Southern penalities

Russell Hogg1

1 Queensland University of Technology

In their introduction to The Sage Handbook of Punishment and Society the editors trace the emergence of ‘punishment and society’ as an assured and exciting field of contemporary scholarship. They acknowledge its multi-disciplinary character, warn against disciplinary capture and champion intellectual openness as the surest guarantee of continuing vitality in future scholarship. In keeping with this message of ‘openness to new and less familiar bodies of knowledge’ they suggest that future research must reflect ‘the gathering awareness of the need to extend the study of punishment-in-societies beyond the traditional heartlands of the north-Atlantic cultural space and into the global south and east..’ (p4)

This is a welcome invitation although it leaves open the interpretation that the theories and perspectives on ‘punishment and society’ developed in the ‘heartlands’ of the North are to be simply ‘extended’ southwards and eastwards: applied to other societies to generate new bodies of empirical knowledge that validate (or otherwise) northern theory, thus reinforcing an assumption that theory generalized from the north Atlantic experience affords a universal framework of understanding and analysis. On the other hand, what they describe as the ‘primacy of topic over perspective’ in the field opens up the possibility of a deeper engagement with, and on-going reconstruction of, punishment and society scholarship.

To this end the paper is concerned with the project of extending punishment-in-societies scholarship to global South experiences and developments in penality of historical and contemporary significance, with particular reference to the experience of transportation and convictism in the South (and especially the founding of British penal colonies in Australia).

Folded into the experience of north Atlantic societies upon which most punishment and society scholarship has been based are other neglected and under-theorised histories and geographies. The point therefore is not, or not simply, to add further localized studies to the field or to pit South against North, but to bring to the surface the many ways in which South and North are together implicated in histories, practices, cultures (and penalities) that are global in character and scale, and to initiate projects in scholarship and theory that reflect and explicate those connections and their effects.