The two subalterns: perceived status and violent punitiveness

Milton, James, and Petray, Theresa (2020) The two subalterns: perceived status and violent punitiveness. M/C Journal, 23 (2). 7.

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From the mid-twentieth century, state and public conceptions of deviance and crime control have turned increasingly punitive (Hallett 115; Hutchinson 138). In a Western context, criminal justice has long been retributive, prioritising punishment over rehabilitation (Wenzel et al. 26). Within that context, there has been an increase in punitiveness—understood here as a measure of a punishment’s severity—the intention of which has been to help restore the moral imbalance created by offending while also deterring future crime (Wenzel et al. 26). Entangled with the global spread of neoliberal capitalism, punitiveness has become internationally pervasive to a near-hegemonic degree (Sparks qtd. in Jennings et al. 463; Unnever and Cullen 100).

The punitive turn has troubling characteristics. Punitive policies can be expensive, and increased incarceration stresses the criminal justice system and leads to prison overcrowding (Hutchinson 135). Further, punitiveness is not only applied unequally across categories such as class, race, and age (Unnever and Cullen 105-06; Wacquant 212) but the effectiveness of punitive policy relative to its costs is contested (Bouffard et al. 466, 477; Hutchinson 139). Despite this, evidence suggests public demand is driving punitive policymaking, but that demand is only weakly related to crime rates (Jennings et al. 463).

While discussion of punitiveness in the public sphere often focuses on measures such as boot camps for young offenders, increased incarceration, and longer prison sentences, punitiveness also has a darker side. Our research analysing discussion taking place on a large, regional, crime-focused online forum reveals a startling degree and intensity of violence directed at offenders and related groups. Members of the discussion forum do propose unsurprising measures such as incarceration and boot camps, but also an array of violent alternatives, including beating, shooting, dismemberment, and conversion into animal food. This article draws on our research to explore why discussion of punitiveness can be so intensely violent.

Item ID: 63190
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1441-2616
Copyright Information: Copyright (c) 2020 James Milton, Theresa Petray. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Date Deposited: 21 Jul 2020 23:24
FoR Codes: 44 HUMAN SOCIETY > 4410 Sociology > 441013 Sociology of migration, ethnicity and multiculturalism @ 30%
44 HUMAN SOCIETY > 4410 Sociology > 441004 Social change @ 40%
44 HUMAN SOCIETY > 4410 Sociology > 441099 Sociology not elsewhere classified @ 30%
SEO Codes: 94 LAW, POLITICS AND COMMUNITY SERVICES > 9404 Justice and the Law > 940403 Criminal Justice @ 100%
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