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Punishment and society


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  • Punishment, as one of the major social institutions in our society, has always been a central object of social theory and in many ways a mirror of society and its norms. Punishment, in other words, is far more than a technical problem linked to certain institutions of crime control and prevention. To answer the questions on why and how we should punish wrongdoers in our society, we will look at the different functions of punishment, like retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, and restoration. We will trace those functions historically and culturally, finding vast cultural and social differences in the way in which punishment is practiced. For instance, there is a vast difference in how different jurisdictions think about and practice punishment. The course will appraise and build upon popular opinions about punishment, reminding us that the issue of punishment is both a normative and a scientific issue.

  • By the end of this course students should be able to:

    1. Understand the differences between common sense approaches and scientific evidence based approaches to the effects of punishment;

    2. Understand basic philosophical arguments about punishment;

    3. Learn how to see punishment in a comparative and historical context;

    4. Identify basic issues of rehabilitative and retributive approaches to punishment;

    5. Discuss basic issues concerning the death penalty.

  • Tasks




    • Miethe, T. and Lu, H. (2005) Punishment. A Comparative Historical Perspective, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

    • Garland, D. (1990) Punishment and Modern Society, Oxford, Oxford University

    • Adams, R. (1998) The Abuses of Punishment, London, MacMillan, Chapter 1: Concepts of Punishment, pp. 3-9.

    • Braithwaite, J. (2002) Restorative Justice and Responsive Regulation, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

    • Brooks, T. (2012) Punishment, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

    • Chan, S., (2017) ‘Offender Rehabilitation: The Hong Kong Correctional Services
      Department’ in Chan, H. C. and Ho, M. Y. (Eds.), Psycho-Criminological
      Perspective of Criminal Justice in Asia: Research and Practices in Hong Kong,
      Singapore and Beyond (Routledge Studies in Asian Behavioural Sciences), Oxon:
      Routledge, pp. 89-113.

    • Duff, R.A. and Garland, D. “Introduction: Thinking about punishment”, in Duff, A. & Garland, D. (Eds.) (1994) A Reader on Punishment, Oxford Readings in Socio-
      Legal Studies, Oxford, Oxford University Press, pp. 1-28.

    • Foucault, M, (1977) Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison, London/New
      York: Allen Lane/Vintage.

    • Holdsworth, M., Munn, C., (2020) Crime, Justice and Punishment in Colonial
      Hong Kong, Hong Kong, HKU Press.

    • Hood, R. and Hoyle, C. (2015) The Death Penalty. A World Wide Perspective (5th Edition), Oxford, Oxford University Press, Chapter 9, The Question of Deterrence, pp. 208-232.

    • Simon, J., Sparks, R. (2013) The Sage Handbook of Punishment and Society. London: Sage. (electronic resources)

Course co-ordinator and teachers
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