Date of this Version
Journal of Political and Military Sociology, Volume 34, no. 2 (Winter 2006), pp. 396-397.
This volume examines the interconnectivity of culture and punishment across an impressive variety of states and nations. The authors convincingly argue that research is strengthened by developing an understanding of the "cultural life" of capital punishment, defined as the embeddedness of this punishment in the discourse and symbolic practices of specific locales and times. This book is abolitionist in nature, representing the praxis of social research.
The editors argue that independent variables like crime rates, economics, religion, and public opinion fail to explain international variation in the use of the death penalty. Eschewing variables, they argue for analysis of individual cases, examining the richness of historical, social, political, and cultural context. They argue that Americans appear exceptional in their use of capital punishment only when compared to other western developed nations, and that adopting a broad comparative approach can increase our understanding of capital punishment in the U.S.
This book's strength is the richness of detail of the research. Most chapters are historical and descriptive, including comprehensive analyses of culture and capital punishment in Gennany, Mexico, Poland, Kyrgyzstan, India, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Palestine. A central focus of many of the studies is "state killing," addressing the interdependence of culture, capital punishment, and other state actions that threaten the lives of citizens.