Sociology and Criminology

The Cultural Life of Capital Punishment (Spr)

Module code: L4091B
Level 6
30 credits in spring semester
Teaching method: Lecture, Seminar
Assessment modes: Coursework

This module will incorporate sociological, criminological, socio-legal and cultural approaches in order to study capital punishment. Primarily, it will involve you engaging 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. The module will involve studying capital punishment in its historical and contemporary contexts. After establishing this theoretical framework the module will take a broadly chronological approach from the 19th century to the present and will address the following topics: spectacle and public execution; the campaign to end public executions; mid 20th 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 particular focus on Singapore, Japan and China. The focus will largely be on European countries and the United States, although the final topic will introduce a wider international dimension.

Module learning outcomes

  • Recognise and describe what is meant by 'cultures of punishment' and be able to explain the relevance of this concept to the death penalty.
  • Describe changes over time in cultural reactions to the use of the death penalty and explain the factors which have influenced this.
  • Employ relevant theoretical concepts to analyse empirical examples covered on the module.
  • Critically assess competing arguments which seek to explain shifts in cultural reactions to capital punishment.
  • Further develop their skills of academic writing and research by producing an in-depth, 6000 word assignment.