Editor's Introduction: Punishment and History.

AuthorRubin, Ashley T.

PERIODS OF PENAL TRANSITION OFTEN ENCOURAGE HISTORICAL REflection, whether to understand the present situation of crisis and/ or change, or to learn from past strategies and mistakes. Indeed, over the last three decades, an interdisciplinary group of scholars has paid particular attention to the emergence and consequences of US mass incarceration. Recently, however, this attention has been shifting away from explanations of how the current policy situation arose. Instead, academics as well as policy makers, journalists, advocates, and ordinary citizens have been engaging in conversations about how to extricate ourselves from an apparently unsustainable and, to many, morally problematic policy situation. As these conversations increasingly revolve around future change, and societies around the world face distinctive sets of challenges in the field of punishment and social control, historical interrogations of punishment may be especially relevant.

This special issue of Social Justice on the topic of punishment and history appraises the role of history in the study of punishment, illuminating its utility and limitations for understanding penal change. In particular, it aims to identify the utility of historical examinations of punishment for understanding the current constellation of inequalities, (dis)empowerment, and suffering wrought by contemporary criminal justice policy and practice. Thus, rather than seeking the historical origins of mass incarceration as many scholars have already done, (1) this special issue examines how penal history, broadly intended, might provide lessons for understanding punishment as a social institution and its consequences for society, especially society's most vulnerable members.

The issue was generated as part of an effort to answer the following questions: What is the role of history in interdisciplinary, especially sociological or sociolegal, studies of punishment? What lessons do historical instances of punishment reveal for the current penal climate and current penal practices? How do conceptions of what constitutes punishment, or what punishment should accomplish, change across time and space? How do our own understandings of punishment shift when we examine these other conceptions? How does punishment's impact on inequalities across class, race, gender, and sexuality change (or persist) in different temporal-spatial contexts? This issue certainly does not answer all of these questions, nor does it...

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