Monday, December 26, 2016

Big Ideas in Punishment and Society: Reboot

A year and a half ago, I had committed myself to writing a series on what I saw as the twelve big ideas in Punishment and Society. I did not followup. Now that things have settled down, and as we furiously finalize our syllabi for next semester/quarter, I thought this would be a good time to revisit the series. My previous post laid out the various caveats and biases I saw in my list, including their skewing to my interests and my training, which will likely lead to a slightly different list than others would create. As I was laying out a schedule for this series and revisiting my list of big ideas, however, I decided to change things up a bit by describing the ideas chronologically. This, then, triggered additional ideas about trends in the various big ideas. This post lays out these trends, while subsequent posts will discuss the ideas in turn.

My evolving list of 10 to 12 big ideas seems to fall into several periods of action, each of which has a theme:

  1. 1940s-1960s: The Birth of Prison Sociology 
  2. 1970s-1980s: Critical Looks at Punishment as Social Control, or the Futility of Reform  
  3. 1990s-2000s: Understanding the New Normal 
  4. 2010s: The Resurgence of General Theories of Penal Change 
These periods are not equally distributed. For example, in Period 1 (1940s-1960s), I basically combine the major concepts from prison sociology---inmate culture, prisonization, pains of imprisonment, and secondary adjustments---into one big idea. By contrast, Periods 2 (1970s-1980s) and 3 (1990s-2000s) have four or five distinct ideas in each. Period 4 (2010s) is difficult to assess because it is ongoing and I have yet to decide how much to discuss this period until we can better assess the long-term impact of these ideas, but it too is on the smaller side. 

I've never really thought about periodizing punishment and society research before, beyond a general cut-off around 1990 with the formalization of the field in the birth of our namesake journal and the publication of Garland's Punishment and Modern Society. I had always described punishment and society with a heavy leaning toward this more recent work: I would first say it's the field that generally treats punishment as a social institution, meaning it does not assume crime shapes punishment but instead describes how punishment and society are mutually constituted (or rather how society affects punishment and vice/versa)---borrowing heavily from my script for explaining law and society. I would then add that its main goal recently (for the last twenty-plus years) has been to understand the causes and consequences of the punitive turn, most notably the emergence of mass incarceration. This was always a little unsatisfying because it left out other studies that were clearly punishment and society, but I could never really articulate a way to link them together except by playing a few degrees of Kevin Bacon. 

When I taught punishment and society classes, I put the punitive turn at the center and set up the class to describe (1) what punishment was like before and what it's like elsewhere, and thus how the new approach is different, (2) what are the major components of the punitive turn, (3) what are its consequences, and (4) what do we think caused it (see this post). This seemed to me to be a pretty good representation of the field. (In an earlier version, I used the evolution of prison sociology to provide a window (problematic as it was) onto changes in doing time over time.) Certainly, I left out some things, but I got to teach these in my law and society class, my prison history class, or my org theory class. 

But thinking through the big ideas---thinking about what concepts or theories really left their mark and that we still see cited such that we can start to create a genealogy of the field (one that starts after Durkheim, Marx, and Weber)---helped me realize this longer periodization. It's also helping me to see  how ideas that might not really seem like they fit (e.g., classic prison sociology) do in fact fit together, but under the broader tent of punishment studies and how that field has evolved over time. In this case, the relationship between punishment and society is more flexibly defined and examined than the way I had conceived it. 

It's also interesting to think about how each of these periods responds to the major concerns of the time. In mid-century, a relatively consensus-heavy focus on society---and eventually membership in and exclusion from society. In the post-1969 period, the disappointment with society, the seemingly inevitable failure of reforms (for so many reasons), and the neo-Marxist approach are powerful. In the 1990s, we came to grips with one of the biggest changes in punishment---mass incarceration---and tried desperately to understand how it happened and what it means. Now that mass incarceration is no longer new and people are turning to new topics (including its future and the mixed attempts at reigning it in), and a new generation of scholars are emerging who were trained after the earlier backlash to general theories, we're starting to see people look beyond explaining the punitive turn and go back to making general statements about punishment---but with a twist, illustrating that they understand the problems with traditional general theories.  

When I turn to the individual posts, I will try to develop these themes more, but the main focus will be on the individual ideas themselves and, secondarily, how they relate to the general thrust of the literature at the time. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Members' Recent Publication Digest - December Edition

As compiled by Miltonette Craig:


Longazel, Jamie, Jake Berman, and Benjamin Fleury-Steiner. (2016). The Pains of Immigrant Imprisonment. Sociology Compass, 10(11), 989-998.

Rubin, Ashley T. (Forthcoming). Professionalizing Prison: Primitive Professionalization and the Administrative Defense of Eastern State Penitentiary, 1829-1879. Law & Social Inquiry, DOI: 10.1111/lsi.12263

Savelsberg, Joachim J. (2016). Representing Mass Violence in Darfur: Global, National and Field Factors. Zeitschrift für Genozidforschung, 14(1-2), 62-79.

Steele, Linda, Leanne Dowse, and Julian Trofimovs. (2016). Who Is Diverted?: Moving Beyond Diagnosed Impairment Towards a Social and Political Analysis of Diversion. Sydney Law Review, 38(2), 179-206.


Lynch, Mona. (2016). Hard Bargains: The Coercive Power of Drug Laws in Federal Court. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Savelsberg, Joachim J. (2016). Repräsentationen von Massengewalt: Strafrechtliche, Humanitäre, Diplomatische und Journalistische Perspektiven auf den Darfurkonflikt. (Representing Mass Violence: Conflicting Responses to Human Rights Violations in Darfur). Frankfurt: Vittorio Klostermann. (English text published in 2015 by the University of California Press. Open access version:

If you would like your recently published book or article to be included in the next digest,
please send your citation information to Miltonette Craig ( by January 31.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

New Books from NYU Press

The NYU Press recently sent out an ad for its Criminology-related titles in time for ASC. A number of these will be of interest to Punishment & Society scholars. Here is the full list, and specific comments follow below.

While there are many really interesting sounding books, here, two may be of especial interest: 

Judah Schept's Progressive Punishment: Job Loss, Jail Growth, and the Neoliberal Logic of Carceral Expansion:
The growth of mass incarceration in the United States eludes neat categorization as a product of the political Right. Liberals played important roles in both laying the foundation for and then participating in the conservative tough on crime movement that is largely credited with the rise of the prison state. But what of those politicians and activists on the Left who reject punitive politics in favor of rehabilitation and a stronger welfare state? Can progressive policies such as these, with their benevolent intentions, nevertheless contribute to the expansion of mass incarceration?

In Progressive Punishment, Judah Schept offers an ethnographic examination into the politics of incarceration in Bloomington, Indiana in order to consider the ways that liberal discourses about therapeutic justice and rehabilitation can uphold the logics, practices and institutions that comprise the carceral state. Schept examines how political leaders on the Left, despite being critical of mass incarceration, advocated for a “justice campus” that would have dramatically expanded the local criminal justice system. At the root of this proposal, Schept argues, is a confluence of neoliberal-style changes in the community that naturalized prison expansion as political common sense among leaders negotiating crises of deindustrialization, urban decline, and the devolution of social welfare. In spite of the momentum that the proposal gained, Schept uncovers resistance among community organizers, who developed important strategies and discourses to challenge the justice campus, disrupt some of the logics that provided it legitimacy, and offer new possibilities for a non-carceral community. A well-researched and well-narrated study, Progressive Punishment offers a novel perspective on the relationship between liberal politics, neoliberalism, and mass incarceration.
Travis Linnemann's Meth Wars: Police, Media, Power:
From the hit television series Breaking Bad, to daily news reports, anti-drug advertising campaigns and  highly publicized world-wide hunts for “narcoterrorists” such as Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the drug, methamphetamine occupies a unique and important space in the public’s imagination.  In Meth Wars, Travis Linnemann situates the "meth epidemic" within the broader culture and politics of drug control and mass incarceration.
Linnemann draws together a range of examples and critical interdisciplinary scholarship to show how methamphetamine, and the drug war more generally, are part of a larger governing strategy that animates the politics of fear and insecurity and links seemingly unrelated concerns such as environmental dangers, the politics of immigration and national security, policing tactics, and terrorism.  The author’s unique analysis presents a compelling case for how the supposed “meth epidemic” allows politicians, small town police and government counter-narcotics agents to engage in a singular policing project in service to the broader economic and geostrategic interests of the United States. 

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Members' Recent Publication Digest - October Edition

October 2016


Brown, M., & Schept, J. (2016). New Abolition, Criminology and a Critical Carceral Studies. Punishment & Society. DOI: 10.1177/1462474516666281

Kerrison, E. M., Bachman, R., & Paternoster, R. (2016). The Effects of Age at Release on Women’s Desistance Trajectories: A Mixed-Method Analysis. Journal of Developmental and Life-Course Criminology. DOI: 10.1007/s40865-016-0039-0

Paternoster, R., Bachman, R., Kerrison, E., O’Connell, D., and Smith, L. (2016). Desistance from Crime and Identity: An Empirical Test with Survival Time. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 43(9), 1204-1224.

Rubin, A. T. (2016). Penal Change as Penal Layering: A Case Study of Proto-Prison Adoption and Capital Punishment Reduction, 1785–1822. Punishment & Society, 18(4), 420-441.


Dzur, A., Loader, I., & Sparks, R. (Eds.). (2016). Democratic Theory and Mass Incarceration. New York: Oxford University Press.

If you would like your recently published book or article to be included in the next digest,
please send your citation information to Miltonette Craig ( by November 30.