Politics of Punishing: How the Routine Activities of Governance Impact State Reliance on Confinement

Vanessa Barker, New York University

The paper argues that the enduring features and habitual patterns of governance, what I call the duree of governance, shape not only the particular policy battles but through time form the very terrain upon which these battles are fought. Specifically, the paper argues that political structures and political practices channel collective action and state policy in ways that account for American imprisonment variation. This argument builds on those who have made the case that instituions, particularly political and state institutions, matter in punishment and social policy. The paper seeks to extend the historical institutionalist approach in two ways. First, the paper identifies which insitutional characteristics matter (viz, political structures and political practices), and second, the paper explains why particular institutional arrangements lead to certain outcomes rather than others; the paper presents a positive account of difference. The paper, grounded in historical comparative data, then shows how populist democracies tend towards mass incarceration, deliberative democracies tend to keep imprisonment relatively low while pragmatic democracies maintain medium reliance on confinement. The paper contributes to a theory of state governance that captures the ways in which democratic states pose and solve fundamental problems of order.

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Updated 05/20/2006