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Educating Sensibilities: The Image of "The Lesson" in Children's Talk about Punishment

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)395-415
Number of pages20
JournalPunishment & Society
Volume2
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2000

Abstract

Theoretical work in the sociology of punishment (especially since Garland's influential introduction of the notion of penal `sensibilities') increasingly recognizes the importance of the cultural aspects of the topic. Yet surprisingly little examination exists of how penal questions actually figure in people's everyday consciousness or conversations. We address penal culture from the perspective of conversation. Specifically, we discuss a number of conversations that we have had with 9-year old children. By considering the dynamic aspects of these conversations we seek (a) to demonstrate one method for investigating sensibilities-in-action and (b) to indicate some ways in which the terms of penal culture are mobilized, assimilated or subverted among children. Such analysis discloses a quite high degree of ambiguity and semantic density in ordinary language discussions of punishing. We exemplify this inter alia by indicating the varying uses of the expression `teach someone a lesson'. The children's dominant idea of the `lesson' suggests that punishment is an intractable problem, and that people are not particularly tractable to its corrective or suasive force. On the other hand the `lesson' can also suggest communication of a different kind with more radical and hopeful implications.

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