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Sociology of Law and Punishment. Illustrate your essay with specific examples.

"Discuss and evaluate the possibility that Elias' 'civilizing process' influenced the development of less brutal practices of punishment in western societies"

Over the course of recent decades, it has become increasingly apparent that modern penal systems, notably in western societies have undergone a process of 'civilisation' previously unseen. Punishments have gradually moved away from physical violence and instead the penal spectrum involves a growing recourse of emotive and ostentatious punishments of various kinds. This points to a more critical view that there is a possibility of Elias' 'civilising process' influence being paramount to the development of less brutal practices of punishment in Western societies today (Elias, 1982). This is an opinion that academics increasingly find credible. One feature that is evident, as previously stated is that the penal spectrum involves a growing recourse of emotive and ostentatious punishments of varying kinds. However, one must not forget that such a move should be set against an enhanced continuity, and at the same time of a long-established trend towards bureaucratic rationalism (Pratt, 2000). This theme will be considered critically throughout this paper. However in order to address the issues firstly it is necessary to outline and evaluate Elias's perspective.

Sociological perspectives view punishment as a complex social taboo, shaped by an ensemble of social and historical forces having a range of effects that reach well beyond the population of offenders. Marxism depicts punishment as a state apparatus that plays an ideological and political role in ruling class domination. The work of Norbert Elias points to the importance of cultural sensibilities and the "civilizing process" in the shaping of modern penal measures. Elements of these interpretive traditions can be brought together to produce a multidimensional account of punishment's social forms, functions, and significance that can, in turn, help promote more realistic and appropriate objectives for penal policy and a fuller framework for its normative evaluation (Garland, 1991). Elias' approach however can be seen also in relation to war. While wars might be fought in the name of free society, their intrusion into human rights is such that, irrespective of the outcome, society suffers. The Second World War was a major struggle for humanity, as man himself, launched savage attacks on countries without provocation. The Japanese were defeated, and so too were the Germans. However, the damage had been done. Millions of soldiers lost their lives, their families, and friends in what can be termed a fight for justice, a struggle for democracy. The victory of the secular states gave rise to The United Nations, and the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This International system, aided, and part of the Cold War, helped introduce the system of conflict management. Power continued to play the dominant role, closely linked to resource availability and legitimacy. Elias' civilising process can be seen as influential in this process due to its intrinsic link to bureaucratic rationalisation.  (Albrow & Anheier, 2006)

This paper has sought to demonstrate that Elias, whilst not without challenge has presented an argument that holds up under scrutiny. Elias' civilising process has formed a foundation from which other sociologist's hve been able to expand. Punishment has certainly civilised and this can be seen as a result of humanitarian concerns along with structural issues that have developed in tandem with society. Elias' theory appears able to b applied to multiple situations which encompass issues of social violence. It has been shown that the major strength of Elias is the approach he took to sociology that while contentious, allowed the unique insights seen in the civilising process.

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