immutable; it is
capable of accommodating new information and interpretations by reconfiguring
itself. This article therefore attempts to synthesize and adapt existing theoretical
writings in order to gain a better understanding of how power, knowledge and
discourse can ultimately bring about the end of an organization’s ethos, approach
The article is set out in several sections. First, ‘Correcting the correctors’ discusses
crime as a social phenomenon; how the probation service has been put in the
curious situation of being both ‘surveiller’ and ‘the surveilled’; that the probation
service had to change in order to meet the new requirements of surveillance, and
that in this transformation, the traditional probation approach has been abandoned
and new concepts of punishment, enforcement and discipline embraced.
The section on ‘Recent history’ looks at how the probation service has adapted
over the last 10 to 20 years to changes in policy, procedures and practice. ‘Understanding
discourses: Deconstructing meanings’ turns to the meaning of ‘modern’
and the continuing demand by central Government to modernize. This section
looks at the power of language, and knowledge as ‘language games’ of cooption
and annihilation. The section on ‘Feminist poststructuralism and the correctional
service’ builds on the preceding sections and brings in feminist poststructuralist
theory to develop our understanding of gendered organizations, gendered
language and gendered power. The ‘language games’ of cooption and annihilation
are not free of this gender dynamic and the changes which have occurred
within the probation service can be seen as co-opting staff into the male punishment
discourse, annihilating the previous, welfarist approach. The final section
‘Technologies of the self’ looks at how these changes within the probation service
have required individuals to refashion themselves to meet the organizational
requirements made of them as surveiller and surveilled, and how change, even
as radical as that experienced by the probation service, may be considered or
experienced as natural or self-defined.
Correcting the correctors
The Probation Service, possibly because it has been perceived as the most liberal
of the criminal justice organizations, has escaped the degree of critical attention
given to the courts, police and prison service. Some, such as Foucault and Garland,
have included the operations of the probation service within the breadth of their
writings on ‘the practice of the power to punish’ and the ‘penal–welfare complex’
(Foucault, 1991 ; Garland, 1985). The probation service for England and
Wales has evaded some of the depth and breadth of academic analysis one would
expect of an organization which employs nearly 19,000 staff and deals with
190,000 offenders a year (National Probation Service website, 2005). This is not
to suggest that the probation service has not been adequately analysed; a number
of commentators have focused on its workings (Harding, J., 2003; McWilliams,
1987; Mair and May, 1997; Nellis, 1999, 2000; Rumgay and Cowan, 1998;
Newman and Nutley, 2003; Raynor, 2003). However, considering the important
role the probation service plays in working with offenders it has not attracted the
level of academic, or indeed popular attention, of the police or prison services.
Any analysis of the probation service needs to be within the understanding that
the instruments and organizations of penality are not wholly about reducing crime
but are social phenomena that have multiple purposes. ‘Crime’, as a concept, is
not simply descriptive of certain kinds of human behaviour. Rather, by defining a
given behaviour as ‘criminal’, a society attaches to that behaviour an important
element of censure. Acts that are censured in this way can and do vary from society
to society, and in any one society over time. Crime is ultimately a normative
category (Bottoms, 2000). Although legal punishment is carried out to punish
offences, the definition of the offence, their prosecution and punishment is culturally,
socially and historically defined. Furthermore, studies on the operations of
any of the criminal justice organizations are studies of the socially excluded
(Braithwaite, 2003; Rusche and Kirchheimer, 1969). As one of the main agencies
of surveillance and control – of what Foucault termed the ‘normalizing gaze’ – the
probation service has played a central role. Whereas imprisonment physically
removes offenders from society, the probation service must keep ‘us’ safe from
those ‘others’ within our midst. Yet at the same time the probation service is itself
the object of multiple gazes. Foucault’s assertion (1991 ) that examination
is a form of control has particular resonance. Recent changes within the probation
service have heralded increased surveillance and control over the work of
probation staff. Targets have been set, evaluations required, cost-benefit analyses
undertaken, new entry arrangements and management structures put in place;
new organizational discourses have emerged. As these discourses have developed
they themselves have impacted upon the probation service until the pluri-paradigms
(Hassard 2002) of punishment, risk management, public protection and offender
management ushered in such conceptual and ethical changes that the current
organization and structure of the probation service is no longer tenable. Foucault
(1991 ) wrote of the ‘theoretical disavowal’ which claimed not a desire to
punish but to cure and improve; of the ‘shame in punishing’; and, that ‘it is ugly
to be punishable, but there is no glory in punishing’ (p. 10). Our own current
historical specificity is one in which punishment, enforcement and instilling discipline
are no longer the shameful or ugly constructs they once were. Instead, as
changes in the probation service have occurred, punishment and enforcement
have become explicitly what the probation service does.
By looking to the recent history and the language associated with the probation
service, we can start to disentangle how these changes in its ethos and practice
came to pass. The differences between competing views of justice within legal
discourses are articulated in language and in the material organization of state
institutions that control the meaning of justice, punishment and rehabilitation
(Weedon, 1997). During the 1990s the probation service was disparaged for
being soft on crime. Internally, it was struggling to come to terms with its own
complexity and to find a language adequate to the penal challenges it faced
(Nellis, 1999). The social work origins of the service were challenged until in 1995
training was taken out of the Diploma in Social Work and more vocational opportunities
for ‘on the job’ training were offered (Nellis, 2000; Rumgay and Cowan,
1998). The intention of the Review of Probation Officers Recruitment and Qualifying
Training (Home Office, 1995) was clear – a new type of probation officer
was needed if the public were to feel protected from offenders. The majority of
probation service recruits were young, female graduates, and this appeared to be
a problem. In order to foster a feeling of protection for the public a tougher, more
controlling approach to probation was required. Men with armed forces experience
were seen to have the right kind of skills and mindset and were encouraged
to apply (Nellis, 2000; Newman and Nutley, 2003). Even if this was not to be
borne out in reality, the message was clear.
The landscape of penality had changed throughout the 1980s and 1990s as
the prison population grew, populist criminal justice rhetoric was employed in both
the media and parliament and high profile cases left their mark.
the various policy changes and events between 1989 and 2003 against the prison
population (Home Office, 2003a).2 The prison population has reached an all time
high and England and Wales now take pole position in the European imprisonment
The Prison Works speech by then-Home Secretary Michael Howard coincided
with the murder of Jamie Bulger by two 10-year-old boys. Public protection was
to become central to a number of criminal justice related discourses. It was not
long before the ethos and language of rehabilitation, which had once been the
foundation of the work of the probation service, was to sound and become
obsolete. This focus upon public protection has had a significant impact upon the
probation service and its structure and organization (Nellis, 2000). The probation
service had to become more ‘correcting’ and controlling. Control was also exerted
upon the probation service through National Standards for monitoring, quality
assurance and validation of the work of probation practitioners. Evaluations of
various programmes managed by the probation service were undertaken. These
frequently included control samples and the use of psychometric testing such as
the Crime-Pics II assessment tool that ‘measures’ changes in offenders’ attitudes
to crime. Structured, standardized and accredited group work programmes became
the new intervention because:
Research shows that the main causes for why people continue to commit crime are
weak problem solving skills, poor decision making skills, weak personal control
and poor social skills. (Thames Valley Probation Service, 2005)
Cost savings were required by the probation service and cost benefit analyses were
often included as part of evaluation research on the probation service. Workloads
increased for probation staff as their role shifted from service provider towards
The public protection discourse provides prisons with a central place within the
criminal justice system. The features of imprisonment – regulation, control, monitoring
and surveillance – have gained supremacy across all criminal justice
agencies and have required radical changes that have been both surreptitious and
wholesale. These changes have resulted in the ‘new politics of law and order’, not
only of mass imprisonment but also on-the-spot fines, electronic tagging, zero
tolerance, pervasive CCTV surveillance, and paedophile registers (Garland,
2001). There is a need of ‘seeing to be done’ through breach proceedings, returns
to courts and possible imprisonment for failure to comply with community orders.
Form and appearance have become all (Schofield, 1999). The organizational
requirements of case management and enforcement have become a priority as
this new ‘knowledge’ has been created.
The justifications for reorganization have included failures of the past, increased
efficiency, centralization and regionalization, and have been wrapped up in the
public protection, risk management discourse. The very newness of the National
Probation Directorate, tautologically, became the reason for ongoing reorganizations.
The review of all ‘correctional’ services by millionaire businessman and
government trouble-shooter Patrick Carter concluded the paradigm shift and
organizational changes started with the Review of Probation Officers Recruitment
and Qualifying Training (Home Office, 1995), which were accelerated in 1999
when Joining Forces to Protect the Public (Home Office, 1999) was published.
Managing Offenders, Reducing Crime (Carter, 2003) suggested the setting up of
the National Offender Management Service and finally made explicit and apparently
inevitable, the long touted restructuring of the probation and prison services:
Prison and probation need to be focused on the management of offenders
throughout the whole of their sentence, driven by information on what works to
reduce re-offending. Effectiveness and value for money can be further improved
through greater use of competition from private and voluntary providers. (Carter,
In 1998 Judith Rumgay and Sharon Cowan wrote of the fierce resistance probation
officers had made to any shift of focus from the supervision of clients onto enforcement,
and that: ‘the probation officer as case manager has yet to emerge in the
flesh from the shadows of policy’ (p.135). However, it has not been long for such
a transition to be realized. Reducing the discretion of probation officers has been
a necessary prerequisite in achieving strategic agency and the formation of a new
correctional service. Behind a façade of effectiveness, equity and even humanity
we can detect distinct concentrations of power and knowledge (Clegg, 1998).
Within the probation service the ongoing push for the ever greater effectiveness
promised by the ‘what works’ agenda can be viewed instead as having created a
seismic shift in the knowledge base of the probation service from social work principles
and offender focus, to enforcement and offence focus:
What passes for ‘ordinary work’ in professional-bureaucratic settings is a thickly
layered texture of political struggles concerning power and authority, cultural
negotiations over identities, and social constructions of the ‘problems’ at hand.
(Forester, 2003: 45)
Understanding discourses: Deconstructing meanings
Analysing language has been a key feature of much postmodern and poststructuralist
work. It has been described as:
An analytical strategy that exposes, in a systematic way, multiple ways a text can
be interpreted. Deconstruction is able to reveal ideological assumptions in a way
that is particularly sensitive to the suppressed interests of members of
disempowered, marginalized groups. (Martin, 1990: 340)
Deconstruction of the language that surrounds the probation service provides a
valuable insight into concentrations of power, knowledge production and the
creation of new meanings. The two key chapters in Joining Forces to Protect the
Public (1999) are ‘A Modern Probation Service’ and ‘A Modern Prison Service’. In
the chapter on the probation service the term ‘modern’ is used three times more
than in any other chapter.3 Judith Butler’s contention that ‘if conditions of power
are to persist, they must be reiterated; the subject is precisely the site of such reiteration’
(cited in Mills, 2003: 261) is particularly convincing in this instance. In
order for government to ensure compliance to its modernization endeavour there
has been a reiteration of what is required. For the probation service (as with many
other public services) encouragement to modernize is the exercise of power.
However, exhorted by the constant call for change – to become part of the
modernizing project – the probation service has instead been exhausted by it.
Changes in the discourses and language of punishment have opened up and
altered the probation service. A new approach to punishment has developed.
Webs of practices, discourses, and institutions have been adopted, imitated, and
transformed to the point that they have become knowledge and common-sense
(Calas and Smircich, 1999). This has included the adoption of a new evidence
base, a new way of producing knowledge best known as ‘what works’. All previous
knowledge is swept away; new, scientifically rigorous, cost effective, activities which
work is the new knowledge; and within this knowledge is an entanglement of
power relations. One of the strongest messages of the modernization agenda
implemented by the Government is of change as positive, inevitable and progressive
(McKendall, 1993). The unveiling of the modernizing endeavour of ‘what
works’ in offender management requires rationalism, evidence, classification,
normalization, efficiency and measure. A veneer of managerialism and scientific
legitimacy has been constructed for ‘offender management’. This has been
referred to as the intensification of modernism (Nellis, 1999). The inevitable
conclusion of the ‘what works’ agenda is that the new correctional service will see
and know everything about offending, and about ‘correcting’. Never again would
a head of Home Office Criminal Research be able to say: ‘Criminal research . . .
has been a failure’ (Garland, 2001: 131). The concept of actuarial justice (Feeley
and Simon, 1994) which is based on the hope that efficiency, management and
cost-effectiveness will depoliticize criminal justice debates, focusing less on individual
offenders and shifting towards standardized, packaged responses that can
apply a technique or strategy to groups of offenders to deal with their ‘criminality’
has been realized.
The National Probation Service has only been in existence since April 2001.
Part of the rationale for this restructuring and the appointment of a National
Director had been to allow for it to be represented by ‘one voice’ (Nellis, 2000).
One possible interpretation of the ‘one voice’ is that it was an attempt at minimizing
voices other than the politically appointed one of the National Director. In
powerful discourses, knowledge production, its ownership and delivery (or not) is
paramount. Knowledge can be considered as ‘language games’ for as long as
these games are played with the intention of annihilation or cooption (Calas and
Smircich, 1999). For the National Probation Service it appears that the language
games of corrections, punishment, public protection and risk management have
brought about both its annihilation and cooption. This may appear a bizarre
conundrum – how can something that has been annihilated be coopted?
Let us turn to the latest chapter in the history of the probation service: Managing
Offenders, Reducing Crime (Carter, 2003). This was a review of ‘correctional
services in England and Wales’ at a time when few people collapsed the prison
and probation services into one apparently monolithic correctional structure. It had
been argued that: ‘even without merger the fusion of prison and probation
cultures remains, probably, the greatest threat to the service’ (Nellis, 1999: 311);
and that the ‘inherent tendency of prisons to be damaging places’ (Dunbar and
Langdon, 1998) has been forgotten as prison and probation services become part
of the same organizational structure to offer ‘seamless sentencing’. This places
imprisonment as the norm and not the unusual. Resettlement back into the
community following imprisonment, a removal from society, family and friends,
work and home, is now to be achieved ‘seamlessly’ (Home Office, 2001). The
separation and isolation of imprisonment is minimized. It is not seen as relevant
that prison regimes are impoverished and damaging, assaults common, and
opportunities for purposeful activity such as education and training, visits and sport
limited. In 2002–2003 the highest ever number of suicides in prisons in England
and Wales was recorded (Solomon, 2003). By placing prisons at the centre of the
criminal justice system the organizational culture of the probation service has been
challenged, defeated and finally annihilated. The demise of the probation service
occurred in the very instance in which the creation of a correctional service, the
National Offender Management Service, was agreed.
Feminist poststructuralism and the correctional service
Through using adaptive theory to synthesize and adapt existing theories we can
try to gain a better understanding of how power, knowledge and discourse impact
upon an organization. By adopting a deconstructionist approach, we can begin
to understand how power and knowledge not only shape change, but are precursors
to it. If context is given rather than made then the question of language in
the constitution of knowledge is relevant. Language constitutes social reality. Poststructuralist
theories offer a set of theoretical tools that can help our (social,
cultural, historic) understanding of power relations in relation to class, gender and
race. Although the most powerful discourses in our society, such as the law, have
firm institutional bases, these institutional locations are themselves sites of contest,
and the dominant discourses of social institutions undergo constant change. In
any society, one set of legal discourses will be dominant reflecting particular values
and class, gender and racial interests (Weedon, 1997). In relation to the new
correctional paradigm, gender, and the reification of the masculine, has been
evident. How the dominant justice discourse intersects and interacts with gender
interests provides a useful area for analysis.
Despite the fact that the most significant feature associated with crime is gender
(Cain, 1990; Carlen, 1992; Messerschmidt, 1986; Newburn and Stanko, 1994;
Walklate, 1995), masculinity continually fails to be problematized within any of
the key criminal justice organizations. The male offender is the ‘norm’ from which
the female offender diverges:
Sex status is of greater statistical significance in differentiating criminals from
non-criminals than any other trait. If you were asked to use a single trait to predict
which children in a town of 10,000 people would become criminals, you would
make fewer mistakes if you chose sex status as the trait and predicted criminality for
the males and non-criminality for the females. (Sutherland and Cressey, 1978: 89)
In relation to those who work within criminal justice agencies, women make up
32 per cent of prison service staff; 21 per cent of police staff and 19 per cent of
the judiciary (Dept for Constitutional Affairs, 2005; HM Prison Service, 2005;
Smith et al., 2002). However, the number of female probation officers was 59 per
cent by the end of 2001. For senior grades, women held 30 per cent of senior
posts in 1991, but 46 per cent by the end of 2001. The number of female Chief
Probation Officers has increased from 8 per cent in 1991 to 18 per cent in 2000.
Within this timeframe, therefore, the number of female Chief Probation Officers
rose from 15 to 43 per cent (Home Office, 2002). Concerns regarding women,
employment, career opportunities and the ubiquitous glass ceiling are therefore
less likely to be found within the probation service. Indeed, a woman held the post
of Director General of the National Probation Service until 2004. The more
straightforward essentialist gender analysis offered in many other organizations,
of men in the majority, especially in the more senior posts, and of endemic, structural
gender inequality is less relevant here. But to deny the gendered nature of
this, or any other organization, would be a mistake. Organizational structure is
fundamentally gendered (McCorkel, 2003). Discipline and control is organized
according to highly gendered sets of expectations regarding the ‘best’ way to deal
with offending. The practice of punishment and surveillance is organized within a
wider field of social relations (Foucault, 1991 ) which are themselves
gendered concepts. If we look beyond the statistics, and towards the language of
corrections and the social phenomena of penality, the power of the discourse of
hegemonic masculinity can be located. Masculinity is implicit in the construction
of the correctional service in that it will be rational, targeted, evaluated, controlling
and rigid. It will act as ‘our’ protector and embrace the punishment ethic –
no longer afraid to be the punisher. Punishment becomes our protection.
In the demise of the probation service and the rise of a correctional service we
are witnessing the masculinization of an organization. Although it is a challenge
to remove our understanding of ‘men’ and ‘women’ from the terms masculine
and feminine it is a necessary prerequisite as we consider the reification of the
masculine in the new punishment ethic. The panopticon as the arch-metaphor of
modern power must be infused with an understanding of the power of the male
discourse (Bauman, 2000). Let us turn, for example to the ‘what works’ agenda
and the creation of ‘positive knowledge’ which swept away all that was understood
from the past (Calas and Smircich, 1999) through the use of new managerial
technologies whose aim is to render offenders knowable, calculable and
comparable (McKinlay and Starkey, 1998).
This valuing of the masculine, however, cannot be simply reconstructed into a
valuing of the feminine as this simply reinforces gendered stereotypes (Martin,
2003). Masculinity and femininity are socially constructed. The feminine is nurturing,
empathetic, sympathetic, cooperative, emotional and passive – and evokes
the traditional probation service as service provider, trained within the social work
ethic. The masculine is decisive, competitive, rational, effective, firm and active –
and evokes the new probation service as offender management, keen to discipline,
enforce, measure (Connell, 1987). ‘What works’ has produced a change in the
knowledge pool upon which professional practice had been based (Newman and
Nutley, 2003). Such shifts in professional knowledge and social relationships
shook the pre-existing professional and organizational identities of the probation
service and finally eroded its professional boundaries. The ‘what works’ discourse
is symbiotic with other contemporary discourses such as managerialism and
modernization. It collides with the political rhetoric of the ‘Third Way’, orientated
towards pragmatism and away from ideology. Nothing matters apart from what
works – not ideologically nor organizationally.
The probation service’s professional knowledge had been in a state of flux,
caught between traditional social work based practice with a focus upon the
‘client’ and the new discourse of offender management, coercion and enforcement.
Joint working, blurring of professional boundaries and the eventual creation
of new organizational structures therefore became more of a possibility:
Discipline, crucially, is conceptualized not as an expression of already existing
power but constitutive of it . . . this is why knowledge of institutions becomes so
vital. (McKinlay and Starkey, 1998: 1)
‘What works’ is apparently a simple, common-sense concept – the most effective
interventions with offenders should be used to inform policy and practice. As
a discourse it can be understood as a set of ‘prescriptions, norms, techniques and
rules’ (Newman and Nutley, 2003: 552) through which particular forms of practice
are legitimated and constructed. Common sense has an important constitutive role
to play in maintaining the centrality of gender difference as a focus of power in
society and is gendered in favour of the male: not all discourses carry equal weight
or power (Weedon, 1997).
Within the language of penality we can find the gendered language of hegemonic
masculinity with its concentration on efficiency, evaluation, and enforcement.
By using discourse we can attempt to understand the relationship between
language, social institution, subjectivity and power:
Power must be understood in the first instance as the multiplicity of force relations
. . . as the process which, through ceaseless struggles and confrontations,
transforms, strengthens, or reverses them . . . and lastly as the strategies . . . is
embodied in the state apparatus, in the formulation of the law, in the various
social hegemonies. (Foucault, 1998 : 93–4)
Feminist poststructuralists draw attention to how gender, and the reification of the
masculine, is an intrinsic site of power. The question of language in the constitution
of knowledge relates to the institutions that define what knowledge is, and
the language through which knowledge gets made; and these too are infused with
the masculine. If language is the place where actual and possible forms of social
organization and their likely consequences are defined and contested, then how
that language interacts, intersects, informs and is informed by masculinity must
be considered (Weedon, 1997).
A longitudinal study concerned with the context, content and process of change
in one probation area between 1990 and 1998 demonstrates how language is
the site where meaningful experience is constituted, and determines our perceptions
of the possibility for change:
Probation officers were clear that the ‘what works’ principles represented the
knowledge base that they were expected to espouse if they wished to progress
within the organisation. (Newman and Nutley, 2003: 553)
From this statement we can see how the new knowledge has power and how that
power has seeped ‘into the very grain of individuals, reaches right into their
bodies, permeates their gestures, their posture, what they say, how they learn to
live and work with other people’ (Foucault, 1991 : 28).
The increased technicality of ‘what works’ has been associated with increased
credibility of the service and is aligned with a sense of rationality – which is itself
aligned with the masculine. For individuals within the probation service to talk
outside of these terms of references would be to surrender power, as they would
not be able to progress within the organization without using the appropriate
language. The marginalization of the traditional probation service activities and
practices of support, listening, and engagement, has led to these types of
approaches being devalued and discounted. Tacit experiential knowledge is irrelevant
in the face of the ‘evidence-based’ knowledge of the ‘what works’ agenda.
The type of work that gets rewarded in organizations is also a gendered
phenomenon (Fletcher, 1995). Within the new correctional service this means the
rational, enforceable, ‘scientific’ knowledge of ‘what works’. Man constructed as
a rational being, as opposed to the emotional woman, is an important feature of
this discourse. Yet ‘rationally orientated organizations are fundamentally contradictory’
(Meyerson and Martin, 1987: 321). Rationality is not based on an objective
standard developed by disinterested observers but is a technique of persuasion
founded on criteria designed to protect the interests of the powerful; rational
criteria are themselves fundamentally conflictual. The idea that we can find ‘what
works’ through evaluation, measure, standardization, punitiveness, enforcement,
managerialism and coercion systematically fails to see human beings as social
actors who can embrace, ignore, contradict, undermine, produce, create and
obstruct the role ascribed to them by legal discourse. The reliance upon an
‘evidence-base’ to produce knowledge is particularly suspect. Knowledge is
subjective, and the more the objectivity of ‘evidence’ is elevated the more subjective
it becomes. What is being evaluated, who undertakes it, who funds it, what
purpose it has, who defines the measures, whether findings will be published, and
what the evaluation’s impact will be, are all part of the vector of subjectivity in
which the knowledge and power of the ‘what works’ evidence base has been
The gendered aspects of the punishment debate can also be found within the
concepts of protection and correction. It is the hegemonic male who protects, and
ensures obedience. To instil a sense of obedience through correcting (often
through punishment) the wayward behaviour of others, he at the same time
protects (even whilst punishing). Public protection as such a key feature of the new
correctional discourse evokes the need for this hegemonic male.
The new language of corrections has been evolving, and in its evolution it has
become necessary for a correctional service to be created. The Intensive Control
and Change Programme; the Intensive Supervision and Surveillance Programme
and the Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements have not had to wait for the
new Correctional Service – they have in fact defined, elided, brought into existence
the new organization.
The masculinization of the probation service has resulted in the mechanization
of practice, with little room for innovation, autonomy or creativity. Technocratic
assessment procedures and pre-set supervision programmes are the norm for a
standardized and homogenized approach.
This process of managerialism can also be found in many other public sector
bodies such as the health service and education. Service delivery organizations
are now receiving greater direction about practice than ever before. The probation
service is just one organization affected by central government’s directions to
Technologies of the self or the internalized
In order to make sense of huge shifts in operations it is necessary for workers,
managers, and clients to affect change upon their own way of being. The struggle
between existing power/knowledge configurations is conducted by finding new
ways to fashion an ethical way of being (Starkey and Hatchuel, 2002). The
changes the probation service has gone through will be reflected in changes in,
or by, individuals working for, and managed by, the probation service. In ‘The
History of Sexuality’ Foucault describes the exercise of power, authority and liberty
in the context of moral codes and techniques of the self (McDonald, 2004). These
techniques may explain the apparent willingness of individuals to subject themselves
to systems of power even if this appears to go against their own best interests.
If we wish to analyse power within the concrete and historical framework of
its operation, Foucault concluded that:
We must construct an analytics of power that no longer takes law as a model and
code . . . it is a question of forming a different grid of historical decipherment by
starting from a different theory of power. (Foucault, 1998 : 90)
Technologies of the self are the specific practices by which subjects constitute themselves
within and through systems of power, and which often seem to be either
‘natural’ or imposed from above. They can be considered the continuously
evolving mechanics of our very ‘self’ dictating what we think, say and do, based
on our daily experiences. For example, in order to ‘get on’ in the probation service
there came a time when the language one adopted had to fit the prevailing
dominant discourse of enforcement, discipline, corrections and offender management.
So, the concept of ‘espousing’ the principles of the ‘appropriate’ knowledge
base became part of the technology of the self. Resistance is of course possible –
and one of the attractions of Foucault’s work on the technologies of the self is to
argue that individuals do have power – they must however, recognize and wield
it. Starkey and Hatchuel (2002) believe that this shift in Foucault’s work – from
surveillance and discipline to freedom and agency raises the ‘tantalizing prospect’
that we are freer than we feel. In developing a technology of the self, people may
take pleasure in their work, believing that this is what defines them as who they
are. Furthermore, disciplinary structures that make clear what is required, set down
targets to be met and the process by which these should be measured, may be
experienced as preferable to autonomy which may be experienced as alienating,
unclear and ill-defined.
Alternatively, technologies of the self may involve the ‘self’ being lost within
organizations as power operates to both constitute and constrain the subject
through ‘the internalized panopticon’ (Harding, N., 2003) and where ‘as individuals
we are incarcerated within an organizational world’ (Burrell, 1998: 25).
Obedience becomes central to the analysis of the production of power in organizations
and most importantly within the context of the demise of the probation
service and the rise of a correctional service. The struggle with existing power/
knowledge configurations is in finding new ways to create an ethical way of being.
To be an ethical being in the National Offender Management Service will require
new ways of perceiving the role, its purpose and the best ways these can be
achieved; just as when the change from the probation service to the National
Probation Service required a similar shift in perception. How probation workers
create their ‘selves’ in the process of change would be an interesting area for
Ensuring compliance and enforcing obedience is the job of the new correctional
agency and simultaneously a feature of its own creation, a feature of the
cooption and annihilation process the probation service has gone through. The
new punishment ethic based upon the ‘what works’ knowledge base has required
new ways of working through ongoing evaluations, setting of targets and
measures, demanding cost efficiency and increasing managerialism. This has
meant that probation staff have to be seen to be exercising control on offenders
under the guise of public protection. And, an inevitable corollary of demanding
compliance in others has been the process of checking that obedience has been
the outcome (Jackson and Carter, 1998). Technologies of the self may be an
attractive, ‘tantalizing’ prospect. They allow individuals to transform themselves
into the person with knowledge, in control, satisfied, even happy with their lot. The
contemporary probation officer can look at the offender and site the ‘causes’ of
their offending within the individual; weak at problem solving, poor at decision
making, with weak personal control and poor social skills. However it may also
be manufactured through intricate controlling mechanisms that ultimately produce
norms, constitute interest and shape behaviour (Gordon, 2002). In such a process
it is not only probation staff, but also offenders, who create a technology of the
The creative flexibility that had been the cornerstone of the probation services
(Rumgay and Cowan, 1998) has given way to a standardized and homogenized
approach to punishment. Removal from social work training in 1995 was to be a
small but important death knell in the traditional operations of the probation
service as provider of services and support. The social work principles of acceptance,
individuality, non-judgement, controlled emotional involvement, self determination
and confidentiality (DuBois and Miley, 1996) were no longer required
as the new punishment ethic – with no shame in punishment and enforcement,
coercion and control could flourish.
The knowledge base on working with offenders and reducing crime has shifted
from the probation service to a new correctional service with a focus upon punishment,
control, coercion and enforcement: features that can be seen as fundamentally
masculine. This shift away from the traditional principles of the probation
service can be seen as the reification of masculinist work practices, approaches
and ethos. This analysis, which has adopted an adaptive approach to theory on
crime, gender, power and knowledge, supports the poststructuralist rejection of
the idea that there is one dominant system of knowledge in which ultimate truth
can be found. Knowledge changes over time and space but is always dependent
on power and domination (McDonald, 2004). Contemporary forms of power and
knowledge have created new forms of domination that have been played out in
the recent history of the probation service and the emergence of the National
Offender Management Service. Poststructuralist theories of language, subjectivity,
discourse and power have provided a useful way for understanding this experience
and relating it to social power. Moreover, the importance of discourse and
language in landscaping the penal terrain cannot be underestimated. Indeed, the
requirements for obedience and compliance through the operations of enforcing
increasingly severe community sanctions, may have led to the rise in the prison
population as punitiveness and punishment became normalized across all
criminal justice agencies.4
Although Foucault’s concept of technologies of the self have been criticized for
failing to recognize the ubiquitous nature of power or adequately explaining how
individuals can resist the mechanisms of control (Gordon, 2002), his analysis does
expose that what we accept as truth and evidence are in reality themes that have
built up at a certain historical moment and that, if we choose to, ‘this so-called
evidence can be criticized and destroyed’ (cited in McKinlay and Starkey, 1998).
1 59 per cent of ex-prisoners will be reconvicted within two years and the police
detection rate for all recorded crimes is 24 per cent (Home Office, 2003b;
Simmons and Dodd, 2003). The two-year reconviction rate for all offenders
commencing community penalties in 1999 was 56 per cent (Home Office, 2003b).
2 Police Bail Campaign: to increase the use of bail rather than using custodial
remand; Narey Measures: to speed up progress through the criminal justice
system; Narey’s indictable only measures: to speed up progress for indictable only
offences as well.
3 Nine times compared to three times in the prison service chapter.
4 In the last two years the prison population has increased by nearly 10 per cent
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