Responsibility in a state of insecurity
: a historical phenomenology of the preventive turn in English criminal law

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis is a theoretical examination of criminal responsibility, inquiring into its conceptual foundations in order to analyse the concept’s form and role in the preventive turn of criminal law and criminal justice experienced in the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries. It argues that there is an intrinsic socio-political dimension to responsibility, arising from the concept’s essential connection to the idea of freedom. The specific idea of freedom upheld by liberal theory and society is one which claims to have universal validity, but which is nevertheless dependent upon and conditioned by particular socio-political conditions. This hiatus between responsibility’s normative aspirations and its actual context renders its conceptualisation by liberal criminal legal theory and doctrine utterly abstract, and thus unable to account for the full scope and implications of its practices. This thesis suggests that only a dialectical and critical perspective is capable of bridging the theoretical gap in current legal scholarship, thus offering an adequate account of criminal responsibility. 
The historical phenomenology endeavoured in this research contains three main methodological components. The first is a critical examination of contemporary legal theory, focusing on criminal responsibility and the changes and transformations occurring in the landscape of criminal law and criminal justice. This analysis reveals a tension in criminal responsibility that renders its conceptualisation intrinsically problematic, in that it appears to not only espouse notions of responsible subjectivity, but also preserve within its subject an essential aspect of dangerousness. The second component is an investigation into classical works of political philosophy, in which arguably lie the conceptual foundations for the dialectic and ambivalent character of criminal responsibility. The third and final moment in the thesis turns to an exploration of the theoretical and ethical challenges surrounding contemporary criminal law, in search of a way to rescue criminal responsibility from its state of insecurity.
Date of Award1 Feb 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorPenelope Green (Supervisor), Alan Norrie (Supervisor) & Maleiha Malik (Supervisor)

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