||This article contains too many or too-lengthy quotations for an encyclopedic entry. (February 2013)|
Neo-feudalism (literally new feudalism – the terms are used interchangeably in the literature) refers to a theorized contemporary rebirth of policies of governance, economy and public life reminiscent of those present in many feudal societies. It is related to some of the ideas of neo-medievalism.
Privatized governance 
Clifford Shearing's theoretical approach of neofeudalism has been influential, remarks Les Johnston:
[F]actorial explanations – whether positing few factors or many – are limited by their a-theoretical, and largely descriptive, focus. A more sophisticated approach draws upon the connections between fiscal crisis, mass private property and ‘new feudalism’. This approach, justifiably, has been an influential one, though I shall refrain from discussing it further as its strengths and weaknesses are discussed elsewhere in this issue by Kempa et al. However, many of the themes contained in that approach – notably the commodification of security and the accompanying growth of private police ‘fiefdoms’ – are linked to wider debates about changing social structures and the forms of thought connected to them.
Shearing "use[s] this term in a limited sense to draw attention to the emergence of domains of mass private property that are ‘gated’ in a variety of ways":
Private organizations, and in particular large corporations, have since 1960, and probably earlier, exercised direct power over policing the public through systems of private security. The growth of mass private property has facilitated an ongoing privatization of social control characterized by non-specialized security. As a result, North America is experiencing a "new feudalism": huge tracts of property and associated public spaces are controlled — and policed — by private corporations. To undertake this responsibility, these corporations have developed an extensive security apparatus, of which uniformed security personnel are only the supervisory tip of the iceberg.
A central feature of governance within these [non-state] contexts is a mentality of risk reduction. While corporate domains are central to the complex network of governance that has emerged alongside state governments, these ‘private governments’ and the ‘bubbles of governance’ they create are not limited to business settings narrowly conceived. There are wide ranges of what might be called ‘contractual communities’ that now pervade Anglo-American societies. These include such spaces as communities of library users, the residential communities that North Americans term ‘gated communities’, communities of shoppers at malls as well as virtual communities such as the communities of credit card holders and Internet users. Together, these communities, or arenas of governance, form a complex and expanding archipelago of private governments that together establish what we might term an emerging ‘neo-feudalism’.
One of the features of this new feudalism is that the contracts that establish these arenas of governance are, in part, contracts that set out such things as the proper expectations (rights) and responsibilities (duties) of community members. A ubiquitous example is the contract that persons enter into as library users. Most libraries today require, as part of this contract, that members agree to submit themselves to electronic scanning as they enter and leave the book collection. Similar contracts are required if one wishes to fly. At the Toronto airport, this contract is quite explicit. As one enters the area restricted to passengers, one faces a sign that reads: ‘You are not required to submit either your bags or your person to a search if you do not wish to board an aircraft.’
In our contemporary world, we move around this archipelago of governance by moving from one contractual community to another. As we do, we move from one bubble of governance to another. Each of these bubbles has its own mode of governance and its own rules (under the umbrella of, and made possible through, state law) that set out the conditions of ‘citizenship’ or, perhaps more accurately, ‘denizenship’ in these new spaces of governance.
The logic of risk governance dominates these contractual spaces. ... Here, the traditional view of punishment as a source of the pain that denunciation and deterrence require has increasingly given way to risk-based strategies. ... Where violence is deployed this is typically not because of its denunciatory potential but because of its usefulness in governing security.
These contractual spaces are, of course, not the only spaces in which people live their lives. While some people spend more time within these spaces than others do (almost everyone spends part of their time in them), the poor spend most of their time outside these bubbles. A risk-logic has developed both inside and outside these neo-feudal bubbles of governance. What differentiates them is the extent to which this logic has taken hold of thinking and the way in which it has done so. ...
What is being encouraged through these developments is a division of labour in which the state remains a key source of security through its access to violence, while non-state resources are mobilized to establish security networks that operate according to risk management principles. Among the clearest indicators of this is the difference between the security strategies employed within the new feudal domains that the emergence of ‘mass private property’ has established — for instance the security practices within places like Disney World — and the way in which poor neighbourhoods are policed through the use of target hardening strategies by police agencies and by private security agencies contracted to state agencies.
Lucia Zedner responds that this use of neo-feudalism is too limited in scope; Shearing's comparison does not draw parallels with earlier governance explicitly enough. Zedner prefers more definitive endorsements:
Although most commentators overlook these historic parallels, there a few notable exceptions. Spitzer and Scull observed of the early re-emergence of private policing ‘what is perhaps most intriguing about this movement toward privatization is the way it parallels the rise of policing for profit in earlier historical periods’.
Neofeudalism entails an order defined by commercial interests and administered in large areas, according to Bruce Baker, who argues that this does not fully describe the extent of cooperation between state and non-state policing:
When private policing was “rediscovered” in the West, private and public policing were sharply divided, with the former being primarily thought of as commercial security. After an initial interest in security guards, research on private policing began to note gated residential communities, mass retail outlets, and sporting/leisure complexes that suggested “fortified fragments” where a privately defined order was administered by private security. The parallel was drawn with feudal society and that of mediaeval city-states, since the fortified enclaves of privilege deployed a system of exclusionary justice. The neo-feudal paradigm suggests a clear-cut separation between private and public orders of policing. However, both public and private policing have important features in common. They are both forces of coercion engaged to preserve internal communal order and they draw on similar control and investigative techniques. It is, then, increasingly hard to separate them analytically. It does not, therefore, fully fit the African security world of overlapping and co-operative patterns of security and is unduly focussed on the commercial sector of non-state policing.
The significance of the comparison to feudalism, for Randy Lippert and Daniel O'Connor, is that corporations have power similar to states' governance powers:
Mass private properties grant private corporations and their security retainers a sphere of independence and authority to enact regimes of private governance that are both recognized and legitimized by the state. The policing of mass private properties can therefore be defined as a form of client-controlled or victim-controlled policing.
Shearing and Stenning refer to this state of affairs as the ‘‘new feudalism’’ because huge tracts of property and associated public spaces are controlled and policed by private corporations who, in practice, have powers which rival the power of nation states in terms of defining and maintaining order. Private security has unique access to these private places and exercises virtually unfettered discretion as to whether to invoke the criminal justice process to deal with security incidents and events.
The widening of the wealth gap, as poor and marginalized people are excluded from the state's provision of security, can result in neofeudalism, argues Marina Caparini, who says this has already happened in South Africa:
The provision of security by non-state actors, especially commercial actors, can meet basic human needs for safety and security when the formal state institutions are unable to do so effectively or equitably. In that sense, private security can help to enhance societal stability and help to reassure potential investors and other economic actors in weak states. Moreover, security that is provided directly by locally-based agencies will be more responsive to the conditions and needs of the individual, community or organisation that has hired them, and responsiveness to local needs is a key component of democratic policing. On the other hand, only those who have the means to employ private security usually enjoy its services, and this can reinforce security deficits for poor and marginalised populations, further entrenching divisions within society and possibly undermining state legitimacy. Security in this scenario is no longer a public good, but a commodity available only to those who can afford it. This is arguably what has occurred in South Africa (and other states), where the proliferation of commercial security has resulted in a ‘new apartheid’ or neo-feudalism characterised by fortified islands of security from which undesirables are excluded.
Neofeudalism is made possible by the commodification of policing, and signifies the end of shared citizenship, says Ian Loader:
The commodification of policing ... also has to do with the ways in which private policing and security can assist in the creation of commercial or residential spaces in which an exclusive, particularistic order comes to be defined and enforced. The warm, sanitised, consumer-friendly realm offered by shopping malls represents an important instance of the former. In contradistinction to the unpredictable, democratic ‘messiness’ of urban streets, malls make systematic use of private patrols and camera surveillance to create what Coleman and Sim call a moral order of consumption; something which entails the exclusion (on grounds of property, rather than criminal, law) of those ‘flawed consumers’ who are unwilling or unable to be seduced by the market. In respect of the latter, walled, gated, privately policed enclaves — currently most evident in Southern California and elsewhere in the United States, though also apparent (in embryonic forms) in parts of Britain — serve as a means of physical protection, and a vehicle for protecting the value of economic capital; both of which are predicated on the essential ‘unliveability’ of civil society beyond the walls. As such, the commodification of policing and security operates to cement (sometimes literally) and exacerbate social and spatial inequalities generated elsewhere; serving to project, anticipate and bring forth a tribalised, ‘neo-feudal’ world of private orders in which social cohesion and common citizenship have collapsed.
A primary characteristic of neofeudalism is that individuals' public lives are increasingly governed by business corporations, as Martha K. Huggins finds:
Besides public and private property, there is now an intermediate status that Shearing and Stenning label "mass public property," where public activities take place within privately owned facilities that are guarded primarily by private security backed up by the formal police system. [...]
Whether in Los Angeles, New York City, or Sao Paulo, as increasing amounts of public space become the real or de facto property of privileged apartment owners and business-run complexes like shopping centers and malls, these areas come to be defined, adjudicated, and regulated by the laws on private property and commercial legislation and practices. With more and more public life now taking place on privately owned mass public property, the definition of "deviance" within such areas turns on the particular logic of private ownership, profit-making, and resource protection. With "security" tailored to protect such spaces, social control agents shift their attention "from discovering and blaming wrongdoers to eliminating sources of...threats in the future". Thus, as relatively heterogeneous urban public spaces are transformed into symbolically gated homogeneous private regions, and overburdened and fiscally strapped governments transfer responsibility for protecting and regulating "mass private property" to the private security forces attached to it, a "new class of 'offenders' [emerges] — those who create opportunities for threats against the interests of the client". Such special interest social control fosters regions that resemble the "free trade zones" in developing countries, where international and national industry receive generous tax and political incentives from nation-states to establish or expand their business operations. Within such areas — whether designated "free-trade zones," or as is more common, simply city blocks and shopping malls — business and industry are the de facto government. Shearing and Stenning label this a "new feudalism" and characterize such areas as huge tracts of property and associated public spaces that are controlled and policed by private corporations. These corporations develop an extensive security apparatus there, of which "uniformed security personnel are only the supervisory tip of the iceberg." Out of such a marriage of business and government, a symbiosis emerges between the commercial sector's own private security forces and the local government's police forces, with repressive outcomes shaped by profit-driven definitions of deviance and a commodification of social control.
John Braithwaite notes that neofeudalism brings a different approach to governance, since business corporations in particular have this specialized need for loss reduction:
Clifford Shearing, who I will construe as the quintessential scholar of the new regulatory state, believes with Beck, that we have become a risk society in which preventive governance (O’Malley calls it ‘prudentialism’, Feeley and Simon an ‘actuarial logic’) has become more important. ... Shearing sees a difference between feudal governmentality as decentralized rule from the centre (sovereignty devolved) and a marketized mentality that devolves authority itself. Here he picks up on Beck’s idea that the ‘universalism of the market’ engenders a mentality of loss-reduction, a risk-focused strategy.
- Shearing, Clifford (2001). "Punishment and the Changing Face of the Governance". Punishment & Society 3 (2): 203–220. doi:10.1177/1462474501003002001.
- Huggins, Martha K. (2000). "Urban Violence and Police Privatization in Brazil: Blended Invisibility". Social Justice 27 (2). ISSN 1043-1578.
- Johnston, Les (1999). "Private Policing in Context". European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research 7 (2): 175–196. doi:10.1023/A:1008753326991.
- Shearing, Clifford D. (1983). "Private Security: Implications for Social Control". Social Problems 30 (5): 493–506. ISSN 0037-7791.
- Zedner, Lucia (2006). "Policing Before and After the Police: The Historical Antecedents of Contemporary Crime Control". The British Journal of Criminology 46 (1): 78–96. doi:10.1093/bjc/azi043.
- Baker, Bruce (2004). "Protection from crime: what is on offer for Africans?". Journal of Contemporary African Studies 22 (2): 165–188. doi:10.1080/cjca0258900042000230005.
- Lippert, Randy; O'Connor, Daniel (2006). "Security Intelligence Networks and the Transformation of Contract Private Security". Policing & Society 16 (1): 50–66. doi:10.1080/10439460500399445.
- Caparini, Marina (2006). "Applying a Security Governance Perspective to the Privatisation of Security". In Bryden, Alan; Caparini, Marina. Private Actors and Security Governance. LIT Verlag. pp. 263–282. ISBN 3-8258-9840-7.
- Loader, Ian (1999). "Consumer Culture and the Commodification of Policing and Security". Sociology 33 (2): 373–392. doi:10.1177/S003803859900022X.
- Braithwaite, John (2000). "The New Regulatory State and the Transformation of Criminology". The British Journal of Criminology 40 (2): 222–238. doi:10.1093/bjc/40.2.222.