Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Enactivism and Correctional Science: An Analysis of Forensic Treatment of Agency in a Neoliberal Climate

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posted on 2021-09-06, 02:36 authored by O'Neill, Samuel

In correctional practice, as primarily informed and driven by the Risk-Need-Responsivity (RNR) practice framework of Bonta and Andrews (2017), theoretical explanations of agency bear significance in their representation and consequent treatment of ‘criminal’ agents. Due to a state of ‘theoretical illiteracy’ however, this domain remains largely divorced from the insights offered by current affective science (Ward, 2019). The purpose of this paper is to outline key principles offered within an ‘enactive’ paradigm; a contemporary strand of cognitive science that depicts cognition as embodied, embedded and enactive, ultimately submitting a relational cognitive-affective agency, constituted of habits of bodies and minds (Maise & Hanna, 2019; Ward, Silverman & Villalobos, 2017). Enactivism offers various elements that contrast with traditional internal ‘cognitivist models’ of agency, which inform mainstream correctional practice; these include the active, affective and social nature of cognition, which as is illustrated, lends emphasis to the impact of prevalent ideologies, through institutions, upon agents (Maise & Hanna, 2019). In this project I outline current correctional treatment of agency, as it stands in contrast to insights offered by enactive accounts, and as embedded in a broader neoliberal context. Therefore I provide some critical examination of the relationship between psychological theory and neoliberal ideology, specifically focusing on principles of individualism and self-governance it is purported to cultivate. In conclusion I maintain that the RNR provides a thin representation of agency that is driven by an internal and limited perspective of functioning that precludes aspects essential to the personhood of agents including its active, affective and phenomenological nature. As embedded in a neoliberal context, I argue that this significantly limits rehabilitative practice, and reifies an abstraction of mindedness from material and social contexts. A pluralistic approach to rehabilitation is therefore necessary, including the enactive and related perspectives expounded in this piece, in order to provide explanation and therefore practice beyond entrenched normative assumptions of agency and human function.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

CC BY-SA 4.0

Degree Discipline

Forensic Psychology

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Science

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Psychology


Ward, Tony