The Cultural Life of Capital Punishment (Aut) (L4091A)

30 credits, Level 6

Autumn teaching

In this module, you look at sociological, criminological, socio-legal and cultural approaches in order to study capital punishment.

You will engage with a 'cultures of punishment' perspective on the death penalty, drawing on capital punishment scholars such as David Garland (2010), Austin Sarat (2001) and Franklin Zimring (2003).

This perspective emphasises the need to understand the symbolic meanings generated by punishment and how these relate to social change.

You also study capital punishment in its historical and contemporary contexts. After establishing this theoretical framework, you study a broadly chronological approach from the nineteenth-century to the present.

You explore the following topics:

  • spectacle and public execution
  • the campaign to end public executions
  • mid twentieth-century abolitionism
  • public views on capital punishment in England
  • American reinstatement of the death penalty
  • cultural portrayals of capital punishment
  • women and the death penalty
  • 'new abolitionism' and the innocence movement in the United States
  • European cosmopolitan identity and the campaign for worldwide abolition
  • current use of the death penalty worldwide with a focus on Singapore, Japan and China.

You mainly focus on European countries and the United States, although the final topic includes a wider international dimension.


33%: Lecture
67%: Seminar


100%: Written assessment (Essay)

Contact hours and workload

This module is approximately 300 hours of work. This breaks down into about 30 hours of contact time and about 270 hours of independent study. The University may make minor variations to the contact hours for operational reasons, including timetabling requirements.

We regularly review our modules to incorporate student feedback, staff expertise, as well as the latest research and teaching methodology. We’re planning to run these modules in the academic year 2023/24. However, there may be changes to these modules in response to feedback, staff availability, student demand or updates to our curriculum. We’ll make sure to let you know of any material changes to modules at the earliest opportunity.


This module is offered on the following courses: