All societies in the modern world use punishment for various purposes of social control. Through the threat and application of economic, incapacitative and corporal sanctions, both industrial and developing societies have been able to maintain social order, regulate interpersonal and international relations, and minimize threats to the existing authority. From a comparative perspective, the interesting question is the generalizability of these practices over countries and geographical regions. In other words, are punishment responses uniform across context, and, if not, what is the nature of these context-specific differences?
Using available data from various sources, the current chapter explores the relative prevalence of different types of sanctions across world regions. We compare different continents and geographical regions in their current use of different types of economic, incapacitative, and corporal sanctions. However, aside from comparisons based on geographical location, differences across levels of economic development are also examined in this chapter. More detailed comparative and historical analyses of particular countries (e.g., United States, China, Saudi Arabia) are addressed in subsequent chapters.
BASIC PROBLEMS IN COMPARATIVE STUDIES
As is true of all comparative studies, there are three fundamental problems in the systematic examination of punishment across different countries and world regions. These basic problems involve the unit of analysis, definitional issues, and data limitations.
An initial concern in comparative studies involves the selection of units of analysis. Within the current study of punishments, the issue focuses on variation within our comparative units.