Penal Populism: The End of Reason

18 May 2017


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Speaker: Professor John Pratt, Victoria University of Wellington

Penal populism has become a much discussed characteristic of punishment in modern society. Most such commentaries, however, take the rather myopic view that this phenomenon represents some localized event within the social body, to be diagnosed, theorized and exorcized there. This article, however, argues that the emergence of penal populism is neither the endpoint of nor the limits to populism and its consequences in modern society. Rather, it marks only the beginnings of its more general resurgence in the early twenty first century. In these respects, penal populism should be understood as only a convenient incubating phase in which populist forces found vigour and strength before flowing much deeper into mainstream society from that gestation. If it might be thought that penal populism represents an attack on the long established link between reason and modern punishment, this has been only the prelude to the way in which a much more free flowing political populism now threatens to bring an end to Reason itself, the foundation stone of modernity. This shift from penal to political populism has been precipitated by two interconnected factors: the impact of the 2008 global fiscal crisis and the mass movement of peoples across the globe. The article concludes with a discussion of how political populism continues to transform punishment in modern society, as well as the broader social consequences and implications of its emergence.

About the Speaker

John Pratt is Professor of Criminology at the Institute of Criminology, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. His main field of research is comparative penology. He has published in eleven languages and has been invited to lecture at universities in South America, North America, Europe, Asia and Australia. In 2008 he was awarded the Royal Society of New Zealand James Cook Research Fellowship. In 2009 he was awarded the Sir Leon Radzinowicz Prize by the Editorial Board of the British Journal of Criminology. In 2010 he was invited to take up a one year Fellowship at the Straus Institute for Advanced Studies in Law and Justice, New York University. In 2012 he was elected to a Fellowship of the Royal Society of New Zealand. In 2013 he was awarded the Society's Mason Durie Medal, given 'to the nation's pre-emiment social scientist.'

Chair:Professor Murray Lee, The University of Sydney Law School

CPD Points: 1

Time: 6-7pm (registration and light refreshments from 5.30pm)

Location: Sydney Law School, New Law Building (F10), Eastern Avenue, Camperdown

Cost: Complimentary, however registration is essential.

Contact: Professional Learning & Community Engagement

Phone: 02 9351 0429

Email: 1b035c453c211c0d272725161c093b5c1c432a1c40482a11