Sociology and Criminology

The Cultural Life of Capital Punishment (Aut)

Module code: L4091A
Level 6
30 credits in autumn semester
Teaching method: Lecture, Seminar
Assessment modes: Essay

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.

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.
  • Have a detailed knowledge of changes over time in cultural reactions to the use of the death penalty and a systematic understanding of 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, research and communicating with non-academic audiences by producing a policy briefing and essay about capital punishment”