- Sociology of Law and Punishment. Illustrate your essay wit...
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
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,
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.