The Killing State: Capital Punishment in Law, Politics, and Culture

The Killing State: Capital Punishment in Law, Politics, and Culture

The Killing State: Capital Punishment in Law, Politics, and Culture

The Killing State: Capital Punishment in Law, Politics, and Culture


Over 7,000 people have been legally executed in the United States this century, and over 3,000 men and women now sit on death rows across the country awaiting the same fate. Since the Supreme Court temporarily halted capital punishment in 1972, the death penalty has returned with a vengeance. Today there appears to be a widespread public consensus in favor of capital punishment and considerable political momentum to ensure that those sentenced to death are actually executed. Yet the death penalty remains troubling and controversial for many people. The Killing State: Capital Punishment in Law, Politics, and Culture explores what it means when the state kills and what it means for citizens to live in a killing state, helping us understand why America clings tenaciously to a punishment that has been abandoned by every other industrialized democracy. Edited by a leading figure in socio-legal studies, this book brings together the work of ten scholars, including recognized experts on the death penalty and noted scholars writing about it for the first time. Focused more on theory than on advocacy, these bracing essays open up new questions for scholars and citizens: What is the relationship of the death penalty to the maintenance of political sovereignty? In what ways does the death penalty resemble and enable other forms of law's violence? How is capital punishment portrayed in popular culture? How does capital punishment express the new politics of crime, organize positions in the "culture war," and affect the structure of American values? This book is a timely examination of a vitally important topic: the impact of state killing on our law, our politics, and our cultural life.



Political power . . . I take to be the right of making laws with the penalty of death.

John Locke, Second Treatise of Government

From birth control to death control, whether we execute people or compel their survival. . . , the essential thing is that the decision is withdrawn from them, that their life and their death are never freely theirs.

Jean Baudrillard, Symbolic Exchange and Death

Today Americans live in a killing state in which violence is met with violence, and the measure of our sovereignty as a people is found in our ability both to make laws carrying the penalty of death and to translate those laws into a calm, bureaucratic bloodletting. We live in a state in which killing increasingly is used as an important part of criminal justice policy and of the symbolization of political power. At a time when life and the sensibility necessary to a meaningful life are extremely fragile, we are told that life must be taken to preserve our lives and sensibilities. The killing state is thus a state of being as well as the state we are in.

As we contemplate the end of the twentieth century, the most prominent manifestation of our killing state, capital punishment, defying the predictions of Foucault, Elias, and others, is alive and well in the United States. Not only does this country cling tenaciously to capital punishment long after almost all other democratic nations have abandoned it, but today the number of people on death row as well as the number executed grows steadily. For a brief period after Gregg v. Georgia reinstated capital punishment there was tight legal supervision of the death penalty and great restraint in its use, yet that period is now long gone. The pressure is on to move from merely sentencing people to death and then warehousing them to carrying out executions by reducing procedural protections and expediting the legal process. While the full result is yet to be seen, it now appears that the killing state will be a regular part of the landscape of American politics for a long time to come.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.