Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
An examination of punishments within a comparative historical context brings up several basic questions about law, the structure of society, and the nature of social order. In this final chapter we explore and illustrate how a sociological analysis of punishment within a comparative historical framework can improve our understanding of these basic issues. We pay particular attention to the following concerns: (1) theories of law and society, (2) the effectiveness of state-sponsored punishments, (3) socioeconomic disparities in legal punishments, and (4) cultural values and the dramatization of “evil” societies.
THEORIES OF LAW AND SOCIETY
There are several well-established principles within the sociological study of law about the interrelationships between legal norms, criminal sanctions, and the nature of society. Both consensus and conflict models of social order have been used to describe the content of legal norms and changes in them over time in response to changing social conditions. As societies become more complex, it is widely assumed that legal norms and criminal sanctions also change in predictable ways. These views are reflected in the work of Phillipe Nonet and Philip Selznick on the movement from repressive to responsive law, Emile Durkheim's writings about the change from repressive to restitutive sanctions in modern societies, and Donald Black's arguments about how the quantity of law and its form are affected by the basic characteristics of societies. How the study of punishment within a comparative historical perspective informs these basic theoretical debates about law and society is addressed below.