The Truth Machines

Policing, Violence, and Scientific Interrogations in India
Jinee Lokaneeta


Using case studies and the results of extensive fieldwork, this book considers the nature of state power and legal violence in liberal democracies by focusing on the interaction between law, science, and policing in India. The postcolonial Indian police have often been accused of using torture in both routine and exceptional criminal cases, but they, and forensic psychologists, have claimed that lie detectors, brain scans, and narcoanalysis (the use of “truth serum,” Sodium Pentothal) represent a paradigm shift away from physical torture; most state high courts in India have upheld this rationale.

The Truth Machines examines the emergence and use of these three scientific techniques to analyze two primary themes. First, the book questions whether existing theoretical frameworks for understanding state power and legal violence are adequate to explain constant innovations of the state. Second, it explores the workings of law, science, and policing in the everyday context to generate a theory of state power and legal violence, challenging the monolithic frameworks about this relationship, based on a study of both state and non-state actors.

Jinee Lokaneeta argues that the attempt to replace physical torture with truth machines in India fails because it relies on a confessional paradigm that is contiguous with torture. Her work also provides insights into a police institution that is founded and refounded in its everyday interactions between state and non-state actors. Theorizing a concept of Contingent State, this book demonstrates the disaggregated, and decentered nature of state power and legal violence, creating possible sites of critique and intervention.

Jinee Lokaneeta is a professor in political science and international relations at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

Praise / Awards

  • Truth Machines provides a fascinating–and at times harrowing–account of police interrogations in India today. She disentangles the complex morass of legal and scientific frameworks which are used to justify the exercise of state power upon the bodies of criminal suspects. Lokaneeta offers new frameworks for understanding the relationship of sovereignty and violence which will engage many readers.”
    —Keally D. McBride, University of San Francisco
  • “Whether you are a fan of CSI or true crime shows, a political theorist specializing in rationales of violence or modes of policing, or an anthropologist who studies the everyday disarticulated practices of the State, you should read Truth Machines for the way it makes the world of forensics come alive. This theoretically sharp and ethnographically rich book will convince you that forensic ‘science’ is neither more reliable nor more humane than enhanced interrogation techniques, but is constituted through the imagination of those who tout its power.”
    —Srimati Basu, University of Kentucky
  • “With depth and theoretical sophistication, [The Truth Machines] will attract attention and make significant contributions to various fields, including contemporary political theory, legal studies, critical police studies, comparative politics, and South Asian studies. The contribution seems timely, as political science starts acknowledging the relevance of policing and other connected practices.”
    —Guillermina Seri, Union College
  • "Overall, this is an essential work on the history of coercion and efforts to regulate it in India." —Indian Journal of Medical Ethics

News, Reviews, Interviews

Read: Book is highlighted in the author's article in the Indian Express I 10/19/2020
Read: A book discussion of The Truth Machines in Law and Other Things | 7/04/2020–7/13/2020

"What does the turn to using 'truth serums' (narcoanalysis) mean for India’s police?" |  The Big Q
"Scaffold of the Rule of Law—Terror Suspects and the Experience of Violence"  | The Polis Project
"Why Police in India Use 'Third-Degree' Torture Methods for Interrogation" | The Wire

Product Details

  • 262 pages.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2020
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-12647-7

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  • State; Policing; Postcolonial State; Liberal Democracy; Rule of Law; State Violence; Exception; Weber; Agamben; Foucault; Truth Machines; Narcoanalysis; Lie Detectors; Brain Fingerprinting; Brain Electrical Oscillation Signature Test; Spectacle of the Scaffold; Pragmatic Logic of Torture; Contingent State; Torture; Racialization; Feminization; Terrorism; Pastoral; Coercive; Art of Government