Embodiments and frictions of statehood in transnational criminal justice

Publication Date01 August 2021
Date01 August 2021
AuthorRandi Solhjell,Eva Magdalena Stambøl
Theoretical Criminology
2021, Vol. 25(3) 493 –510
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/13624806211009481
Embodiments and frictions
of statehood in transnational
criminal justice
Eva Magdalena Stambøl
Free University of Berlin, Germany
Randi Solhjell
Norwegian Police University College, Norway
Outside of criminology, dominant conceptions of postcolonial statehood in the Global
South as ‘fragile’ or ‘failed’ have long been criticized. In criminology, however, the
theoretical outcomes of this critique have been scarce. In this article we therefore ask
how ideals and practices of transnational criminal justice are informed by and productive
of specific (Global North) conceptions of statehood. Exploring encounters between
transnational and local criminal justice in the context of international state-building
in Mali and Liberia, we observe frictions in which statehood divergences and global
hierarchies become apparent. Through penal aid, we argue, a particular kind of penal
statehood is produced wherein the options of how to perform penality are increasingly
limited by the embeddedness in global power asymmetries.
cybercrime, gender-based violence, Global South, Liberia, Mali, performativity,
statehood, transnational criminal justice
Transnational criminal justice implicitly embodies specific notions of statehood. In interna-
tional discourse on criminal justice and police cooperation, countries in the Global South
have tended to be portrayed as the ‘weak link’ that, due to their ineffective and
Corresponding author:
Eva Magdalena Stambøl, Free University of Berlin, Ihnestraße 22, Berlin, 14195, Germany.
Email: stambolevam@zedat.fu-berlin.de
1009481TCR0010.1177/13624806211009481Theoretical CriminologyStambøl and Solhjell
494 Theoretical Criminology 25(3)
underdeveloped criminal justice systems, provide safe havens for transnational criminals
(Andreas and Nadelmann, 2006). Put differently, postcolonial statehood1 is often portrayed
as ‘fragile’, ‘weak’ or ‘failed’ with regard to performing state functions such as those of
criminal justice (Duffield, 2007). This view has prompted the necessity for international
organizations and countries in the Global North to provide ‘penal aid’ to ‘develop credible
criminal justice institutions and reform penal practice throughout the world’ (Brisson-Boivin
and O’Connor, 2013: 515). As we aim to illustrate in this article, through penal aid practices,
state-builders also perform the crime control functions of African states together with local
officials, thereby attempting to produce states that govern transnational crime responsibly.
While classical criminology has been state-centric, the view that the state’s institu-
tions are and should be the primary agents of criminal justice and crime control has
increasingly been questioned by criminologists (see, for example, Christie, 1977;
Garland and Sparks, 2000; Jamieson and McEvoy, 2005; Lohne, 2020; McEvoy, 2007).
Foucauldian analyses, in particular, have understood state power as decentred and dis-
persed political technologies of control (Rose and Miller, 1992) entailing both ‘technolo-
gies of the other’ and ‘technologies of the self’ (Garland, 1996, 1997). Still, however,
Katja Franko notes that referrals to ‘the state’ in ‘criminological scholarship almost with-
out exception means the western state, mainly North American, UK, Australia, Western
Europe, occasionally Russia, while examples of “lesser statehood” are far more seldom
considered’ (Aas, 2012: 15). This observation echoes criminological scholarship criti-
quing the implicit Global North centricity of the discipline that ignores colonial history
and silences epistemologies from the Global South (Agozino, 2003; Carrington et al.,
2015; Fonseca, 2018). Yet, the postcolonial critiques posed by the strands of ‘southern’
and ‘Africana’ criminology have not taken into account the theoretical discussion on
statehood in the African studies literature, something we aim to remedy with this article.
Thus, we ask, as Franko does: ‘Which state? Where is it situated and what are its historic
and geopolitical contexts?’ (Aas, 2012: 15). Moreover, we add: how are ideals and prac-
tices of transnational criminal justice (TCJ) informed by and productive of specific con-
ceptions of statehood? By doing so, we respond to her ‘invitation to examine some of the
prevalent assumptions about statehood and consider theoretical accounts which diverge
from the western ideas and ideals of statehood’ (Aas, 2012: 16).
In the following section we outline the ‘failed states critique’ in the literature on interna-
tional state-building and TCJ: noticing that in criminology, theoretical outcomes of this
critique have at best been scarce, even in the strands of ‘Africana’ or ‘southern’ criminol-
ogy that have otherwise excelled in unravelling the Occidentalism of much criminological
theory. After a note on case selection, methods and data (section three), we draw on two
empirical examples of encounters between transnational and local criminal justice in Mali
and Liberia respectively to illustrate how these performances of TCJ implicitly embody
attempts to transfer Global North conceptions of statehood within asymmetrical power
relations (sections four and five). This leads to frictions—understood as ‘heterogenous and
unequal encounters [that] can lead to new arrangements of culture and power’ (Tsing, 2005
in Aas, 2011: 414)—wherein the discrepancies between different ideas and ideals of state-
hood become apparent. Section six discusses the theoretical implications of these findings
for criminology, and suggests that a particular kind of penal statehood is produced through
TCJ performances that reproduce global hierarchies.

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