Neither Expression of Tolerance Nor Instrument of Repression: Economic Laissez-Faire as an Improvised Mode of Domination

  • Béatrice Hibou
Part of the The Sciences Po Series in International Relations and Political Economy book series (SPIRP)


This chapter refutes the intentionalist assumption by analyzing the political meaning of illegality and laissez-faire. It shows that whatever its nature, a government does not create illegality; at best, it attempts to exploit the ‘flaws’ of a national political economy that also includes such practices. Faced with an inevitable situation, ‘laissez-faire’ may appear to be a more effective technique, provided, of course, it remains confined to certain limits, that not everything is allowed and that the level below which intervention is necessary is controlled. Provided also that we understand these ‘zones of laissez-faire’ not as places created by power, but as an adaptation of the political in the face of a complex and unexpected, or even uncontrollable situation. This is how we should understand the improvisation of state action which often operates, in such circumstances, at the junction of these interstitial sites; indeed, this allows an exercise of power often more effective than one that proceeds by direct, planned interventions. In a situation where the control cannot be as absolute as the central government itself would have us believe, where discipline cannot be total or normalization complete, ‘laissez-faire’ appears as a complementary mode of the mechanisms of surveillance and protection, but it is a largely unexpected mode, constantly moving and being remade.


Shadow Economy Informal Economy Informal Trade Foreign Exchange Reserve Total Domination 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Béatrice Hibou
    • 1
  1. 1.CERI-SciencesPoParisFrance

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