The sociology of punishment from below: Rethinking mass incarceration through the global-south

D. Fonseca

Queensland University of Technology (QUT), School of Justice,

The enterprise of the sociology of punishment rests on a reassessment of modern social theory and an appraisal of changes in patterns of crime and punishment in recent years. The emergence of a Southern criminology indicates, though, the need for repositioning knowledge production in the field of crime and crime control as to include broader perspectives and theoretically accommodate new realities outside mainstream academic production. While the arrival of mass incarceration presented an important challenge to Western societies, the conditions of incarceration outside Europe and North America, marked by overcrowding and gruesome conditions, have also changed over the last decades. These changes furthered the crisis of criminal justice systems all over the world, but they resonated distinctly in different contexts. For understanding the current scenario of high crime rates and mass incarceration in this much vaster background, it is fundamental to grasp the historical development of formal institutions of crime control and imprisonment in the Global South. The reasons underlying the emergence and development of formal institutions of social control have been intertwined with the dynamics of economic production in a world system and the specific aspects of structural, institutional and cultural of these other countries, regions and spaces require close attention for better comprehending a much more complex social reality. Above all, a new theoretical approach has to deal with the importance of the colonial past, the process of nation-building, the recurring deficit of democratic participation, the historical patterns of exploiting and subjugating the local workforce, the decimation of indigenous populations, the largely failed attempts of modernization and the strategies of social control of vast underprivileged social groups. The aim of the present argument resides in developing a decentred approach to punishment, in which the historical roots of the so-called peripheral spaces are taken in their complexity and distinctiveness.


David Fonseca holds a PhD in sociology from New York University (USA), a LL M from Utrecht University (The Netherlands) and a LL B from UFMG (Brazil). Before coming to QUT, he was an Assistant Law Professor, teaching Criminal Law and Criminology in UFG (Brazil). His work adopts a socio-legal approach to criminal justice and investigates recent developments in punishment and crime control.