1st Edition

The Politics of Punishment A Comparative Study of Imprisonment and Political Culture

By Louise Brangan Copyright 2021
    206 Pages 9 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    206 Pages 9 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Prisons are everywhere. Yet they are not everywhere alike. How can we explain the differences in cross-national uses of incarceration? The Politics of Punishment explores this question by undertaking a comparative sociological analysis of penal politics and imprisonment in Ireland and Scotland.  

    Using archives and oral history, this book shows that divergences in the uses of imprisonment result from the distinctive features of a nation’s political culture: the different political ideas, cultural values and social anxieties that shape prison policymaking. Political culture thus connects large-scale social phenomena to actual carceral outcomes, illuminating the forces that support and perpetuate cross-national penal differences. The work therefore offers a new framework for the comparative study of penality. 

    This is also an important work of sociology and history. By closely tracking how and why the politics of punishment evolved and adapted over time, we also yield rich and compelling new accounts of both Irish and Scottish penal cultures from 1970 to the 1990s. 

    The Politics of Punishment will be essential reading for students and academics interested in the sociology of punishment, comparative penology, criminology, penal policymaking, law and social history.

    Chapter One: Introduction

    Chapter Two: Comparative Penal Culture

    Section One Irish Imprisonment Regimes & Political Culture 1970-1999

    Chapter Three: Pastoral Penality: Addressing The Pains Of Imprisonment

    Chapter Four: Pastoral Penality Losing Ground

    Chapter Five: The Power To Imprison

    Section Two The History Of Scottish Imprisonment And Political Culture, 1970-1995

    Chapter Six: The Dismissive Society: Discipline And Exclusion In Scottish Imprisonment

    Chapter Seven: Crisis Management

    Chapter Eight: Reinventing Scottish Imprisonment

    Chapter Nine: Comparing The Politics Of Punishment


    Louise Brangan is a lecturer in Criminology, University of Stirling, UK.


    Louise Brangan has written a fascinating book. The Politics of Punishment provides a rich narrative of prison and societal transformation in Ireland and Scotland that not only details the inner workings of the prison life but shows how the wider political culture and the complex meanings of crime and carceral subjects shape prison regime variation and change over time. She skillfully shows how Irish pastoralism tended to treat offenders as "ordinary decent criminals" who were part of the flock, not to be separated or segregated from society and explains how Scottish prisons were transformed from notorious cages, filled with blood and brutality, to a national project based on modernization, actively resisting prison build up elsewhere. This is a wonderful contribution to the sociology of punishment, prison studies, and comparative penology, fields that often talk past one another. Here they are integrated into a sophisticated theoretical framework based on cultural sociology and nuanced comparative analysis based on oral histories and archival research. A must read. 

    Vanessa Barker, Stockholm University

    Louise Brangan offers us a reading of penal policymaking and influences on penal styles which will shape the field for years to come. Providing a much-needed reimagining of influences on Irish penal practices, alongside new insights on the Scottish approach, Brangan revitalises analyses of the politics of punishment. This insightful, timely and exciting work should be read by all who are interested in what influences approaches to penal policy.

    Mary Rogan, Trinity College Dublin.

    Louise Brangan’s brilliant book provides us with a bridge between macro level analyses and micro level case studies of penal change. By developing the concepts of political cultures and imprisonment regimes, and by painstakingly excavating and comparing the relationships between them in Ireland and Scotland, Brangan’s work represents a significant step forward not just for comparative penology but for the burgeoning field of 'punishment and society'. Combining history, politics and sociology, her book deserves to be widely read by anyone seeking to better understand punishment and how we might change it.

    Fergus McNeil, University of Glasgow.

    This lively, well-written book describes how, in their distinctive ways, penal policy in Scotland and Ireland adapted to the momentous social changes of the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Combining a rich theoretical framework with a detailed knowledge of the day-to-day crises, challenges and contingencies of prison system management, Louise Brangan shows how what she calls "penal culture" functions as a crucial intermediary between social processes and penal practices. Penal comparativists and historians will find much of interest in these well-researched case studies, which provide a timely reminder of the institutional complexity that characterizes even the smallest of penal systems.

    David Garland, New York University.