Protection : selling self-defence in twentieth-century Britain and the United States

Dodsworth, Francis (2020) Protection : selling self-defence in twentieth-century Britain and the United States. In: Churchill, David , Janiewski, Dolores and Leloup, Pieter, (eds.) Private security and the modern state : historical and comparative perspectives. Abingdon, U.K. : Routledge. pp. 154-171. (Routledge SOLON Explorations in Crime and Criminal Justice Histories) ISBN 9780367183493


This chapter explores self-defence culture in the UK and the USA from the introduction of Asian martial arts into Anglophone culture in the early twentieth century to their displacement by the trend for ‘realism’ in self-defence in the 1990s. It argues that claims made by self-defence entrepreneurs that they are experts in the provision of protection constitute a form of power, one emblematic of the particular forms of expertise associated with ‘responsibilization’ and the production of autonomy, but which also intersect with aspects of social change identifiable with ‘civilizing’ and ‘de-civilizing’ processes. The intersection of programmes of ‘responsibilization’ and a late modern ‘de-civilizing process’ are strongly associated with the emergence of ‘neo-liberal’ government in the 1970s and 1980s; however, this chapter demonstrates that interest in, and the marketing of self-defence, particularly through training manuals, long predates the development of neo-liberalism. Nevertheless, the chapter acknowledges a significant shift in the pattern of the rhetoric of protection in the 1980s and 1990s, with self-defence discourse forming part of a wider contemporaneous shift towards crime prevention, harm reduction and personal responsibility common throughout the policing and security fields. This shift involved a move away from an emphasis on learning technique and particular physical responses to attack, towards a new emphasis on situational awareness, emotion management and the cultivation of a persona rendering the practitioner less liable to assault. It is suggested that not only does this constitute an aspect of what Nikolas Rose calls the ‘psychologization of techniques of the self’, but that it also constitutes an attempt to shape a distinct ‘emotional community’ of self-defenders, one that explicitly sets out to enable its members to overcome the constraints on the release of aggression commonly associated with the ‘civilizing process’.

Actions (Repository Editors)

Item Control Page Item Control Page