America's Death Penalty
Between Past and Present
Publication Year: 2011
“If I were asked to recommend a single book that puts the vexed and emotionally charged question of the death penalty into an intelligible historical and contemporary political perspective it would be this one. The introduction sets the stage beautifully and the essays that follow allow readers to come at the problem from a variety of mutually reinforcing perspectives. It is a model for intellectually rigorous scholarship on a morally exigent matter.”
Published by: NYU Press
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This book grew out of collaborative work on the relationship between capital punishment, history, and social theory that we have been developing over the past few years. On various occasions, most notably at the Law Society Association (LSA) meetings in Las Vegas in May 2005 and at a workshop at New York University (NYU) School of Law in May 2007,...
1 Introduction: Getting the Question Right? Ways of Thinking about the Death Penalty
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In recent years the death penalty has lost none of its power to arouse powerful emotions or to produce heated debates. Indeed, the question of capital punishment has secured greater prominence, as it has become one of the defining issues in the campaign to promote recognition of international human rights. The result has been the transformation of a debate largely...
2 Modes of Capital Punishment: The Death Penalty in Historical Perspective
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Capital punishment has been practiced in most known societies over the course of human history. In modern liberal democracies, however, the legitimacy and effectiveness of the institution have increasingly come into question. In these nations, with their commitment to limiting state violence, promoting social welfare, and respecting human dignity, the death penalty...
3 The Death Penalty: Between Law, Sovereignty, and Biopolitics
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For several decades the penal practices and policies of the United States and the countries of Western Europe have diverged in surprising and notable ways. With the relative exception of Great Britain, none of the European countries has taken so strenuously the path of mass imprisonment. Nor have any European countries continued to deploy the death penalty. Indeed...
4 Through the Wrong End of the Telescope: History, the Death Penalty, and the American Experience
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I begin this essay with a familiar image: an optical instrument meant to help us investigate distant phenomena. Yet the telescope, if used inappropriately, can produce a fundamental misperception about the relationship of an object to the viewer. Similarly history has come to figure prominently in discussions of the place of capital punishment in the contemporary...
5 Hanging and the English Judges: The Judicial Politics of Retention and Abolition
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The legislative history of capital punishment extends over centuries in England, colonial America, and the United States. We see great increases in the number of capital statutes in some periods, sharp reductions in others, and, ultimately, abolition in England and the other parts of the United Kingdom in the second half of the twentieth century. There were also significant...
6 Interposition: Segregation, Capital Punishment, and the Forging of the Post–New Deal Political Leader
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Historians and political scientists have long viewed Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” as a watershed period in American political development that created a fundamental new political order, one that dominated politics and transformed American governance for at least forty years from roughly 1936 to 1976.1 More recently sociologists of punishment have suggested that the roots...
7 The Convict’s Two Lives: Civil and Natural Death in the American Prison
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In 1870 the warden and agent of the Virginia State Penitentiary at Richmond dispatched several dozen male prisoners to forced labor camps owned and operated by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company in Bath County, some miles from Richmond.1 That summer, while toiling on the railroad tracks beneath the hot Virginia sun, several of these prison...
About the Contributors
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Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2011