Lessons from History: Pasts, Presents and Futures of Punishment in Children's Talk

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This paper draws on a study of the ways in which the moral and practical dilemmas of punishment are debated and deliberated upon in discussions among nine year old children (with adult facilitators). Theoretically, we are concerned with the points of connection between the social study of childhood and the analysis of punishment as an arena of discourse and practice; and methodologically we address this topic from the perspective of conversation. Here we focus on one aspect of the children's talk, namely the mobilisation of themes and images that seem to have their origin in the more or less remote past. We argue that a contextual and nuanced exploration of the historicity of such ‘punishment talk’ can help in disclosing how punishment ‘works’ as a theme in politics and culture—history offers a resource of precedents and examples that children find good to think with. We suggest a particular association between this historical imagination (and the often physically forceful measures that it invokes) and times of crisis or emergency. This is apparent, for example, when discussion turns to the persistence of the death penalty in the United States. We conclude with some brief remarks on the significance of involving children in such deliberations for the development of alternative (or ‘replacement’) penal politics. Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)116-30
Number of pages15
JournalChildren & Society
Publication statusPublished - 2002


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