LL4CL      Half Unit
Explaining Punishment: Philosophy, Political Economy, Sociology

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Peter Ramsay NAB 6.27


This course is available on the LLM (extended part-time), LLM (full-time), MSc in Criminal Justice Policy and University of Pennsylvania Law School LLM Visiting Students. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

This course is capped at 30 students.

Course content

The course aims to provide students with a comprehensive overview of the theories that explain the practice of punishment, a practice that defines the criminal law. It will do this by introducing students to philosophical, sociological, political economy and comparative approaches to punishment. It will involve the discussion of all the major philosophical justifications and critiques of state punishment, and sociological and political economy explanations and critiques of punishment.

After an introduction discussing the different approaches to punishment, three seminars will discuss the classical philosophical justifications of punishment and a fourth the contemporary critiques of those classical approaches. Seminars 5 and 6 will discuss punishment from the perspective of sociology and political economy. Seminar 7 will consider comparative approaches to punishment. Seminars 8 and 9 will look at two key aspect of the sociology of punishment, punishment as a cultural phenomenon and punishment as an exercise of power and authority. The final seminar considers the relation between these different perspectives.


20 hours of seminars in the MT.

There will be a Reading Week in week 6 of MT.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the MT.

Indicative reading

• A von Hirsch, A Ashworth and J Roberts, Principled Sentencing: Readings on Theory and Policy (Hart, 2009)

• B Hudson, Understanding Justice (Open University Press 2003)

• N Lacey, The Prisoners’ Dilemma: Political Economy and Punishment in Contemporary Democracies, (Cambridge University Press 2008)

• J Simon and R Sparks (eds), The Sage Handbook of Punishment and Society (Sage 2013)

• D Garland, Punishment and Modern Society: A Study in Social Theory (Oxford University Press 1990)


Exam (100%, duration: 2 hours, reading time: 15 minutes) in the summer exam period.

Key facts

Department: Law

Total students 2018/19: 17

Average class size 2018/19: 18

Controlled access 2018/19: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills