Punishment and Society SOCIO4070

  • Academic Session: 2023-24
  • School: School of Social and Political Sciences
  • Credits: 20
  • Level: Level 4 (SCQF level 10)
  • Typically Offered: Semester 1 (Alternate Years)
  • Available to Visiting Students: Yes

Short Description

Why do we punish (some) 'offenders' (and not others)? How do we punish 'offenders'? Why have particular societies at particular times taken such different approaches to the business of punishment? What are the effects of punishment -- how is it experienced both by those that receive it and by those than deliver it? What might it mean to punish 'better' and under what circumstances does the possibility of progressive change in systems of punishment develop? These are some of the questions with which this course aims to engage.


2 hrs weekly for 10 weeks (10 hours lectures, 10 hours seminars).

Requirements of Entry

Mandatory Entry Requirements

Entry to Honours Sociology requires a grade point average of 12 (Grade C) over Sociology 2A and Sociology 2B as a first attempt.

Excluded Courses





Students will be required to write one essay of 4000 words on a given topic.

Are reassessment opportunities available for all summative assessments? Not applicable

Reassessments are normally available for all courses, except those which contribute to the Honours classification. For non Honours courses, students are offered reassessment in all or any of the components of assessment if the satisfactory (threshold) grade for the overall course is not achieved at the first attempt. This is normally grade D3 for undergraduate students and grade C3 for postgraduate students. Exceptionally it may not be possible to offer reassessment of some coursework items, in which case the mark achieved at the first attempt will be counted towards the final course grade. Any such exceptions for this course are described below. 

Course Aims

The general aims of the course follow from our subject area's aim of developing a sound knowledge and critical understanding of the academic discipline of Sociology. In particular, this course aims to provide a critical introduction to the sociology of punishment (in the criminal justice system) and to inter-disciplinary analyses of the field of 'penalty'. The course places particular emphasis on understanding the 'lived experience' of punishment, mediated by its associated cultures and practices, as well as by its institutional and social settings.

Intended Learning Outcomes of Course

By the end of this module, you should be able to:

■ Identify and explain the significance, meaning and constitution of punishment as a social practice or set of social practices.

■ Critically assess a range of sociological analyses of punishment.

■ Evaluate the contributions of a range of inter-disciplinary perspectives in furthering our understandings of the field of 'penality' (meaning those discourses, institutions, cultures and practices associated with punishment)

■ Describe and analyse particular contemporary cultures and practices of punishment in their historical, social, political and institutional contexts.

Minimum Requirement for Award of Credits

Students must submit at least 75% by weight of the components (including examinations) of the course's summative assessment.