Anthropological Theory

Rethinking prevention as a reactive force to contain dangerous classes


Ángel Aedo, Paulina Faba,


The pervasiveness of preventive rationality, which is especially evident in populations caught in the prison-neighbourhood circuit, constitutes a challenging field for anthropological theory because it allows us to rethink the problem of hegemony in the context of the crises of capitalism. Drawing on research conducted in Chile amongst practitioners of crime prevention programmes and prisoners’ families targeted by such initiatives, in this paper, we explore crime prevention as a political concept whose effects are inseparable from the maintenance of class and gender disparities. In conceptualising how petty crime prevention has become a predominant technology of classifying, policing and managing low-income populations, we take Foucault’s notion of illegalism – as distinct from illegality – and extend it to dispossessed groups affected by dramatic levels of economic inequality and structural violence. We discuss preventive rationality in relation to the contradictions engendered by an authoritarian form of capitalism protected by constitutional constraints inherited from the Pinochet dictatorship. By connecting the conceptualisation of petty crime prevention to the ongoing contradictions of the society in which we live, we seek to sharpen attention to the ways in which the neoliberal hegemony attempts to contain its decline.