In recent years, there has been a widely recognised rise of ‘busybodies’ in public spaces: private security guards or council officials who approach somebody busking or skateboarding and ask them to move on. There has also been a growth of ‘pointless rules’, from outdoor smoking bans to mandatory reporting of innocuous playground incidents.
These policies and procedures often seem to make little sense and only obstruct rather than to serve any useful public purpose. These changes are often blamed on the meddling personalities of official ‘Little Hitlers’, but in a new book, Officious: Rise of the Busybody State, Josie Appleton argues that the new officials and regulations represent a new logic of state organisation and a change in the relationship between citizens and state. The target of this officiousness is spontaneous and unregulated public life, in which state regulations represent the rule and restriction of freedom as an end in itself – and defined against the citizenry as a problem to be managed.
So how do we explain the rise of the ‘busybody state’? Can, or should, it be rolled-back? And could opposition to it even lead to potential new political alliances between various affected groups – from protestors to buskers to dog walkers – against the organs of the officious state and in defence of the principle of the free civic domain?
Josie will introduce her book followed by questions and comments from our critical panel, before discussion is opened up to the audience.