This is an essay on the connection of policing and market relations. It offers a reading of police as a duct-tape mechanism to make market relations possible. In doing so, it seeks to reveal the purpose of police (economic enforcement not social safety) and denaturalize markets. It concludes by imagining another kind of relationship.
Regimes of Enforcement and Motivation
How are behaviors maintained, motivated, and enforced? Obviously, there is no single answer. Different societies, communities, cultures, and methods of production have distinct ways of doing so. Our inquiry then becomes, loosely, how to account for those differences. Are we to merely chalk it up to benign cultural difference or are there structural forces at play that lend us perspective on how people are motivated towards action? My proposed answer to this either/or question is yes. Of course cultural difference is a factor: policing would not look the same in, say, Fiji as it would in The United States. However, we are not so concerned with the small, micro level, differences between regimes of enforcement; we are, instead, concerned with the differences between the regimes themselves. That is to say, we are uninterested in two different styles of policing, but between policing and alternatives. When I speak of regimes of enforcement (ROEs), I am referring to apparatuses of power that seek to administer and compel adherence to norms, laws, rules, contracts, promises, and obligations. First, we will turn to David Graeber for an understanding of how markets and police reciprocally enform each other. From that point, we will begin to work through the way that different systems create different ROEs. We can also say that there is no such circumstance in which a single regime of enforcement has a monopoly. Policing, for example, works hand in hand with other forms of enforcing, say propaganda, to create a more complete circumstance of effectuating. In order to unpack that duality, and some of the general mechanism of ROEs, we will turn to Louis Althusser and Michel Foucault. Through the combination of these two thinkers, often (but not always) placed in opposition to each other, we will attempt to imagine the totality of enforcement. We will see that ROEs are not only roaming the streets with guns and batons at the ready, but are also imagined, taught, learned, believed, bought, and sold. In the following pages, we seek to play with the ideas of enforcement and motivation towards an imagining of what could, should, ought, or won’t be. We will play with the state as a major consideration, posing questions concerned with what decentralized enforcement could, and does, look like. Finally, we will explore what a world without, less, or with different enforcement could mean, primarily through Pierre Bourdieu’s work.
In Debt: The First 500 Years, Graeber writes that economics is a “discipline that concerns itself first and foremost with how individuals seek the most advantageous arrangement for the exchange of shoes for potatoes, or cloth for spears, it must assume that the exchange of such goods need have nothing to do with war, passion, adventure, mystery, sex, or death; ” it “assumes a division between different spheres of human behavior” (29). Economics, for Graeber, is very much a discipline of the market. It is not simply an attempt to understand broad exchange, or even money. Therefore, the study of markets is the study of the attempt at a fissure of exchange from more human activities.That division requires cooperation from “even people who don’t like each other very much, who have no interest in developing any kind of ongoing relationship, but are simply interested in getting their hands on as much of the others’ possessions as possible, will nonetheless refrain from the most obvious expedient (theft)” (29). When humanity and connection are non-factors, people are functioning out of private material interests exclusively. There is, generally speaking, no consideration of relationship, love, respect, kindness, beauty, or even morality. Within that approach to exchange (which Graeber leads us to believe is free-marketism), theft is the natural conclusion. Theft, however, is presumably unsustainable in a well operating society, so that cooperation without relationship is “made possible by very specific institutional arrangements: the existence of lawyers, prisons, and police” (29). Those institutions allow “us to assume that life is neatly divided between the marketplace, where we do our shopping, and the “sphere of consumption,” where we concern ourselves with music, feasts, and seduction” (29). In this reading, police are duct-tapers of sort, a term borrowed from another of Graeber’s books, Bullshit Jobs. He defines duct-tapers as “employees whose jobs exist only because of a glitch or fault in the organization; who are there to solve a problem that ought not to exist” (64). They exist in order to make a system run which does not do so self sufficiently. In certain ways, they are of the systems they fix; their roles do not exist without the existence of the system in general and the very problem they seek to repair. In another sense, though, they are necessarily peripheral to that system, accessories added on post hoc in order to make it work. In this sense, police exist to duct-tape the market. They are not, themselves, of the market arrangements, but they are added on to make a system that devolves into theft not do so. Of course, they become reciprocally tied in the massively complicated arrangements of the market. They must exist for the market to exist, and the market must exist for them to exist, and spiraling forward, upward, sideward, or downward (I suspect the ultimate). In that reciprocality, we can see clearly how an arrangement created a particular regime of enforcement. In this case, and potentially in all or many cases, it is created out of a need to repair.
Direct policing, however, does not do all of the work of enforcement. If I were to shoplift a pack of gum from a bodega, it would be unlikely (though not impossible) that a cop would descend on me, returning the gum and arresting me. The likeliest scenarios are either (a) I get away with shoplifting or (b) the shop owner reprimands me and perhaps I’m banned from the deli. Yet, I don’t shoplift the gum. If the outcomes range from personally beneficial to slightly inconveniencing, what keeps me from shoplifting the gum? Here I will offer a two pronged answer that will attempt to explain the apparatuses that maintain markets, which, in turn, will allow us a more whole vision of ROEs as a generalized phenomenon. We will first turn to Michel Foucault for an understanding of the more abstracted scale of policing. In the 5th of a collection of lectures titled Psychiatric Powers, Foucault is attempting to make a typology of corporeal punishment and explain its mechanisms. He argues that “a number of specific disciplinary schemas appear, like the army, the school, the workshop, etcetera, and of which Bentham's Panopticon appears [...] to be the formalization, or anyway the systematic and purified outline” (93). The panopticon is a building, designed by Jeremy Bentham in the 18th century, intended to be a disciplinary institution, either an asylum or a prison. It is a cylindrical building with inward facing cells, set up in such a way that every cell would be visible to a single guard standing in a tower in the center of the building. Importantly, the occupants of the cells would be unable to see into the tower. Foucault describes the importance of that “permanent visibility,” saying that the occupant of the panopticon “must not only be someone who is watched; the fact of knowing that one is always being watched, better still, the fact of knowing that one can always be watched, that one is always under the potential power of a permanent gaze” (102). In this, a single officer is able to patrol an entire building, replicating and disseminating the observational power he wields far past his individual potential. It is here we must draw a distinction between the officer themself and the imagined, or internalized, officer. If an occupant of a 1000 cell panopticon were to misbehave in some way, the chances that the watchman will see it are low, somewhere around 1/1000. However, it is always possible that they are being watched, always possible that discipline is coming. A mythical officer is born, but that myth is contingent on a reality: the officer sitting in the tower.
It is here we can more clearly see the role of the police officer in stopping the shoplifting. Even if the physical police officer is not coming to arrest me, I believe that there is a chance. That chance stops me. It is the doing of no individual, but of the mythical officer. I am being contained by “a system of permanent inspection” which leaves me “permanently under the eyes of the person responsible for supervising” (106). Because I am always potentially in the eyes of authority, I am functionally under permanent surveillance. The officer on the street is not my obstacle; the one in my head is. I am within a panopticonic policing apparatus. Here we can see the physical police officer not as the regime of enforcement, per se, but as the center of a larger one. They are the terminal threat of the system, but not the system itself.
Yet, even the mythical police officer is not the force stopping me from shoplifting my gum. I know the risk of being caught is low and that the consequence of being caught is minimal. Fear is a powerful motivator of action in, say, the case of a murder charge, but fear of a petty shoplifting write-up is likely less effective. So what else stops me from theft? Why not take the most logical and expedient way to satiating my bubble gum needs? Foucault’s analysis certainly helps explain our conundrum, but it does not complete it. Here we turn to French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser for a much wider vision of ROEs. Althusser’s analysis is limited to the mechanisms of power of the state, but (potentially to his posthumous chagrin) we will later be able to abstract quite largely. In his book, Ideology and Ideological State Apparatus, Althusser distinguishes between two categories of state apparatuses used to enforce and compel behavior. He first designates “the Repressive State Apparatus” which contains “the Government, the Administration, the Army, the Police, the Courts, the Prisons” (11). The Repressive State Apparatus “‘functions by violence’ – at least ultimately (since repression, e.g. administrative repression, may take non-physical forms)” (11). However, these direct repressive forces do not complete the project of enforcement. Althusser writes, referencing Antonion Gramsci, that the state can“not be reduced to the (Repressive) State Apparatus, but included, as he put it, a certain number of institutions from ‘civil society” (38). The power of the state, its power to control and compel behavior, is disseminated in more than its direct wings. Althusser names these indirect wings of state power “the Ideological State Apparatus.” Whereas the Repressive State Apparatus “functions massively and predominantly by repression (including physical repression) [...] State Apparatuses function massively and predominantly by ideology” (12). It does not force the hand and threaten with discipline, but moves behaviors ideologically. In our case of shoplifting, it seems we have found a bigger piece of the puzzle. I do not resist the urge to steal because I am so concerned with discipline, although that is a factor; I resist because I believe I ought not to steal. Where have I learned such a code? Althusser’s answer is from the Ideological State Apparatus. So what is this ISA? Is it merely the propagandizing wing of the state power? For Althusser it runs much deeper than that. The ISA is comprised of institutions that replicate and disseminate the wishes and intentions of the Repressive State Apparatus, often independently. He provides a short list of examples, naming “the religious ISA (the system of the different churches), the educational ISA (the system of the different public and private ‘schools’), the family ISA, the legal ISA, the political ISA (the political system, including the different parties), the trade-union ISA, the communications ISA (press, radio and television, etc.), [and] the cultural ISA (literature, the arts, sports, etc.)” (11). Through this massive network of institutions, ideological hegemony and subservience are built. We are taught not to steal with force, yes, but we are taught more completely with pen. At many of the major points of interface with the social world, we learn moral codes that actualize themselves in defense of a market that would otherwise be subject to overt theft. We are taught in schools, in church, in sport, in our unions and our workplaces that theft is wrong and so we do not steal. If a complete enough job is done of teaching that stealing is, as a discrete act, fundamentally wrong or something that ought not to be done, then there is no need for the Repressive State Apparatus. The ideological battle will have won the war.
Of course, I must note as an aside, we still do steal of course. Tremendous amounts of goods are shoplifted, burgled, and the like every year. Our investigation is not black and white though. It is still true that these are efforts of a state and of a system, which is not entirely embodied in state power, to defend itself and minimize the most expedient means by which it ought to be taken advantage of. The persistence of theft, then, is proof of an outside. It means that, despite the totality of state power, human wishes outside of state influence still continue. There are pockets of externality. That externality is, itself, a state of rebellion. State powers only work by containing you within them. If you are able to escape, to find an enclave—even for just a second—you are resisting power and demarcating a different kind of being.
It is only under these conditions that a free-market can sustain itself. It requires a matrix of Ideological State Apparatuses, psychological conditions, and raw force to be able to exist. Where does that leave us? What does that mean? And most importantly, can there be a permanent, perhaps institutionalized or codified, externality to ROEs? To begin to answer our questions, we will turn to Pierre Bourdieu’s book, Algeria 1960, which documents an economy of honor. Bourdieu is describing Algeria’s “process of adaptation to the capitalist economy” (5). By using the example of a transitory period, Bourdieu is more acutely working through discrepancies in behavioral norms and how they’re enforced. Bourdieu is particularly focused on the Kabyle people, a Berber ethnic group indiginous to northern Algeria. The analysis of their economics of honor stems from a relationality to others. Bourdieu writes that “the point of honor is the basis of the ethic appropriate to an individual who always sees himself through the eyes of others, who has need of others in order to exist, because his self-image is inseparable from the image of himself that he receives back from others” (113). There is an external reflexivity that originates the system of honor. The measure of an individual is through the eyes of the other. Therefore, the way to live in a way that is righteous is through collective approval, not individual gain. The natural conclusion of that conception of righteousness is a pivot from accumulation to honor.
That is a pivot that is based in the material conditions from which the economy arises. Bourdieu explains that “the ultimate basis of the whole economic and symbolic system clearly lies in a mode of production in which the more or less equal distribution of land (in the form of fragmented smallholdings) and of the instruments of production (which are, moreover, inefficient and stable) necessarily precludes the development of the productive forces and the concentration of capital” (130). A system in which honor is the ticket into participation is built upon a particular arrangement of materials. Within that system, the prioritized virtues are reflective, not only of material circumstance, but of material best practice. If land and productive instruments are equally and communaly arranged, then it is through collective success that material wealth is made possible. The material interests of the individual are aligned with that of the community. For the Kayble, “rather than a court, in the sense of a specialized body responsible for pronouncing decisions in accordance with a system of rational, explicit legal norms, the clan or village assembly is in fact an arbitrating council or even a family council. Collective opinion is the law, the court, and the agent executing the sanction” (129). The Repressive State Apparatus, which Althusser names for us, is decentralized and, in that sense, dissolved. There are no particular formalized codified repressive instruments of power. That power is disseminated into collective opinion. However, that is not to say there are not ROEs, they just look quite different. Instead of fearing corporeal violence or entrapment, “the punishment that is most feared is ostracism or banishment: those who suffer it are excluded from the collective sharing of meat, from the assembly, and from all collective activities, in short, condemned to a sort of symbolic death” (129). The threat holding actions in place is self-completing, those that lack honor are excluded from collective action by virtue of public opinion.
Does that threat of exclusion still constitute a regime of enforcement? It seems clear to me that it is, although it’s somewhat alien to the formal state powers with which we’re familiar. That threat, held by the decentralized public opinion, is still an apparatus of power used to keep behaviors in line. It does, however, have two particularly important differences from a state apparatus of enforcement. First, it exists without a threat of physical violence backing it. There is no need to threaten with material force, the power exists in collectivism. It relies on collective action as a threat and the collective ideological apparatus primarily. Honor, then, functions as the code that is taught by the apparatus. That apparatus, however, is created naturally through material conditions, rather than pinned on inorganically, opposed to the obviously most expedient way to success. That leads us to the second—and more important—difference, it is an apparatus that exists within the system for which it enforce. Whereas police and centralized state-market enforcement methods exist outside of the systems they manage, though they do reciprocally inform and reproduce each other. More fundamentally, they exist to duct-tape a system that is not self perpetuating. In the example of the Kayble, however, the system enforces itself. Collectivism stands opposed to individualism on this front. It sees behaviors that are most individually productive being identical to those that are collectively positive, or even what could be considered ethical. It provides a self-perpetuating, self-contained, and self-sustained framework of behavior.
Here we arrive at our nonpoint, our inconclusive imagining end. We are left with an imaging of motivation as quite broadly defined externally, by the material arrangements a person finds themself in. Regimes of enforcement, generally, exist as guide rails, correcting errors in motivation. Certainly, as we’ve explored, there are fundamental differences in the ROEs of differently set up economic systems. Most essentially, an ROE can be either external or internal. It can exist as an addition to a system, without which will devolve and fall apart. In that scenario, the one I argue we currently live under, the ROE duct-tapes the system together, maintaining its function from the outside. It can also be internal and self perpetuating, as is the case of the Kabyle people. In that case, there is no external nor centralized force that maintains the system. Instead, the power to maintain and correct is disseminated amongst the people that make up the system. However, in both cases there remains an ROE, an institution or cultural component that exists to maintain behaviors. Is it possible to set up a circumstance and system so complete that it does not need any ROE to maintain itself? Surely, the Kayble get close. They maintain an entirely self contained ROE, or Bourdieu depicts them as doing so at least. What could the world look like if what people wish to do and what people ought to do are the same? In that world, are there merely no repressive apparatuses? It seems somewhat inevitable that there are ideological apparatuses, which function to culturally compel people to do and act in a certain way. However, those also do not seem to require centralization and intention, as is the case for the Kayble. Perhaps there is a world, somewhere in the future in which actions and wishes align. Even if only a contemporary dream, it seems to be worth acting towards, or at least imagining.
Althusser, Louis. Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses. Translated by Ben Brewster, https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/althusser/1970/ideology.htm. Accessed 23 May 2022.
Bourdieu, Pierre. Algeria 1960. Translated by Richard Nice, Cambridge University Press, 1979.
Foucault, Michel. Psychiatric Power: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1973-74. Translated by Jacques Lagrange, Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.
Graeber, David. Bullshit Jobs. First Simon & Schuster trade paperback edition, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2019.
----. Debt: The First 5,000 Years. Melville House, 2012.
Thanks to Isaac King for this submission.