Discipline of Sociology & Criminology Seminar Series 2023 | Mass Incarceration in Comparative and Historical Perspective | Dr John Clegg
Discipline of Sociology & Criminology Seminar Series
Mass Incarceration in Comparative and Historical Perspective
Speaker: Dr John Clegg (University of Sydney)
Zoom: Email for link and more information – Leah Williams Veazey email@example.com
With few exceptions, no country in world history has incarcerated as large a share of its population as does the contemporary United States. Yet while most research on American punishment observes this comparative and historical fact, historical and especially comparative research into mass incarceration is rare. Most researchers have built explanations for the American punitive turn by studying America over the period of the punitive turn itself. But this approach risks biasing our causal analysis. Together with my co-author Adaner Usmani, I use original data from the early 19th century to the present across more than a hundred countries to illustrate dimensions of mass incarceration that have gone mostly unnoticed in existing work. These data suggest that American mass incarceration is the result of America’s exceptional combination of high state capacity and high levels of violence. I draw on closer paired comparisons (to Canada, South Africa, Australia, and Brazil) to suggest that this combination of facts has its roots in American slavery, though not in ways commonly supposed. I argue that American slavery matters to mass incarceration not primarily because of its cultural or ideological legacy, but because of the role it played in deforming American political and economic development.