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Death Penalty as a Social Problem

Evi Girling

Subject Law
Sociology » Social Problems

Key-Topics death

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


The death penalty (also known as capital punishment) is the sentencing of offenders to death after conviction following due process of law. The practice of the death penalty has undergone two key transformations in modern times. The first one is an unremitting restriction on the kinds of crimes and categories of offender on whom the death penalty could be applied, leading to its eventual abolition in the majority of jurisdictions. The second shift is its transformation from brutal public displays of excess (famously depicted by Foucault in Discipline and Punish , 1977) to private, detached, and medicalized executions where pain and the body is elided, where execution is rendered a non-event. Within the sociology of punishment these shifts have been mostly explained either by the cultural dynamic of the privatization of disturbing events or by the transformation in technologies of power from punishment as public and violent spectacle inflicting pain on the body to the emergence of disciplinary power and the surveillance of the soul. The death penalty can be traced to antiquity from the Lex Talionis of the Code of Hamurabi (1750 bce ) to the laws of Draco in ancient Greece (seventh century bce ) and its prescription by Roman Law (fifth century bce ). It also has established provenance in some of the world's major religions, such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, all of which ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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