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René van Swaaningen

Subject Sociology » Social Problems, Sociology of Race and Ethnicity

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1800-1899

People Douglass, Frederick

Key-Topics slavery

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


When social scientists use the word abolitionism they mostly refer to the criminological perspective that dismisses penal definitions and punitive responses to criminalized problems, and that proposes their replacement by dispute-settlement, redress, and social justice. In more general, historical terms it refers to the abolition of state (supported) institutions that are no longer felt to be legitimate. There have been abolitionist movements against slavery, torture, prostitution, capital punishment, and prison. The word abolitionism as we currently understand it in criminology is adopted from the North American anti-prison movement of the early 1970s. Herein most notably Quakers take up their historical mission from the anti-slavery movement. They see prison as an institution that today fulfills the same social functions as slavery did till the late nineteenth century: disciplining the (mostly black) underclass. This American abolitionism is mainly grounded in religious inspiration, and less in considerations about the counter-effectiveness of criminal justice, as is the case in Europe. The European abolitionist social movements of that era were prisoners’ unions and more intellectual radical penal reform movements ( Van Swaaningen 1997 ). Academic abolitionism has its roots in symbolic interactionism and social constructionism, with a strongly Foucauldian focus on discipline ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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