The busybody state

Saturday 22 October, 12.00 - 13.00 , Frobisher 4-6 State and Society

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In recent years, there has been a widely recognised rise of ‘busybodies’ in public spaces: private security guards or council officials who approach somebody playing music or skateboarding and ask them to move on. There has also been a growth of ‘pointless rules’, from outdoor smoking bans to mandatory reporting of innocuous playground incidents. These are policies and procedures that make little sense and seem only to obstruct rather than to serve a productive purpose. These changes are often blamed on the meddling personalities of official ‘Little Hitlers’, but in a new book, Officious: Rise of the Busybody State, Josie Appleton argues that the new officials and new regulation represent a new logic of state organisation and a new set of relations between citizens and state. Appleton analyses the distinct forms of legal regulation and institutional forms that define the ‘busybody state’, and shows how these forms are a violation of classical modern state forms. She shows how the state has come to represent the principle of the rule and the restriction of freedom as an end in itself - and to define itself against the shady and dubious citizenry.

This situation leads to a potential new political alliance between various affected groups - from protestors to buskers to dog walkers - against the organs of the officious state and in defence of the principle of the free civic domain. Could we see a renaissance of civil society in response to the excesses of a increasingly undemocratic form of state power?

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